Leno was born in St Pancras, London, and began to entertain as a child. In 1864, he joined his parents on stage in their music hall act. As a youth, he was famous for his clog dancing, and in his teen years, he became the star of his family’s act. He adopted the stage name Dan Leno and, in 1884, made his first performance under that name in London.
About Dan Leno in brief
Leno was born in St Pancras, London, and began to entertain as a child. In 1864, he joined his parents on stage in their music hall act. As a youth, he was famous for his clog dancing, and in his teen years, he became the star of his family’s act. He adopted the stage name Dan Leno and, in 1884, made his first performance under that name in London. He became increasingly popular during the late 1880s and 1890s, when he was one of the highest-paid comedians in the world. He also appeared in burlesque and, every year from 1888 to 1904, in the Drury Lane Theatre’s Christmas pantomime spectacles. In 1901, still at the peak of his career, he performed his “Huntsman” sketch for Edward VII at Sandringham. He suffered a mental breakdown in early 1903 and was committed to a mental asylum, but was discharged later that year. After one more show, his health declined, and he died aged 43. He was the youngest of six children, including two elder brothers, John and Henry, and an elder sister, Frances. Two other siblings died in infancy. His alcoholic father died, aged 37; the family then moved to Liverpool, where his mother married William Grant, on 7 March 1866. Grant was a comedian of Lancastrian and Irish descent, who performed in music halls throughout the British provinces under the stage names of William Leno. Leno continued to appear in musical comedies and his own music hall routines until 1902, although he suffered increasingly from alcoholism.
This, together with his long association with dame and low comedy roles, prevented him from being taken seriously as a dramatic actor and he was turned down for Shakespearean roles. In the same year, Leno used his stepfather’s stage name, which he never registered legally legally. This was the first time that he used his parents, who appeared as Mr and Mrs Leno – The Magic Wishing Comicists – on the stage. In 1865, he had a supporting part as a juvenile clown in Liverpool’s Star Music Hall, where he was known as ‘The Great Lenos’ This was his first time performing under the name ‘Dan Leno’ Leno also appeared as a supporting clown in his first panto, Fortunatus, or, The Magic On The Wishing Cap, in Liverpool in 1872. He died in 1903, aged 43, and was buried at St. Pancras Cemetery, near his home in north London. His wife, Louisa, and his brother, John, later moved to the north and performed in various halls, but they often performed in Liverpool. They often performed together as the ‘Mr and Mrs. Johnny Wild’ and ‘The Little Lenos’, but they were often called ‘The Singing and Acting Duettists’ They also performed in Manchester, Glasgow and Northampton later in the year. In 1862, his parents and elder brothers appeared at the Surrey Music Hall in Sheffield.