You are here

Burr McIntosh

Time Period: 
W. 33rd St., Manhattan


Actor, film studio executive, radio personality, professional caliber pool player, magazine publisher, lecturer, and photographer, William Burr McIntosh was born in Wellsville, Ohio, educated in Lafayette College and Princeton (where he was the U.S. sprint champion and star catcher on the varsity nine), and worked briefly as a reporter for The Philadelphia News. His theatrical career began in 1885, premiering in Bartley Campbell's "Pacquita" in New York City. He quickly became an international star, spending part of each season in London. On Broadway he made a specialty of western and frontier roles in plays by Augustus Thomas. His most memorable creation as an actor was Taffy in the hit, "Trilby."

In the 1890s, he became fascinated with photography. He convinced the editors at Frank Leslie's Weekly to let him go to Cuba and cover the siege of Santiago in 1898 as a camera-wielding journalist. He became a popular public lecturer in the wake of the Cuban adventure, stirring controversy by deriding the valor of Col. Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders. As part of his lectures he projected photographs he took during the expedition. Their popularity stimulated McIntosh's second career as a photographer.

In 1900, he displayed a set of portraits of actresses at Veerhoff Galleries in Washington, D.C. to great praise. He left the Broadway stage in 1901 and founded in late 1902, Burr McIntosh Monthly magazine, a lavishly illustrated periodical in the arts & crafts mold. His photographic career lasted twelve years, ending when he closed his New York Studio on W. 33rd Street and suspended publication of his magazine in 1910, shortly after the financial backer, William Annis, was gunned down by a jealous husband. McIntosh subsequently moved to California to open a film studio/artists colony, and while his career as a film mogul was short-lived, he became a significant character actor in the silent cinema.

During World War I and the 1920s he lectured and broadcast optimistic pep talks, characterizing himself as "The Cheerful Philosopher," until he went bankrupt from "altruism" in August 1923. During the 1930s he devoted himself to charitable causes, particularly collecting toys for poor families. His photographs, including many portraits of theatrical colleagues, are in the collection of the New York Historical Society.

NOTES: "M'Intosh Back on Stage," LA Times (Jul 24, 1911), II2. "No Tribute to Teddy," Washington Post (Apr 22, 1899), 2. "Burr M'Intosh Back on Broadway," NY Times (Nov 14, 1913), 11. "Los Angeles to be Center of Art," LA Times (Jul 2, 1911), V1. "He Plans Great City Beautiful," LA Times (Jul 7, 1911), III4. "Burr M'Intosh in New Role," Washington Post (Nov 29, 1900), 9. David S. Shields/ALS


The first theatrical portraitist to manifest the modernist sensibility, actor-photographer Burr McIntosh showed performers in naturalistic poses off stage, without the aura of a studio, or engaged in their art on stage, portrayed from the viewpoint of a fellow player, attentive to the point of the moment's action. He may have been the inventor of the close-up. His non-theatrical photography was photojournalistic, driven by an aesthetic that dramatized the distinctiveness of events rather than the representativeness of typical persons and activities. Alone of the important portrait photographers of the first decade of the 20th century, he was indifferent to the print as an art object, conceiving instead of the image as a reproducible entity. Confronting the difficulties of making legible photographs in a mass printed medium, he became sensitive to the sorts of lighting and pictorial arrangement that would communicate best on the magazine page.