Noah Ludlow (1795-1886), along with partner Sol Smith, brought theatrical performances to the cities, small towns, and villages of the newly settled Old Southwest frontier, as the current Southeast west of Georgia was known at the time. He was a pioneer figure who acted, managed companies, and constructed theaters. Most closely associated with Mobile, he made his residence with his large family and managed theater companies there from the 1830s to the 1850s. He wrote an indispensable account of the theater in the region, Dramatic Life As I Found It (1880).
Born in New York City on July 3, 1795, Ludlow headed west in 1815 at the age of 20. While in Louisville, Kentucky, he met and married Mary Maury Squires, a widow one year his senior, on September 1, 1817, and they eventually had eight children together, five of whom lived to adulthood. According to his memoir, he produced the first English language plays in New Orleans. He staged plays in Alabama as early as 1819, when it was still a territory.
In 1835, he formed a partnership with Sol Smith in Mobile that lasted until 1853. He and Smith replaced James H. Caldwell, of whose company Ludlow briefly was a member from 1822-24, as the foremost theatrical managers of the St. Louis/New Orleans/Mobile circuit in 1843. Ludlow's greatest theatrical achievements were in Mobile, where he erected four theaters, wholly or partially, and where he managed the Royal Street Theater in 1843. He and Sol Smith became estranged for the rest of their lives after a quarrel ended their partnership.
With the help of his daughter, when he was in his eighties, Ludlow used the diaries, playbills, and other documents from his life to compile his voluminous history of the theater, Dramatic Life As I Found It. Because Smith had preceded him with his own account, Ludlow wished to justify the integrity of his theatrical ventures and to answer Smith's disparagement of his character. Ludlow's book combines theatrical and business facts. For example, he tells of Joseph M. Field's original theatrical pieces and provides information on major and minor performers. Ludlow estimates his business with Smith in 1840 to be worth $80,000, enabling him to buy $41,000 worth of real estate in Mobile.
Dramatic Life As I Found It provides a vital, detailed record of the development of drama in the Old Southwest. Along with the writings of Field and
Smith, it paints a picture of early theater in Alabama. Ludlow died on January 9, 1886, in St. Louis.
Works by Noah Ludlow
Dramatic Life As I Found It (1880)
Dorman, James H. Jr. Theater in the Ante Bellum South, 1815-1861. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967.
Duggar, Mary Morgan. The Theater in Mobile, 1822-1860. M.A. thesis, University of Alabama, 1941.
Charles S. Watson
Published August 18, 2009
Last updated November 29, 2010