Wanko, Cheryl (Cheryl L. Wanko)

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Wanko, Cheryl (Cheryl L. Wanko)


Education: New York University, B.A.; Pennsylvania State University, M.A., Ph.D.


Office—West Chester University of Pennsylvania, West Chester, PA 19383. E-mail—[email protected]


Writer and historian. West Chester University of Pennsylvania, associate professor of English.


Roles of Authority: Thespian Biography and Celebrity in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Texas Tech University Press (Lubbock, TX), 2003.


Author Cheryl Wanko is an associate professor of English at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. In her book Roles of Authority: Thespian Biography and Celebrity in Eighteenth-Century Britain, she "seeks to place the development of thespian biography, that is, biographies and autobiographies of actors and actresses, within the evolution of print culture," commented Calhoun Winton in an Albion review. Further, she also "attempts to locate the emergence of theatrical celebrity in the field of eighteenth-century English thespian biography," commented Biography reviewer Shearer West. For Wanko, the modern cult of celebrity that prevails in entertainment and popular media has its origins in the theatrical biographies of the eighteenth century.

Wanko notes that in this time period, actors and performers were in no way considered celebrities, or even desirables. But through the publication of the biographies, increased publicity, and concerted effort, actors became famous and objects of admiration. "The elevation of these individuals who were by definition social nobodies—recall that under English common law strolling players, that is, actors, were associated with vagabonds and sturdy beggars—this elevation was a remarkable achievement." She examines biographies of early thespians such as Lavinia Fenton, who attracted the attention of the Duke of Bolton who made her first his mistress and later, his wife and Duchess of Bolton. She recounts the life of Colley Cibber, a comic actor, playwright, and performer who astonished his enemies and critics with his popularity and success. Winton called Wanko's volume a "thoughtful, penetrating book," that will be interesting "not only to theater historians but to anyone who seeks to understand the mysterious cult of celebrity." Shearer concluded, "Wanko's study of thespian biography offers a stimulating and significant contribution to histories of biography."



Albion, summer, 2004, Calhoun Winton, review of Roles of Authority: Thespian Biography and Celebrity in Eighteenth-Century Britain, p. 310.

Biography, summer, 2004, Shearer West, review of Roles of Authority, p. 609.

Reference & Research Book News, August, 2003, review of Roles of Authority, p. 223.


West Chester University of Pennsylvania Web site,http://www.wcupa.edu/ (May 28, 2008), author profile.