Elaine Stritch, Grande Dame of the Stage

Last Saturday night the crowd gathered around the piano at Marie’s Crisis to sing “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Broadway’s 1970 hit musical, Company, in honor of the dearly departed woman who sang it, Elaine Stritch. Glasses were raised again and again to the line repeated throughout the number, “I’ll drink to that.” In real life Stritch made no bones about being a heavy drinker, or anything else for that matter. She dazzled audiences with her acerbic wit and frank speech on stage and off for over 60 years. She died last week at the age of 89 in her home in Birmingham, Michigan. A long-time resident of the Carlyle Hotel on East 76th Street, Stritch moved back to her home state of Michigan because of declining health and to be closer to family.

Stritch made her debut on the New York stage in the 1944 children’s play Bobino. Two years later she played Pamela Brewster in Loco, and also replaced Jane Middleton as Miss Crowder in Made in Heaven. Critics favorably took note of her in 1947 when she appeared alongside Paul and Grace Hartman in the revue Angel in the Wings.

Vandamm. "Angel in the Wings" theater still, with Grace Hartman, Paul Hartman, and Elaine Stritch in the sketch "Trailer Trouble". 1947. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.11959

Vandamm. ["Angel in the Wings" theater still, with Grace Hartman, Paul Hartman, and Elaine Stritch in the sketch "Trailer Trouble".] 1947. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.11959

Vandamm. Hank Ladd and Elaine Stritch in "Angel in the Wings". 1947. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4222

Vandamm. [Hank Ladd and Elaine Stritch in "Angel in the Wings".] 1947. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4222

Stritch served as Ethel Merman’s standby for the role of Mrs. Sally Adams in Call Me Madam, but did not appear on the Broadway stage – the famously never-absent Merman did not miss even one performance.

Photographer unknown. Elaine Stritch as Mrs. Sally Adams in "Call Me Madam". ca. 1952. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4786

Photographer unknown. [Elaine Stritch as Mrs. Sally Adams in "Call Me Madam".] ca. 1952. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4786

 Stritch got a break, however, when it was announced that she would star in the national tour of Call Me Madam.

Photographer unknown. Elaine Stritch as Mrs. Sally Adams in "Call Me Madam". ca. 1952. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4789

Photographer unknown. [Elaine Stritch as Mrs. Sally Adams in "Call Me Madam".] ca. 1952. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4789

In 1955 she played a lonely, world-weary owner of a rural Kansas diner in Bus Stop. In retrospect, the character Grace Hoylard, with her acrid banter and jaded musings, seems to have been created especially for the notably wry Stritch.

Zinn Arthur. Elaine Stritch as Grace Hoylard in "Bus Stop". 1955-1956. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4605

Zinn Arthur. [Elaine Stritch as Grace Hoylard in "Bus Stop".] 1955-1956. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4605

Brooks Atkinson called her out in a New York Times review of the play: “Elaine Stritch’s loose-jointed, tough-talking restaurant keeper is vastly amusing.”

Zinn Arthur. Patrick McVey as Carl and Elaine Stritch as Grace Hoylard in "Bus Stop". 1955-1956. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4607

Zinn Arthur. [Patrick McVey as Carl and Elaine Stritch as Grace Hoylard in "Bus Stop".] 1955-1956. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.4607

In 1970 she played another role that suited her perfectly, the hard-drinking, cynical Joanne in Company.

Friedman-Abeles. Charles Braswell as Larry and Elaine Stritch as Joanne in "Company". 1970. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.42.318

Friedman-Abeles. [Charles Braswell as Larry and Elaine Stritch as Joanne in "Company".] 1970. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.42.318

 Walter Kerr praised her performance in a New York Times review:

“And, while we are thoroughly aware of Elaine Stritch from the beginning (Miss Stritch has what funny lines George Furth has chosen to write, and she stands alone in the group in making no pretty pretenses about the pleasures of matrimony), we are still not prepared for what happens to us and to the theater when she reaches a left-field snarl, complete with a snappy, snide foot-tap, called “The Ladies Who Lunch.” Miss Stritch spends a good bit of the evening exhaling cigarette smoke; what smoke she exhales during the song I don’t know, but it is hers alone and it is scathing. A great number, perfectly done.”

Friedman-Abeles. Elaine Stritch as Joanne in "Company". 1970. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.42.277

Friedman-Abeles. [Elaine Stritch as Joanne in "Company".] 1970. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.42.277

If you missed Stritch on the stage, you can still see recordings of her performances – be sure to check out this link.

Martha Swope. Elaine Stritch as Joanne in "Company". 1970. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.42.275

Martha Swope. [Elaine Stritch as Joanne in "Company".] 1970. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.42.275

For even more Elaine Stritch, visit our Collections Portal. We are constantly adding more material as it is digitized and cataloged, thanks to a generous grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services that supports our project to make accessible more than 30,000 photographs of Broadway productions.

 

 

Happy Birthday to Berenice Abbott

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Manhattan Bridge, Looking Up, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 49.282.115.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Manhattan Bridge, Looking Up, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 49.282.115.

Thursday, July 17th, is the 116th anniversary of Berenice Abbott’s birth (1898-1991).  The Museum of the City of New York holds over 2500 works in the collection by Abbott, who grew up in Ohio and lived briefly in New York’s Greenwich Village before moving to Europe in the 1920s, where she developed her photography skills.  Abbott returned to New York City in 1929, and after several attempts to obtain funding, was eventually hired by the Federal Arts Project (FAP) to execute what came to be known as “Changing New York,” a photo-documentary series of 305 images of the changing urban landscape of New York City.  You can read more about this project in an earlier post – Berenice Abbott and Elizabeth McCausland’s “Changing New York.”

In the three years since the Museum has launched this blog, numerous posts have drawn on Abbott’s work to narrate the city’s history.

Abbott’s scope was wide, and she traveled to all five boroughs, capturing locations such as Astoria, Queens; Bath Beach, Brooklyn; Shore Acres, Staten Island; Westchester Square, the Bronx; and multiple locations in Manhattan.  Take a a quick moment to peek around on Google Maps, and you’ll see that none of these structures below exist anymore.

43_131_1_430

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) for the Federal Arts Project. 27th Avenue, no. 805, Astoria, 1937. Museum of the City of New York, 43.131.1.430.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Belvedere Restaurant, 1936.  Museum of the City of New York, 49.282.43.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Belvedere Restaurant, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 49.282.43.

The house in Astoria and the Belvedere Restaurant (located at Bay 16th and Cropsey Avenue, Brooklyn) were replaced with apartment buildings that appear to have been built within a decade of the photographs.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991).  Hope Avenue, no. 139, 1937.  Museum of the City of New York, 89.2.1.252

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Hope Avenue, no. 139, 1937. Museum of the City of New York, 89.2.1.252

The existing house on Hope Avenue in Staten Island may still have the same rock wall around the property, but it’s difficult to say for sure.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Gasoline Station, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 89.2.2.30

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Gasoline Station, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 89.2.2.30

As for the Gas Station in the Bronx – Dock Street and East Tremont Avenue don’t even intersect up anymore – Herman H. Lehman High School now sits on the site, though the station may have been demolished as early as the 1930s or 1940s to make way for construction of the nearby Hutchinson River Parkway.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) for the Federal Art Project. Rockefeller Center with Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 43.131.1.311.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) for the
Federal Art Project. Rockefeller Center with Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas, 1936. Museum of the City of New York, 43.131.1.311.

We could fill this post with an endless stream of images Abbott took of businesses, buildings, and landmarks that no longer exist; or some, such as Rockefeller Center, to the left, that were just in the early stages of construction, and remain as icons today.   As we honor the birth week of the photographer who had the foresight to capture the city as such a pivotal point in its history, take a look at her other images online, and see what lost fragments of the city’s urban landscape you can identify.

 

Jack Stewart and the documentation of early graffiti writing

When graffiti first began to appear on subway cars in New York City in the late 1960s, Jack Stewart (1926-2005) became one of the first, along with Jon Naar, to photograph and document it. From late 1972 through early 1973, he photographed subway cars every weekend, documenting the rapidly evolving style of the graffiti writers.

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Worm, By Riff I70, 1972. Museum of the City of New York. 2014.24.2

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Worm, By Riff I70, 1972. Museum of the City of New York. 2014.24.2

Jack Stewart  was born in Atlanta, GA in 1926 and earned a BFA degree at Yale University, where he studied painting with Josef Albers and Willem de Kooning. He moved to New York City in 1949 and began designing and executing mosaic murals on commission. In order to better understand how to work with architects on these commissions, he enrolled in the Columbia University Evening School of Architecture. He also exhibited his paintings throughout his life. Stewart later enrolled as a graduate student at New York University in order to study graffiti more formally, earning his Master’s degree in 1975 and completing his Ph.D. in 1989. His dissertation, Mass Transit Art Subway Graffiti, was published by Abrams in 2009 under the title Graffiti Kings: New York City Mass Transit Art of the 1970s. It was the first academic study of graffiti.

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Lee, Mickey Mouse, Dec. 1977. Museum of the City of New York. 2014.24.6

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Lee, Mickey Mouse, Dec. 1977. Museum of the City of New York. 2014.24.6

Stewart photographed graffiti throughout the 1970s, but he felt the style peaked around 1973. His work predated Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant, both of whom began documenting the scene a few years later, and he covered graffiti in more depth than Naar. Over the years Stewart taught at almost every major art school on the east coast, including Pratt Institute, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the New School, the Rhode Island School of Design, and others. In the last decades of his life, he held positions in many professional organizations, such as New York Artists Equity Association, the National Society of Mural Painters, the Fine Arts Federation of New York, and the National Academy of Design.

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Tracy (Early Wild Style Letters), 1976. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.7.2

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Tracy (Early Wild Style Letters), 1976. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.7.2

The City Museum recently acquired 31 of his photographs through a generous gift from the Green Foundation. You can see all of them on the Collections Portal. And, through Labor Day, visit the Museum’s exhibition City as Canvas to see several of Stewart’s photographs on view.

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Jester I [Painted by Jester in 1972. Tags painted by Ace 137 and Cay 161 in 1971]. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.7.8

Jack Stewart (1926-2005). Jester I [Painted by Jester in 1972. Tags painted by Ace 137 and Cay 161 in 1971]. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.7.8

 Stewart’s papers are at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.

The Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic

It’s a sweltering July evening in 1915 and the lights have just come up after the finale of a Ziegfeld Follies show at the New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street. You dread walking out into the muggy night and long for a cool escape. But you’re in luck tonight because it’s the premiere of Flo Ziegfeld Jr.’s new revue, the Danse de Follies! You take the elevator from the theatre lobby up to the rooftop garden (you’ve heard it called “the meeting place of the world”) and as the doors open you are met with dancing and the sound of champagne being uncorked. The show starts at midnight and you have work in the morning, but a late night of revelry to escape the stuffy New York summer seems like a small price to pay for the exhaustion of tomorrow.

214 West 42nd Street. New Amsterdam Theatre, ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York, X2010.7.1.195.

214 West 42nd Street. New Amsterdam Theatre, ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York, X2010.7.1.195.

Earlier that year, Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr., tired of seeing his audiences leave after performances of the Ziegfeld Follies to spend money at other people’s nightclubs, staged a second late-night revue in the New Amsterdam Theatre’s underused 680 seat roof-top level with tables, complete with box seats, and a balcony. Ziegfeld mechanized the stage so that it rolled back to reveal a dance floor, and installed a glass walkway that would allow chorus girls to dance right above the customers seated below. Later called the Midnight Frolic, the show was a bit more risqué than the Follies. The girls shimmying down the glass walkway above the audience were reportedly cautioned to wear bloomers but oftentimes the rule wasn’t followed very closely. Audience members were asked to vote for the young lady he or she considered the most beautiful and to state why on cards handed out by the usher. The young lady receiving the most votes during the run of that Frolic series had her salary doubled. One of the audience favorites was the “balloon girls,” who encouraged male patrons to use their cigars to pop the balloons covering the majority of their costumes.

Sybil Carmen in the Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic, 1915. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 59.271.16.

Sybil Carmen in the Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic, 1915. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 59.271.16.

To keep out the rougher elements, Ziegfeld charged a hefty $5.00 cover (roughly $117 today) on top of the ticket price – first row seats went for $3 (approximately $55 today), while orchestra seats went for $2.50 (about $46). Upper class theatre-goers were delighted with the Midnight Frolic’s party-like atmosphere, and the revue became an annual event after its premiere in 1915. Insisting that theater-goers would have sore hands after applauding so much, Ziegfeld provided little wooden hammers at Frolic tables, so audiences could bang out their appreciation.

Souvenir - wooden applause hammer from Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic atop New Amsterdam Theatre, ca. 1916. Museum of the City of New York, 62.215.53.

Souvenir – wooden applause hammer from Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic atop New Amsterdam Theatre, ca. 1916. Museum of the City of New York, 62.215.53.

The Midnight Frolic often received rave reviews from the New York Times: “The latest edition of Florenz Ziegfeld’s ‘Midnight Frolic,’ which had its first presentation Monday midnight before an audience that embraced all who live and move and have their being in Broadway, out-Ziegfelds all its predecessors. It is like the others only more so. It is a Ziegfeld-Urban-Wayburn show of beautiful women, frocks and tableaux designed for the business man who is too tired to go home after the play… One might search the world and not find anything quite as unique or lavish as this midnight revue.”

The show was broken up into different comedy, singing, and dancing acts featuring stars like Frances White, Teddy Gerard, Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers, and W.C. Fields.

Stage ensemble from the Midnight Frolic with Will Rogers (center), 1917. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 74.92.51.

Stage ensemble from the Midnight Frolic with Will Rogers (center), 1917. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 74.92.51.

Frances White in the Midnight Frolic, 1917. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 74.92.31.

Frances White in the Midnight Frolic, 1917. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 74.92.31.

During the twenty-five minute intermission between the acts, audience members were welcome to dance, drink, and dine. For .75 cents to $1.00 (from $17-$23 today) guests could partake in a cold beer or soda, and for those willing to pay $2.75 ($64 today) there were small bottles of champagne readily available. The Ziegfeld kitchens were most known for their steak dinners, but also popular was Beluga caviar for $2.00 a serving ($47).

There was no limit to the extravagance of the Midnight Frolic, even after the US entered World War I. The New York Times reported in 1917 that, “For fear some one will think that he has adopted a policy of retrenchment because of the war Mr. Ziegfeld calls attention to one novelty, a chiffon scene in which the chiffon alone cost $3,000. He also wishes to state that the cost of production approximated $100,000.”

Teddy Gerard in the Midnight Frolic, 1917. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 62.100.211.

Teddy Gerard in the Midnight Frolic, 1917. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 62.100.211.

The club stayed open year-round for seven years and while World War I couldn’t stop the Midnight Frolic, Prohibition was ultimately what led Ziegfeld to end the show in 1922. He commented on this to the New York Times in 1921: “The best class of people from all over the world have been in the habit of coming up on the roof … and when they are subjected to the humiliation of having policemen stand by their tables and watch what they are drinking, then I do not care to keep open any longer… But occasionally some of my patrons have brought liquor of their own, and recently two men were arrested on the roof. When these things can happen I think it is time to close.”

That first midnight performance back in 1915 closes to a sea of hammers and cheers. You shuffle out with the crowd, your feet sore from dancing and the bright white lights of Broadway shining on your face. You feel tired, but you know there will be no way for you to fall asleep now after seeing the sensation of Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic.

Be sure to keep an eye out for photos like these and more with the IMLS Broadway Production Files digitization project.

Revolutionary sisters: Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin

If you’ve never heard of Victoria Woodhull or her younger sister Tennessee “Tennie” Claflin, you’re not alone. When I first came across them in the Museum’s Portrait Archive, I was immediately intrigued by the designation of “Brokers” on their portraits. The more I researched them, the more interested I became.  They challenged the staunchly Victorian society of 1870’s New York City by opening the first female stock brokerage firm, were the first women to start a newspaper (one dedicated to radical reform, no less), and launched the first presidential campaign for a woman. Welcome to the strange and incredible true lives of Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee “Tennie” Claflin.

Unknown photographer. Mrs. Woodhull (Broker). Museum of the city of New York.  F2012.58.41.

Unknown photographer. Mrs. Woodhull (Broker). Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.41.

The sisters had less than auspicious beginnings. Victoria Woodhull (neé Claflin) was born in 1838 in the wilds of Ohio and Tennie was born six years later. Their father was a one-eyed snake oil salesman and their mother a religious fanatic. The girls were soon part of their father’s schemes, earning money as child mediums, healers, and clairvoyants at tent revivals. For much of their childhood they were nomadic, staying in towns long enough to sell medicines and messages from the beyond, leaving before they could be chased out of town.

Unknown photographer. Miss Tennie C. Claflin (Broker). ca. 1875. Museum of the City of New York. 41.366.53.

Unknown photographer. Miss Tennie C. Claflin (Broker). ca. 1875. Museum of the City of New York. 41.366.53.

For the next few decades, the sisters traveled difficult roads: bad marriages and a mentally handicapped child for Victoria, and the rough life of an itinerant faith healer for Tennie. And then one day, according to Victoria, the spirit of Demosthenes (the Greek orator, with whom she believed she communicated with regularly) sent her vision of a house on Great Jones Street in New York City where, the spirit promised her their lives would change for the better.

In 1868, the Claflin sisters invaded Manhattan. As promised, a house on Great Jones Street was procured and they immediately set to work taking over the city. Their first stop? Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt because, well, when you want to get to the top you need allies, especially ones who possess one of the biggest fortunes in the country.

William R. Howell (d. 1890). Cornelius Vanderbilt. ca. 1880-1887. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.1269.

William R. Howell (d. 1890). Cornelius Vanderbilt. ca. 1880-1887. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.1269.

The sisters met the Commodore at just the right time. He had always been a superstitious man who trusted mediums more than medical doctors. At this time he was still deep in mourning for his beloved first wife. Thankfully, Victoria and Tennie could help with that. Victoria began hosting séances to give Vanderbilt business tips while Tennie focused on magnetic healing. She was apparently so gifted that she became Vanderbilt’s lover. It was serious enough to warrant pet names: he called her ”my little sparrow”; she called him ”the old goat.” There were rumors that he asked her to marry him, but alas it can’t be proven. It was this connection, however, (and Vanderbilt’s finances) that led to the sisters’ next big step.

On February 5, 1870 a large, boisterous crowd gathered outside 44 Broad Street to witness a first in New York’s history: two women opening their very own stock brokerage firm, with the silent backing of Vanderbilt’s fortunes. Woodhull, Claflin & Co. opened at 10 A.M. precisely and was promptly swarmed by men wanting to see how the fairer sex handled business. Newspapers were filled with eyewitness accounts of the first day of business. (See the amazing variety of articles this produced here). But for the most part, the papers championed the “Bewitching Brokers” and “The Lady Bankers,” while calling attention to the regal beauty of Victoria and the feisty flirtiness of Tennie. With their studied social rebellions, short hair, and dresses short enough to show their boots, the sisters were treated as novelties by the press. However novel they were, they were also a success – they supposedly made $700,000 the first six weeks they were in business (a hefty $13 million in today’s dollars).

Miss Tennessee Claflin Receiving Orders for Stock Speculation, 1870. Reprinted in One Moral Standard for All: Extracts from the lives of Victoria Clafin Woodhull and Tennessee Clafin. Museum of the City of New York. F2011.16.7.

Miss Tennessee Claflin Receiving Orders for Stock Speculation, 1870. Reprinted in One Moral Standard for All: Extracts from the lives of Victoria Clafin Woodhull and Tennessee Clafin. Museum of the City of New York. F2011.16.7.

The press and public clamored for stories (positive and negative) about the nonconformist sisters, so for years they were never far from the headlines  and that suited them just fine…even when they were subjects of political cartoons like this.

From the New York  Evening Telegraph, February 18th, 1870. eprinted in One Moral Standard for All: Extracts from the lives of Victoria Clafin Woodhull and Tennessee Clafin. Museum of the City of New York. F2011.16.7.

From the New York Evening Telegraph, February 18th, 1870. Reprinted in One Moral Standard for All: Extracts from the lives of Victoria Clafin Woodhull and Tennessee Clafin. Museum of the City of New York. F2011.16.7.

Keep in mind that this happened in the height of the Gilded Age, when a woman didn’t have a voice, property, or money independent of the men in her life, whether it was her husband, brother, or father. Thanks to a private door in the rear of the building leading to a women-only lounge, Woodhull, Claflin & Co. made it acceptable for women ranging from elite society dowagers to actresses to take control of their money. Most people would be content with this success, but the sisters weren’t satisfied; they had bigger plans. As Victoria later said: “We went unto Wall Street, not particularly because I wanted to be a broker…but because I wanted to plant the Flag of women’s rebellion in the center of the continent.”

Using the profits from Woodhull, Claflin & Co., they started their own weekly newspaper, the not so creatively named Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly. It’s within these pages that we can see how modern their ideas were, and still are: sexual education for teenagers, eight hour workdays, fair wages, and gender equality are issues still being argued 144 years later!

Alll of this was a mere stepping stone for their next move. Stay tuned for the continuation of the saga of Victoria Woodhull and Tennie Claflin.

 

Illuminating New York City Through Material Culture

American Newspaper Publishers Association Dinner Program, 1903, in the Collection on Special Dinner Events. Museum of the City of New York, 42.250.77A.

The Museum of the City of New York’s ephemera collections have held a special place in my heart since I took on their custodianship, along with manuscripts, maps, and rare books, over three and a half years ago.  During my first weeks with the Museum, I began to do what any archivist would do when faced with shelves of boxes filled with unknown contents – I opened the lids and looked inside.   The Museum’s Collection on Formal Dining Events was among the first of the collections I explored, and I was transported immediately to the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria, to Delmonico’s for a seven course dinner.  I’d finally come to terms with the fact I could not actually live in 19th century New York City – but this was the next best thing.  I went on to investigate many more of the thematically arranged ephemera collections, finding material related to civic events, cultural institutions, medicine, lectures, musical performances, balls, and schools, among many other topics, dating from the 18th century up to the present time.

Admission Ticket to Viewing Platform for Statue of Liberty Dedication Ceremonies, 1886, in the Collection on Civic Events.  Museum of the City of New York, 48.176.41

Admission Ticket to Viewing Platform for Statue of Liberty Dedication Ceremonies, 1886, in the Collection on Civic Events. Museum of the City of New York, 48.176.41

Over the past few years, we have used ephemera to illustrate multiple posts on this blog and the Museum continues to utilize it in programs, exhibitions, and publications, as it has for decades.  Yet, the bulk of the collection remains hidden.  Now, thanks to the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Museum has just embarked on the project Illuminating New York City History through Material Culture: A Proposal to Process, Catalog, Digitize, and Rehouse the Ephemera Collections of the Museum of the City of New York.  Over the course of the next two years, the Museum will increase access to over 6,500 objects of material culture by sharing the objects on the Collections Portal, as well as processing the collections and posting the finding aids online via our Catablog for Archival Collections.

We will share our discoveries from the ephemera collections as we prepare the materials for digitization and process them.  In the meantime, here are a few examples that illustrate how these collections document a vast array of events from New York City’s history, including openings and dedication ceremonies for monuments and landmarks, an invitation to stand on the viewing platform at the dedication of the Statue of Liberty (above), or the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge (below):

Invitation to the Opening Ceremonies of the New York and Brooklyn Bridge, 1883, in the Collection on Civic Events.  Museum of the City of New York, 38.116.2.

Invitation to the Opening Ceremonies of the New York and Brooklyn Bridge, 1883, in the Collection on Civic Events. Museum of the City of New York, 38.116.2.

Social events, such as dance cards and invitations to balls and dances:

Dance card for Arion Masquerade Ball, 1904, in the Collection on Social Events.  Museum of the City of New York, 40.279.7.

Dance card for Arion Masquerade Ball, 1904, in the Collection on Social Events. Museum of the City of New York, 40.279.7.

Irving Club Calico Hop, 1871, in the Collection on Social Events.  Museum of the City of New York, 39.552.14.

Irving Club Calico Hop, 1871, in the Collection on Social Events. Museum of the City of New York, 39.552.14.

Civic celebrations, such as the Hudson Fulton Celebration, marking the 300th Anniversary of of Henry Hudson’s discovery of the Hudson River and the 100th anniversary of Robert Fulton’s first successful commercial application of the paddle steamer:

Program for the Hudson Fulton Celebration, 1909, in the Collection on Civic Events.  Museum of the City of New York, 34.505.22.

Program for the Hudson Fulton Celebration, 1909, in the Collection on Civic Events. Museum of the City of New York, 34.505.22.

Ceremonies marking events of national importance, such as the deaths of Presidents Grant and Lincoln:

Program for the Dedication of Grant's Tomb, 1897, in the Collection on Civic Events.  Museum of the City of New York.

Program for the Dedication of Grant’s Tomb, 1897, in the Collection on Civic Events. Museum of the City of New York.

Announcement  from the St. Andrew’s Society for a Special Meeting to Mourn the President Abraham Lincoln's Death,1865, in the Collection on Clubs and Societies.  Museum fo the City of New York, 50.99.15.

Announcement from the St. Andrew’s Society for a Special Meeting to Mourn the President Abraham Lincoln’s Death,1865, in the Collection on Clubs and Societies. Museum fo the City of New York, 50.99.15.

And materials from political, social, and professional organizations:

Constitution and Bylaws of the Cadets of Temperance, 1871, in the Collection on Clubs and Societies.  Museum of the City of New York, 48.356.1

Constitution and Bylaws of the Cadets of Temperance, 1871, in the Collection on Clubs and Societies. Museum of the City of New York, 48.356.1

Annual Celebration of the Society of Tammany, 1928, in the Collection on Politics.  Museum of the City of New York.

Annual Celebration of the Society of Tammany, 1928, in the Collection on Politics. Museum of the City of New York.

We look forward to bringing you more highlights from the ephemera collection in the coming months.

neh_logo_horizontal_rgbAny views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this post do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

 

 

 

Up on the roof, entertainment en plein air

Spring in New York City is glorious.  Allergy issues aside, the season of rebirth is especially welcome after this winter’s polar vortex shenanigans.  And though I celebrate the sunny days and refreshing rain of spring, I can see the heat waves forming on the horizon.  Summer is coming and with it a suffocating wall of humidity.

One of my best strategies to beat the heat is going to the theater. Be it a movie, musical, or play,  the cool darkness of a theater combined with a few hours of entertainment is my preferred place to be on an unbearably hot day.  A hundred years ago, this wasn’t so much the case.  Without air conditioning, the heat of the lights and the crush of fellow audience members could make visiting the theater  intolerable.  Not wishing to lose business during the summer months, theater owners came up with a new strategy: the roof!

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) [Roof Garden, Madison Square Garden Theatre.] ca. 1900.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, Madison Square Garden Theatre. ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10866.

In the photograph above, a rooftop audience enjoys some light entertainment on the Madison Square Garden roof.  This MSG was located at 26th Street and Madison Avenue.  Designed by Stanford White, it was the second tallest building in the City at the time construction finished in 1890. Part of the fun for the audience was the chance to watch musical comedies and operettas from 32 stories off the ground. (Check out Mia’s early blog on the theater’s Diana statue.)

Further uptown at 44th and Broadway, the New York Theatre roof offered similar entertainment fare. The New York Theatre was originally built as the Olympia Theatre by  Oscar Hammerstein I (the grandfather of the Oscar Hammerstein from musical theater’s famous “Rodgers & Hammerstein”).

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, New York Theatre. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.10880.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, New York Theatre. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.10880.

Though a financial failure for Hammerstein I, the theater was only the second to be built in what would become the Times Square Theater District.  In 1895, the area was known as Longacre Square.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, New York Theatre. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10877.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden, New York Theatre. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10877.

Hammerstein I’s second effort at extravagant outdoor entertainment was the  Paradise Roof Garden at 201 West 42nd Street.  Part enclosed space and part open air, the Garden spanned the roofs of  the Victoria Theatre and the Theatre Republic next door.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). [Roof Garden, Paradise atop Hammerstein's Victoria.] ca. 1904.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Roof Garden, Paradise atop Hammerstein’s Victoria.]ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10856.

The Paradise Roof Garden was run by Hammerstein I’s son Willie.  As the noise of an ever expanding New York drifted upward, the vaudeville shows presented on the roof adapted to include wordless routines and pantomime.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) [Roof Garden, Paradise atop Hammerstein's Victoria.] ca. 1904.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Roof Garden, Paradise atop Hammerstein’s Victoria. ca. 1901. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10860.

Just down the block at 260 West 42nd Street was the American Theatre.  With a seating capacity of over 2,000, the American Theatre was a  popular venue for melodrama and comedies.  The roof  offered escape from the crowds below.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.), American Roof Garden. 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.17841.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). American Roof Garden. 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.17841.

Beautiful lights lit up the roof and audiences could gather around small tables to chat or enjoy a variety of entertainments.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden - American Roof Garden 1898 Eighth Ave at 42nd Street S.E. Cor. 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.18358.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Roof Garden – American Roof Garden 1898 Eighth Ave at 42nd Street S.E. Cor. 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.18358.

Lighter fare was the entertainment of choice for rooftop theaters. Many of the auditoriums below were known for their comedic musicals and revues.  Rooftops offered even less serious spectacle with acrobatic troupes, vaudeville sketches, and variety acts requiring minimal staging.  It was just too darn hot to think of weightier things.  No doubt it’s the same impulse that guides the current blockbuster push for summer movies.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) [Roof Garden, Casino.] 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10850

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Roof Garden, Casino. 1898. Museum of the City of New York, 93.1.1.10850.

Movie screenings were also a part of rooftop entertaining.  As the technology developed, projectors and screens were taken up top so that audiences could enjoy the silent films and a breeze.

Postcard. "Fred Winter's Summer Garden, Brooklyn, New York." Charles Stock & Co. Litho., ca. 1910.

Postcard. “Fred Winter’s Summer Garden, Brooklyn, New York.” Charles Stock & Co. Litho., ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York, X2011.34.3841.

Rooftop entertainment began a sharp decline in the 1920s, a decline that coincided with the rise of air conditioning installations in theaters of all types. While live performance on a rooftop may be a thing of the past, New Yorkers can still check out a movie thanks to the series set up by Rooftop Films.  You can also get your fix for outdoor theater this summer with the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park productions.  Another great way to beat the heat: visit a museum!

Mel Rosenthal in the South Bronx

Mel Rosenthal (born 1940) grew up in the South Bronx. When he returned to the area 20 years later, after receiving a Ph.D. in English Literature and American Studies from the University of Connecticut and a stint working as a medical photographer in Tanzania, he discovered an alien landscape of destruction and affliction. The burned-out buildings and rubble-strewn vacant lots have since become a visual shorthand for the urban decay of the 1970s and 1980s. Rosenthal began documenting the area and its residents, many of them native Puerto Ricans, creating a series of photographs that were eventually published in 2000 in the book, In the South Bronx of America.

Near Bathgate Avenue and East 173rd Street, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York 2013.12.40

Near Bathgate Avenue and East 173rd Street, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York 2013.12.40

In what is today roughly Morrisania and East Tremont, in the vicinity along Bathgate Avenue, Rosenthal photographed people who lived, played, loved each other, struggled, and sometimes protested in the midst of an environment that was elsewhere rendered in horrified, sensational headlines.

Among the Last Residents, Mother and daughter, East 173rd Street, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York, 2013.12.34

Among the Last Residents, Mother and daughter, East 173rd Street, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York, 2013.12.34

In 1976, Roger Starr, Commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development, proposed a course of “planned shrinkage” that would allow the city to abandon what were considered blighted areas, especially in the South Bronx. This abandonment took the form of withdrawing public services such as libraries, public transportation, and, perhaps most notably, fire services. “The Bronx is burning” was a literal, not a figurative phrase.

Mikey at the bar, next to my photographs. I loved hanging out, having a beer, taking pictures, listening to what people said about the neighbor-hood. People were open and generous with me, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.14.

Mikey at the bar, next to my photographs. I loved hanging out, having a beer, taking pictures, listening to what people said about the neighbor-hood. People were open and generous with me, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.14.

The attitudes behind these policies were presaged by Starr in his 1966 book Urban Choices: the City and its Critics. In one passage he wrote, “Since they have no property, their only marketable asset is hardship…. [S]ome of the people displaced by urban renewal might just be exaggerating the sense of deprivation they feel over their ‘lost homes.’”

Teens clean up the rubble in order to create a neighborhood garden, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.25

Teens clean up the rubble in order to create a neighborhood garden, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.25

Starr and his supports believed that planned shrinkage would make way for future middle class housing, or, in the case of the neighborhood documented by Rosenthal, industrial development. And indeed, this area today is characterized by low-slung warehouses.

She had been left behind when her family and friends moved out of the neighborhood, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.8

She had been left behind when her family and friends moved out of the neighborhood, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.8

The city administrators’ beliefs about the people who lived in these areas and their “exaggerated” attachment to their communities are belied by Rosenthal’s photographs. The images capture the individuality and the humanity of those few earlier residents who remained, and those from a new generation who made their lives there.

Candido with neighborhood kids, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.27

Candido with neighborhood kids, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.27

His work, then, is not only a moving documentary to the resilience of people living in challenging circumstances, but also an activist’s critique of government policies that wrote off entire communities.

One of the high school students told me she was going to be a dental assistant. The other two said they wanted to be models, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.4

One of the high school students told me she was going to be a dental assistant. The other two said they wanted to be models, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.4

The Museum of the City of New York received 42 original prints from the Bronx series as a gift from Rosenthal’s wife, Roberta Perrymapp. We recently finished digitizing and cataloging them. View all 42 on the Museum’s Collections Portal, along with his later photographs of Arab Americans in New York City.

Mel Rosenthal in his old bedroom in the South Bronx, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.23

Mel Rosenthal in his old bedroom in the South Bronx, Mel Rosenthal, 1976-1982. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.12.23

 

Inside the Glamour – Baumgarten Interiors

For a span of a few weeks last winter, I lived in two worlds. My real world consisted of a Brooklyn apartment filled with IKEA furniture, roommates, and the usual litany of complaints about New York City living spaces. But for eight hours a day, five days a week, I was transported back to a time when homes wouldn’t be complete without their own ballrooms, libraries, conservatories, myriad guest bedrooms denoted by what color the walls were painted and, well… you get the idea.

Unknown photographer. Mrs. E. F. Hutton. Drawing room. ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.391A.

Unknown photographer. Mrs. E. F. Hutton. Drawing room. ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.391A.

The six unbound albums that are loosely referred to as the Baumgarten Interiors, given to the City Museum by the antiquarian taste-maker J. A. Lloyd Hyde in 1935, show some of New York City’s most elaborately decorated homes and offices. The City Museum’s records on this gift don’t offer much in the way of details, but we have pieced together what ties all of these lavish interiors together: they were the work of William Baumgarten and his eponymous interior design company, William Baumgarten & Co. The photographs were taken in the early years of the 20th century and compiled into albums at a later date. Although Baumgarten’s clients had recognizable names such as Astor, Rothschild, and Juilliard,  his own name has faded from public memory.

William Baumgarten was a taste-maker in his own right. Originally a cabinetmaker, after emigrating from Germany in 1865 he began working for the Herter Brothers, very posh interior decorators and cabinet makers. He eventually took over the business and that’s where things get interesting. At the time, interior decorators like Stanford White (of McKim, Mead and White architectural firm fame) would travel to Europe looking for relics in good conditions to decorate the houses of the wealthy. Among the most popular items were tapestries, but there was that annoying fact of a limited supply and growing demand. To combat that, in 1893 Baumgarten created the first tapestry workshop in America; it was in the Bronx and employed 80 people who made high quality copies of the finest 18th and 19th century tapestries.  So it is not surprising to see how prominently displayed tapestries in these pictures.

After looking at a thousand images, I began to see patterns and become intimately acquainted with the au courant interior trends of the early 20th century. I’ve highlighted a few of them, just in case you need decorating tips for your next apartment.

Obviously tapestries work in both a home and an office setting…the more the better.

Unknown photographer. [William C. Whitney Residence. 68th St. & 5th Ave., N.Y.C. Entrance hall.] ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.71A

Unknown photographer. [William C. Whitney Residence. 68th St. & 5th Ave., N.Y.C. Entrance hall.] ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.71A.

Unknown photographer. Mr. F. W. Woolworth's private office, Woolworth Building, N.Y.C.. ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.10A

Unknown photographer. Mr. F. W. Woolworth’s private office, Woolworth Building, N.Y.C.. ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.10A

Animal hides were another must have.

Unknown photographer. Residence of Mrs. David Heller, 4 East 82nd St., N.Y.C. Music room. ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York.  X2013.139.353B.

Unknown photographer. Residence of Mrs. David Heller, 4 East 82nd St., N.Y.C. Music room. ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.353B.

Unknown photographer. H. T. Parson, Esq., Solarium view looking south. ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.124B.

What’s intriguing is to see how the idea of home has shifted over the decades; these homes are not designed for comfort, but rather a statement of wealth and power. (Remember how much a mansion and costume ball helped cement the Vanderbilts into New York City society?)

Unknown photographer. John Jacob Astor Residence, #840 Fifth Avenue. Drawing room. ca. 1915-1930. museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.90B.

Unknown photographer. John Jacob Astor Residence, #840 Fifth Avenue. Drawing room. ca. 1915-1930. museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.90B.

Because really, who doesn’t need a pipe organ in the entrance hall?

Unknown photographer. Mrs. W. H. Taylor's Apartment 12 W. 96th Street. Entrance hall. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.375B.

Unknown photographer. Mrs. W. H. Taylor’s Apartment 12 W. 96th Street. Entrance hall. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.375B.

Unknown photographer. Mrs. E. F. Hutton. Library. ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.387A.

Unknown photographer. Mrs. E. F. Hutton. Library. ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.387A.

Unknown photographer. H. T. Parson, Esq., Conservatory off dining room. ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City og New York. X2013.139.122

Unknown photographer. H. T. Parson, Esq., Conservatory off dining room. ca. 1915-1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.139.122

Please click here to see more images of the glamorous worlds William Baumgarten created in the houses of the elite of New York City and imagine yourself having tea in the conservatory and wiling away the afternoon in your private gallery.

 

Untimely Deaths of Stage Performers

The Museum is digitizing 30,000 photographs of Broadway and off-Broadway productions dating from the 1860s up to the 2000s with a Museums for America grant funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Some of the material is already available on our online Collections Portal. While cataloging the photographs, I couldn’t help but notice how many performers died at a young age, or from tragic or unusual circumstances. I started keeping a list of entertainers whose lives were abruptly cut short. Please join us now for a tour of the sad demises of Broadway stars:

Nelson Decker enjoyed a promising career as an actor in the mid-nineteenth century. He was a member of the Actor’s Fund of America and joined the prestigious company of Booth’s Theatre when it opened in 1869. In 1881 Decker married English actress Ward Almayne but the marriage was unhappy and soon Decker’s career and health began to decline. In 1891 he was admitted to the Edwin Forrest Home for aging and infirm actors. Not two months after arriving at the home, Decker slit his wrists and throat. A servant found him still alive but lying in a pool of blood. Doctors attempted to save his life but there was nothing they could do and he passed away a week later on December 2, 1891.

Sarony. Nelson Decker. 1878-1891. Museum of the City of New York. 74.22.182

Sarony. Nelson Decker. 1878-1891. Museum of the City of New York. 74.22.182

Brothers William and Gordon Dooley performed stunts and acrobatics together as the Funny Dooleys in a number of vaudeville shows, but their deaths were decidedly unfunny. William Dooley was known as a martyr to stage work and this devotion ultimately ended his life at the age of 39. On the night of his last performance, he presciently remarked to his brother: “Let’s make it good – we haven’t many more shows to give together.” William Dooley reported for work the following day, September 29, 1921, but his body collapsed from the years of constant strain.

Alfred S. Campbell Art Co. William Dooley of the Funny Dooleys in "The Century Midnight Revue". 1920. Museum of the City of New York. 48.210.793

Alfred S. Campbell Art Co. [William Dooley of the Funny Dooleys in "The Century Midnight Revue."] 1920. Museum of the City of New York. 48.210.793

Gordon Dooley continued to perform in vaudeville and musical comedy but outlived his brother by only nine years. He suffered a nervous breakdown in 1929 and died of pneumonia at the age of 31 on January 24, 1930.

Alfred S. Campbell Art Co. Gordon Dooley of the Funny Dooleys in "The Century Midnight Revue". 1920. Museum of the City of New York. 48.210.792

Alfred S. Campbell Art Co. [Gordon Dooley of the Funny Dooleys in "The Century Midnight Revue."] 1920. Museum of the City of New York. 48.210.792

Beloved Broadway actor Gregory Kelly starred in the 1925 play “The Butter and Egg Man,” written by George S. Kaufman. He played Peter Jones, an out-of-towner who decides to invest $20,000 in a Broadway show. The play was a resounding success – it toured the following year and was even optioned for a movie. Film columnist Louella Parsons wrote on June 2, 1926: “If First National doesn’t get Gregory Kelly to play the lead in “The Butter and Egg Man,” I will never speak to any member of the organization again. To bring this play to the screen without Gregory Kelly, would be like serving apple pie without cheese, just an unpardonable omission.” Unfortunately for Parsons and everybody else who loved Kelly’s performance, he suffered a heart attack while on tour with “The Butter and Egg Man.” He never fully recovered and passed away on July 9, 1927 at the age of 36.

White Studio. Gregory Kelly as Peter Jones in "The Butter and Egg Man". 1925. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.113

White Studio. [Gregory Kelly as Peter Jones in "The Butter and Egg Man."] 1925. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.113

British actress Elsie Mackay (the woman leaning against the piano in the photograph below) had a successful career on Broadway but her true passion was flying. In March 1928 she attempted to become the first woman to across the Atlantic Ocean, teaming up with an experienced aviator, Captain Walter G. Hinchcliffe. Not long into the westward flight, Mackay and Hinchcliffe disappeared off the coast of Ireland and were never seen again.

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). "Clarence" theater still. 1919. Museum of the City of New York. 48.210.1117

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). ["Clarence" theater still.] 1919. Museum of the City of New York. 48.210.1117

Peg Entwistle had already performed in over 10 Broadway shows when she played the role of Amy Grey in the 1932 production “Alice-Sit-by-the-Fire.” That same year she left for Hollywood, hoping to find as much success on the screen as she had on the stage. This proved elusive and on September 19, 1932, Entwistle jumped to her death from the 50-foot “H” of the Hollywoodland sign (the sign was shortened to Hollywood in 1949). She left a suicide note which read: “I’m afraid I’m a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this long ago, it would have saved a lot of pain.” She was only 24.

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). Laurette Taylor as Mrs. Grey, Peg Entwistle as Amy Grey, and Charles Dalton as Colonel Grey in "Alice Sit-by-the-Fire". 1932. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.94

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Laurette Taylor as Mrs. Grey, Peg Entwistle as Amy Grey, and Charles Dalton as Colonel Grey in "Alice Sit-by-the-Fire."] 1932. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.94

Hal Skelly joined a traveling circus at the age of 15 and moved to the company of Barnum & Bailey a few years later. He also appeared on Broadway in productions such as “The Night Boat” in 1920 and “Betty Lee” in 1924. In 1927 he played what was possibly the greatest role of his career, the part of Skid in “Burlesque.” He had just finished the production “Come What May” when a truck he was driving was struck by a train on June 17, 1934. He died instantly at the age of 42. Skelly had been looking for a friend’s dog when his vehicle rolled onto the train tracks. Police surmised that he might have mistaken the forward gear for the reverse.

Vandamm. Hal Skelly as Skid in "Burlesque". 1927. Museum of the City of New York. 37.414.4

Vandamm. [Hal Skelly as Skid in "Burlesque."] 1927. Museum of the City of New York. 37.414.4

Bill Callahan performed in many long-running Broadway musicals of the 1940s and 1950s such as “Call Me Mister,” “As the Girls Go,” and “Top Banana.” In 1951 he married Eleanor Rao and joined her father’s business, Arc Electrical Construction Company. In 1980 he resigned from the company and ran off with a 29-year-old chorus girl named Wendy McDade. His father-in-law Charles Rao accused him of embezzling millions of dollars from the firm. Callahan and McDade were last seen alive leaving Chicago’s Continental Plaza Hotel the night of March 17, 1981. Their bodies were found the following day in the Chiwaukee Prairie nature preserve in Wisconsin – both victims had been shot three times in the head. To this day the murders remain unsolved.

Lucas-Monroe. Bill Callahan as Kenny Wellington in "As the Girls Go". 1948-1950. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.177

Lucas-Monroe. [Bill Callahan as Kenny Wellington in "As the Girls Go."] 1948-1950. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.177

James Hayden grew up in Brooklyn and lived on the streets as a teenager. He worked hard to overcome his past and was accepted to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts despite having no acting experience. After playing the part of Rodolpho in “A View From the Bridge,” he garnered critical acclaim for his portrayal of the heroin addict Bobby in “American Buffalo.” But in a grim case of life imitating art and just six hours after receiving a standing ovation for this performance, Hayden died of a heroin overdose at the age of 29 on November 8, 1983.

Stephanie Saia. James Hayden as Bobby, Al Pacino as Walter Cole, and J. J. Johnston as Donny Dubrow in "American Buffalo". 1983. Museum of the City of New York. 95.139.106

Stephanie Saia. [James Hayden as Bobby, Al Pacino as Walter Cole, and J. J. Johnston as Donny Dubrow in "American Buffalo."] 1983. Museum of the City of New York. 95.139.106

Beautiful Marjorie Battles debuted on Broadway in the 1965 play “Cactus Flower.” She remained in the cast for 650 performances and then left the stage for a teaching career, although she continued to play bit parts on television shows. After her sister died of cancer in 1979, Battles became despondent and spent the remainder of her life as a recluse in her family’s rowhouse in South Philadelphia. She ended her life on October 18, 1987 by jumping in front of a Philadelphia subway train.

Photographer unknown. Marjorie Battles as Botticelli's Springtime in "Cactus Flower". 1965-1968. Museum of the City of New York. 81.54.1291

Photographer unknown. [Marjorie Battles as Botticelli's Springtime in "Cactus Flower."] 1965-1968. Museum of the City of New York. 81.54.1291

Norman Kean and Gwyda DonHowe led an apparently happy life together. They met in 1957 while working in summer stock and married the following year. He became a theatrical manager and producer and she regularly appeared on the Broadway stage. But despite his best efforts, Kean never accomplished more than mediocre success: his most lucrative production, “Oh! Calcutta!” was seen as a gimmicky tourist attraction rather than a respectable show. Most of the shows Kean produced were flops, like the 1978 production “A Broadway Musical.” It ran for 26 performances at the Theatre of the Riverside Church before moving to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, where it opened and closed the same night.

"A Broadway Musical" sticker. Theater archives, Museum of the City of New York.

“A Broadway Musical” sticker. Theater archives, Museum of the City of New York.

Kean (the man in the center of the photograph below) never produced another show after “A Broadway Musical.”

"A Broadway Musical" program. Theater archives, Museum of the City of New York.

“A Broadway Musical” program. Theater archives, Museum of the City of New York.

In 1987, Kean learned that DonHowe (shown in the photograph below, to the right) was having an affair. He attempted to save his marriage by staying home more often, but a private investigator told Kean that DonHowe continued to see her lover. On January 11, 1988, Kean stabbed DonHowe to death as she lay sleeping and then jumped to his death from the roof of their apartment.

Photographer unknown. "A Broadway Musical" theater still. 1978. Museum of the City of New York. 95.139.360

Photographer unknown. ["A Broadway Musical" theater still.] 1978. Museum of the City of New York. 95.139.360

Does life imitate art, as Oscar Wilde famously opined, or is it the other way around? In any case, the dramas enacted by these performers onstage had counterparts in the actors’ lives, and their sorrowful deaths illustrate the parallel between stage life and real life.