Partner John Unsworth
700 Macon St, Brooklyn, NY 11233
Green-Wood Cemetery Brooklyn, Kings County (Brooklyn), New York, USA
Eugene D'Ameli aka Theodore E. Ameli (June 4, 1836 - January 18, 1907) was acclaimed for his "delineations of female characters that were so finished, so true to life, that the Germans in Berlin during an engagement there in April, 1862, were emphatic in their declarations that he was a woman." He and his partner, John Unsworth, appeared in principal music halls of England, France and Germany, creating a furore.
When “The Great Eugene” took the stage – and he took the stage always as a woman – men, in particular, seemed to find themselves singularly rapt in attention and admiration at the spell that the talented female personator was casting over them. The Great Eugene, otherwise known simply as Eugene, was named Eugene D’Ameli as a child. He was born in Manhattan on June 4, 1836, the son of an Italian confectioner, and, according to The New York Dramatic Mirror (the Broadway rag of the time), he made his first debut at the tender age of 17 in 1853 at Wood's Minstrel Hall, playing what he would end up playing the rest of his career – a “prima donna” – a persona which “he improved and perfected until it was considered the best of its class.” His partner, “Johnny” Unsworth, of 700 Macon Street, recalled Eugene’s beginnings in the minstrel theatre. “Because he was so small and slight and built somewhat like a woman Gene started female impersonations, always in black face, as a minstrel show specialty.” In the San Francisco production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Eugene was cast as Topsy, and from all accounts he made a big hit with the part. The miners at times became so enthusiastic over his performance that they would throw gold coins and nuggets on the stage, all of them completely unaware that Eugene was actually a man. “He was,” Unsworth noted, “what, in those days, they called a ‘scream.'”
Eugene D'Ameli began with Wood's Minstrels where he was joined by George Christy in 1853 and ended his career thirty years later with the Leon and Cushman Company in 1883. During his career, "Eugene" traveled with many different minstrel troupes throughout the US, Europe and Asia. He returned to America in 1868 and played with Bryant's Minstrels in New York and with Hooley's in Brooklyn. In May, 1884, he made his last appearance on any stage.
He was found, when off the stage, to be a neatly dressed and very good looking gentleman, somewhat under the medium size, but of “as fine a general figure in the manly attire of everyday life as he was in the gorgeous wardrobe of the sable prima donna at night.” He was, according to many, one of the most thoroughly artistic personators of burlesque female actors ever seen.
Never married, Eugene retired from the stage in 1884, after 31 years. For many years afterwards he was in poor health until, as his obituary noted, “he was attacked by dropsy.” He died in Brooklyn, N. Y., January 18, 1907.
At Eugene’s funeral, Unsworth recounted Eugene’s career, how they met, which minstrel groups they worked with, and how Eugene was singular in his “personations” of women. “You see, he even had a soprano voice down pat, besides looking the part,” Unsworth smiled through moist eyes. Then Unsworth told how he had cared for D’ameli morning, noon, and night in his final sickness, and how, in his dying days, he would sing to him the old minstrel songs they used to perform together. “I’ll tell you, son, I feel pretty lonely now that Gene has gone,” Unsworth said. It isn’t recorded how Unsworth mentally dealt with the passing of his partner, but it must have been tough for the old bachelor to see his dear friend pass. An occurrence 17 years later, though, may lend us a clue to his state – as well as to the importance Unsworth placed on his relationship with Eugene. When Unsworth himself died, he had left a will. In that will, everything he had owned went to a favorite niece of Eugene’s.
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