Opening Night! Top Banana

Lucas-Monroe. Margery Abbott. Museum of the City of New York. 88.104.1.2708.

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.

Top Banana souvenir book, 1951. Museum of the City of New York.

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.

Lucas-Monroe. Top Banana (Phil Silvers and Ted (Sport) Morgan singing "A Dog is a Man's Best Friend), 1951. Museum of the City of New York. 80.104.1.2413.

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.

Lucas-Monroe. Top Banana (Phil Silvers and Ted (Sport) Morgan), 1951. Museum of the City of New York. 80.104.1.2444.

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.

Lucas-Monroe. Top Banana (Judy Garland and Jimmy Durante), 1951. Museum of the City of New York. 80.104.1.2446.

Marlene Dietrich walked the red carpet decked out in fur and fancy necklaces.

Lucas-Monroe. Top Banana (Marlene Dietrich), 1951. Museum of the City of New York. 80.104.1.2414

Liz Taylor, of course, did the same.

Lucas-Monroe. Top Banana (Elizabeth Taylor), 1951. Museum of the City of New York. 80.104.1.2433.

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.

Lucas-Monroe. Shelley Winters and Farley Granger visiting performers backstage at "Top Banana"., 1951. 80.104.1.2473.

Lucas-Monroe. [Ginger Rogers, Jean MacArthur, Phil Silvers and General Douglas MacArthur backstage at "Top Banana"., 1951. 80.104.1.2470.

Backstage, a winning combination of Hollywood and military star power: Ginger Rogers and General Douglas MacArthur.

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!

5 responses to “Opening Night! Top Banana

  1. The delectable Garland image above is a new one to this long-term fan. A simple to correction to your text. You note: “Judy Garland was in town doing a nine month run at the Palace Theatre. Here she is palling around with Jimmy Durante at the bar.”

    Garland’s engagement at the Palace began October 16, 1951 and wrapped up February 24, 1952, for a total of 19 weeks and 184 performances. So the engagement was in reality 4 months and change. History-making nonetheless!

  2. the closing night of Garland’s record-breaking Palace engagement was February 24, 1952. IBDB is indeed in error on this item.

  3. Wonderful images–and great to see some of the riches of the Museum’s Theater Collection on-line.

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