The digital team has begun digitizing thousands of images from the rarely-seen archives of the Lucas-Pritchard / Lucas-Monroe Studios, preeminent Broadway production photographers in New York City from about 1936 to 1950. Plays, musicals, variety shows – if it played in New York during that time period, they likely photographed it. The archive includes thousands of theater stills, images of opening night parties and premieres, backstage scenes, and portraits of Broadway actors and actresses.
One production in particular caught my attention, partly because of the sheer number of wacky slapstick images of performers on the stage, but mostly because a virtual who’s who of mid-century A-list celebrities made appearances at the premier. Top Banana was a 1951 musical comedy review at the Winter Garden Theatre and starred Phil Silvers, whose later credits include It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), and television appearances on The Beverly Hillbillies, The Love Boat, and Happy Days. The lead character, an egotistical television variety star named Jerry Biffle, was based Silvers’s friend, Milton Berle.
The show featured acts like a duet in which Silvers and an Airedale terrier improbably named Ted (Sport) Morgan performed the showstopper, “A Dog is a Man’s Best Friend.” According to a review in Life Magazine, Sport even owned a share of the production.
Ted (Sport) Morgan is seen below basking in the glory on opening night.
Ted Morgan wasn’t the only celebrity that turned up on opening night. I came across images of Judy Garland, Liz Taylor, Ginger Rogers, Marlene Dietrich, Jimmy Durante, and General MacArthur. And here they are, for your viewing pleasure.
Judy Garland was in town doing a four month run at the Palace Theatre. Here she is palling around with Jimmy Durante at the bar.
Marlene Dietrich walked the red carpet decked out in fur and fancy necklaces.
Liz Taylor, of course, did the same.
Farley Granger, fresh from his success in Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, stopped by and hung out backstage with the cast and Shelley Winters.
And that’s just the beginning of our Lucas-Pritchard and Lucas-Monroe archive. Images of Veronica Lake as Peter Pan and Eartha Kitt as a “new face” of 1952 are just some of the good things yet to come. Stay tuned for updates!