Author Archives: Morgen Stevens-Garmon

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!

Prepping the girls for “As the Girls Go”

Since October the Theater department has been busy preparing 30,000 images of theatrical productions for digitization and cataloging. Images will eventually be made available on our Collections Portal thanks to the support of a Museums for America grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.  In the process of getting objects ready for digitization, our archival intern came across these rough proofs and final images prepared by the Lucas-Monroe studio for the musical As the Girls Go.  The photos offer a glimpse at photo manipulation  before the digital era.

Lucas-Monore [Scene from As the Girls Go] 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.172

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Scene from As the Girls Go] 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.172

As the Girls Go opened in 1948 at the Winter Garden Theatre, but it was set five years in the future, with the inauguration of America’s first female president. Opponents of the President attempt to drum up scandal by throwing a bevy of beautiful women into the path of her husband, played by vaudeville comedian Bobby Clark.  Lucas-Monroe put out a series of publicity shots featuring the tempting beauties.

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Unidentified actress preparing for photo shoot] 1948. 80.103.190

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Unidentified actress preparing for photo shoot] 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.190

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Unidentified showgirl and with possibly Edward Thayer Monroe] 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.189.

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Unidentified showgirl with photographer, possibly Edward Thayer Monroe] 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.189.

The Lucas-Monroe studio began as Lucas-Pritchard in the mid-1930s. Photographer George W. Lucas and business manager Irving Pritchard formed a partnership that was later joined by portrait photographer Edward Thayer Monroe. The studio became known as Lucas-Monroe and captured hundreds of Broadway productions  until the company was dissolved in 1952. Lucas actually died ten years before, but Monroe was able to carry on the business successfully. (For more biographical information visit the excellent site on early Broadway photographers created by Dr. David S. Shields and hosted by the University of South Carolina.)

Of course, what beauty couldn’t use a little help here and there? Print alterations and image manipulations were standard practice in 1948.  See the rough proof below and the identified “problem” areas.

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Rough proof of unidentified showgirl from As the Girls Go] 1948. 80.103.192

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Rough proof of unidentified showgirl from As the Girls Go] 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.192

The finished proof follows, and it is easy to see how the woman’s upper right arm was slimmed down, the sides of her torso sliced, and hair frizzies minimized.

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Unidentified showgirl from As the Girls Go] 1948. 80.103.191

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Unidentified showgirl from As the Girls Go] 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.191

Even famed beauty and socialite Gregg Sherwood was unable to escape critique.

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Gregg Sherwood from As the Girls Go] 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.194.

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Gregg Sherwood from As the Girls Go] 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.194.

Her jacket is smoothed out, waist shaved, and anything close to tired eliminated from her face. Even the toe of her shoe was altered.

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Gregg Sherwood from As the Girls Go] 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.193.

Lucas-Monroe Studio. [Gregg Sherwood from As the Girls Go] 1948. Museum of the City of New York. 80.103.193.

Alterations could be made a number of ways including re-touching with paint, ink, or airbrush, and manipulation of prints and negatives in the dark room. Digital camera technology and programs like Photoshop have made photo manipulation  infinitely easier and more prevalent.  So prevalent, in fact, that the debate on image alteration has been going strong for several years. Just last month a GIF of Jennifer Lawrence’s 2011 Flare cover surfaced online showing how much of the actress was cropped, cut, and shifted for the magazine’s final publication. The techniques for altering a model’s image have come a long way since As the Girls Go opened in 1948, but the practice hasn’t changed much and we have yet to elect a female President.

Stay tuned for more updates as we prepare, digitize, and catalog a wealth of images from the plays and musicals of the New York stage.

Three spirits and a merry Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve. An old man sitting close to his fire is visited by his former business partner, his formerly alive business partner.  Covered in chains and looking very much the worse for death, Jacob Marley (of the lending firm Scrooge and Marley) warns his breathing partner of the consequences of a life lived without love, charity, and friendship. Ebenezer Scrooge (of Scrooge and Marley) says “Bah, humbug!”

Joan Marcus. [ as Scrooge and as Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol.] 1994. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.1679

Joan Marcus. [ Walter Charles as Scrooge and Jeff Keller as the Ghost of Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol.] 1994. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.1679

J. Gurney & Son. Charles Dickens, 1867. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.368

J. Gurney & Son. Charles Dickens, 1867. Museum of the City of New York. F2012.58.368

So begins a story of redemption that has entertained countless audiences for the last 170 years.  Author Charles Dickens was only 31 years old when A Christmas Carol was first published in serial form. (At this time, the blogger chooses to  refrain from judging the merit of her own accomplishments by the age of 31, and recommends that readers do the same. ) This was the winter of 1843; the author still had Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities to write in the years ahead, but he already had the character of Oliver Twist and The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby to his credit.  The year before A Christmas Carol, Dickens visited New York City for the first time. He returned again in 1867, touring the country and no doubt performing readings from his wildly popular Christmas tale.

An instant hit, Scrooge’s night with Christmas spirits past, present, and future, was presented by Dickens himself as part of his readings repertoire.  By the turn of the century, full scale theatrical productions where standard touring fare in England. Several musical adaptations appeared throughout the United States in the 1970s. The first appearance of Scrooge on the Broadway stage was in 1979 in a musical re-imaging of the story called Comin’ Uptown. The show starred Gregory Hines as a tap-dancing Harlem slumlord.

[Gregory Hines in dressing room as in Scrooge from Comin' Uptown.] 1979. Museum of the City of New York. 83.60.10

Unknown. [Gregory Hines in dressing room as in Scrooge from Comin’ Uptown.] 1979. Museum of the City of New York. 83.60.10

The production closed after only 45 shows, but Hines’s performance was praised. He was nominated for a Tony award that season for best actor in a musical. A Christmas Carol was not seen again on the boards of the Great White Way until Patrick Stewart’s one-man dramatic reading came to the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in 1991.

Unknown. [Patrick Stewart in A Christmas Carol.] 1991. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.42.90

Unknown. [Patrick Stewart in A Christmas Carol.] 1991. Museum of the City of New York. X2013.42.90

In 1994, A Christmas Carol: The Musical began a perennial run at Madison Square Garden’s Paramount Theatre. With music by Alan Mencken and lyrics from Lynn Ahrens, the show ran every Christmas season until 2003. Its Scrooges included Frank Langella, Roger Daltry, Tony Randall, F. Murray Abraham, Tim Curry, and Walter Charles (pictured below).

Joan Marcus [ as the Spirit of Christmas Present and Walter Charles as Scrooge.] 1994. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.1680

Joan Marcus [ Michael Mandell as the Ghost of Christmas Present and Walter Charles as Scrooge.] 1994. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.1680

The overly large turkey leg and beer mug seem to have melted the austerity out of Scrooge’s face, to say nothing of the Christmas showgirls.

Joan Marcus. [Walter Charles as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.] 1994. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.1681

Joan Marcus. [Walter Charles as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.] 1994. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.1681

This season, there are at least three different productions running in the New York area including a stripped down, whirling romp from the creator of Broadway’s The 39 Steps.  Though Dickens is dead, dead as a doornail, we honor his spirit every year by re-mounting, adapting, and continually enjoying his most famous ghost story.  So let me end, dear reader, in the spirit of Dickens by wishing you happy holidays, every one.

Romeo and Juliet, a love story in pictures

Vandamm. [Katharine Cornell and Basil Rathbone.] 1934. Museum of the City of New York. 35.169.3

Vandamm. [Katharine Cornell and Basil Rathbone.] 1934. Museum of the City of New York. 35.169.3

It has been called the greatest love story of all time.  Even those who disagree can acknowledge that in the over 400 years since it was first performed, Romeo and Juliet has become one of the most well-known love stories in the world. Indeed, the tragic tale of forbidden love wasn’t original when William Shakespeare first put quill to page. The Bard borrowed liberally from classical stories and contemporary poems. Yet, it is his version that endures. The play was a Broadway staple in the early half of the 20th century, but a new production this fall is the first in over 25 years. The 36th Broadway production of Romeo and Juliet is currently playing at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, and with an Off-Broadway production by the Classic Stage Company and a new film version in movie theaters, it is easier than ever to get your R+J fix. I’m taking the opportunity to revisit the romance with a pictorial re-telling from the Museum’s collection.

It begins like any love story could today, at a party. (Technically the play begins with a brawl, and when we first see Romeo, he’s mooning over someone else. Scholars be warned, I gloss over some bits.) Romeo Montague and his friends sneak into a party thrown by his family’s sworn enemy, the Capulets. Love strikes Romeo when he sees Juliet Capulet across a crowded room. Not knowing who she is, he proceeds to woo her. The scene below comes from the 1940 Broadway production starring real life off-stage lovers Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier.

Willinger Hollywood. [Vivien Leigh and Lawrence Olivier in Romeo and Juliet.] 1940. Museum of the City of New York. 68.808.9362

Willinger Hollywood. [Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier in Romeo and Juliet] 1940. Museum of the City of New York. 68.808.9362

Juliet is won by the wooing, but very soon after they each discover who the other is. What comes next is Act II, scene ii, a.k.a. the “balcony scene.” It is later that same night when Juliet daydreams out loud on her balcony about the object of her infatuation. Romeo, overhearing her, reveals himself and they both profess their love. The scene is so famously associated with young love it is often lampooned such as in the comedic sketch from DeWolf Hopper and Marshall P. Wilder pictured below.

B. J. (Benjamin J.) Falk. [DeWolf Hopper and Marshall P. Wilder in Romeo and Juliet.] ca. 1893. Museum of the City of New York. 39.124.47

B. J. (Benjamin J.) Falk. [DeWolf Hopper and Marshall P. Wilder in Romeo and Juliet] ca. 1893. Museum of the City of New York. 39.124.47

Juliet is called in from her balcony but promises to send a messenger to Romeo the next day. Romeo meets with his friend Friar Laurence to tell of his love and arrange to marry Juliet.  Juliet’s nurse, her messenger, finds Romeo later that day, and after a bawdy encounter with Romeo’s friend Mercutio, is able to have a heart-to-heart with him.

Clipping from The Theatre, Vol. III, no. 28, June 1903. Museum of the City of New York collection on Broadway productions, Romeo and Juliet file.

Clipping from The Theatre, Vol. III, no. 28, June 1903. Museum of the City of New York collection on Broadway productions, Romeo and Juliet file.

When her nurse returns, Juliet is able to coax the message out of her. The scene is played for comedy with the old nurse complaining about the wear and tear of the journey and the youthful Juliet impatient for news.

White Studio. [Jessie Ralph as the Nurse and Jane Cowl as Juliet.] 1923. Museum of the City of New York. 27.75.4

White Studio. [Jessie Ralph as the Nurse and Jane Cowl as Juliet.] 1923. Museum of the City of New York. 27.75.4

First comes love, then comes marriage. Juliet meets Romeo at Friar Laurence’s cell to be shrived and married.

Fred Fehl. [Larry Kert as Tony and Carol Lawrence as Maria.] 1957. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.2959

Fred Fehl. [Larry Kert as Tony and Carol Lawrence as Maria] 1957. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.2959

(Okay, I cheated a little here. The above picture is from the original Broadway production of West Side Story. My only defense is that it is based on Romeo and Juliet and is arguably the best musical ever made.) Their bliss is short lived. Before the sun sets on their marriage, Romeo’s friend Mercutio gets into a fight with Juliet’s cousin Tybalt with tragic consequences.

Byron Company. [James K. Hackett as Mercutio fights Campbell Gollan's Tybalt] 1899. Museum of the City of New York. 34.271.813G

Byron Company. [James K. Hackett as Mercutio fights Campbell Gollan’s Tybalt] 1899. Museum of the City of New York. 34.271.813G

Romeo comes between them, but in doing so allows Tybalt to deliver a death blow to his friend. After Mercutio dies, an incensed Romeo chases after Tybalt. The following photograph is from the 1968 Shakespeare in the Park production starring a young Martin Sheen as Romeo.

Unknown. [Martin Sheen as Romeo and Tom Aldredge as Tybalt.] 1968. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.298

Unknown. [Martin Sheen as Romeo and Tom Aldredge as Tybalt.] 1968. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.298

Romeo slays Tybalt and is banished from the city. He and Juliet are able to spend one night as husband and wife before he leaves. Below is an image of the good-bye from what today would be considered a strange pairing. Sisters Charlotte and Susan Cushman played Romeo and Juliet respectively to popular acclaim in the mid-19th century. Charlotte Cushman was one of the most respected actresses of her day, and also played Hamlet.

Lithograph by John Tallis & Company. [[Charlotte and Susan Cushman in Romeo and Juliet.] ca. 1850. Museum of the City of New York. 61.25.4

Lithograph by John Tallis & Company. [[Charlotte and Susan Cushman in Romeo and Juliet.] ca. 1850. Museum of the City of New York. 61.25.4

Acting on advice from Friar Laurence, the couple decide to wait an interval before announcing the marriage and bringing Romeo back. The Capulets throw a wrench in the works in the form of Paris, an eligible young bachelor. Faced with impending marriage to Paris and bigamy, Juliet looks to Friar Laurence for rescue. He devises a simple plan. Juliet will drink a potion to appear dead, the Friar will send for Romeo who, once he arrives, will awaken Juliet and they can live happily ever after. Easy, right?

White Studio. [Sayre Crawley as Friar Lawrence and Eva Le Gallinne as Juliet.] 1930. Museum of the City of New York. 50.281.290

White Studio. [Sayre Crawley as Friar Laurence and Eva Le Gallinne as Juliet.] 1930. Museum of the City of New York. 50.281.290

And of course, everything goes terribly wrong. Friar Laurence’s messenger is too late, Romeo thinks Juliet is really dead. He arrives at her tomb, drinks a potion and actually kills himself. Juliet awakens, sees Romeo dead and uses his dagger to stab herself. Terribly, terribly wrong.

Arnold Genthe. [Julia Marlowe as Juliet and E. H. Sothern as Romeo.] ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.299

Arnold Genthe. [Julia Marlowe as Juliet and E. H. Sothern as Romeo.] ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.299

The image that Shakespeare leaves us with is the reconciling of the two families.  The Montagues and Capulets hear the full tale of their children’s love and resolve to end their feud. For never was there a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo. Don’t believe me? Go see for yourself.

Managing the stage: the Phil Friedman papers, 1936-1987

Actors, directors, and playwrights are often given the most audible recognition for successes on stage, but perhaps one of the least lauded roles is that of the stage manager. From the first auditions to the closing curtain, the stage manager is there ensuring that the process runs smoothly. The stage manager can fulfill a wide range of functions, either as head of a team or as a single individual, depending on the size of the production. Major responsibilities include facilitating communication between the director, designers, performers, and technical staff; calling the lighting, sound, and set cues during the performance; and making certain the director’s vision is consistently executed for however long the production runs.  As an archivist, I have great respect for the organizational abilities of a good stage manager. It was a great pleasure to spend some time with the papers of stage manager Philburn Friedman in the Museum’s Theater Collection.

Phil Friedman worked as a professional stage and production manager for over 40 years, a career that included the original Broadway productions of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961), Pippin (1972), and Chicago (1975). He frequently worked with director and choreographer Bob Fosse, even playing a stage manager onscreen in Fosse’s 1979 film All That Jazz.  This summer our intern Suzanna Calev processed his collection of papers. The following are her thoughts on the experience:

When I was a little girl, my parents regularly took me to “Kids on Broadway,” a brilliant program to introduce kids to theater with discount prices, and I fell in love with theatrical productions. The acting, the costumes, the lights, the sets, the music—I loved it all. Going through Phil Friedman’s papers this past month, I discovered that all of these various elements are brought together by the stage manager to produce a spectacular performance.

Ormond Gigli. [Dancing girls in Kismet] 1953. Museum of the City of New York. 88.86.43.17

Ormond Gigli. [Dancing girls in Kismet.] 1953. Museum of the City of New York. 88.86.43.17

The spectacular performance pictured above is from the musical adaption of Kismet, taken during its original Broadway run.  Kismet was one of the first big hits in Friedman’s stage management career.

Unknown photographer. [Liza Minnelli with inscription to Phil Friedman] 1975. Museum of the City of New York. 88.86.55

Unknown photographer. [Liza Minnelli as Roxie Hart in Chicago with inscription to Phil Friedman] 1975. Museum of the City of New York. 88.86.55

Phil Friedman was a stage manager for 25 theatrical productions on Broadway. While going through his papers, I realized that being a stage manager requires a great deal of organization and the ability to garner respect from everyone involved in the production. Once the director has issued final notes to the cast, it is up to the stage manager to assume control over the stage area, the backstage area, and the dressing rooms. All staff, including lighting, sound, and props, directly report to him.

Page one of production script for Pippin by Roger O. Hirson with additions from Bob Fosse. October 23, 1972. Museum of the City of New York. 88.86.14.3

Page one with cues from Pippin script by Roger O. Hirson and  Bob Fosse. October 23, 1972. Museum of the City of New York. 88.86.14.3

Looking through Phil Friedman’s scripts from productions such as How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961), Pippin (1972), Chicago (1975), and the revival of Sweet Charity (1986), you can see just how detailed a stage manager has to be, marking the light cues, costume changes, prop usage, and entrances and exits of all the performers. It is a craft, indeed! Managing myself is hard enough on most days, I cannot imagine how stressful it must be to manage an entire production and to have it all run smoothly, multiple times a day.

Note to Phil Friedman from Debbie Allen, 1986. Museum of the City of New York. 88.86.74.1

Note to Phil Friedman from Debbie Allen, 1986. Museum of the City of New York. 88.86.74.1

The Ephemera and Correspondence series of the Phil Friedman papers reveals how much the theater world loved and revered this man. The collection includes thank you notes from Liza Minnelli, Bob Fosse, Michael Kidd, Fred Ebb and John Kander; farewell cards from cast and crew; happy birthday cards; and good luck notes.  All of these materials provide evidence of the kind of dedication and passion that goes into managing the productions that we have enjoyed watching in the past, and will continue to watch in the future.

Souvenir program showing Debbie Allen as the title character in Sweet Charity, 1986. Museum of the City of New York. 88.86.93

Souvenir program showing Debbie Allen as the title character in Sweet Charity, 1986. Museum of the City of New York. 88.86.93

Phil Friedman’s papers were given to the Museum in 1988 by his sister, Annette Trubowitsch. The full finding aid is available on the Museum’s catablog.

Golden Boy at the Tonys

This Sunday, an estimated six million theater lovers will gather around their television sets for the live broadcast of the 67th Antoinette Perry (Tony) Awards, the annual event honoring Broadway theater presented by the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League. Child-star turned Broadway champion Neil Patrick Harris will host for his third consecutive year, no doubt delivering an opening number that will dazzle with both wit and jazz hands.  I will be one of those six million, but Tony time for me is always bittersweet. As much as I enjoy the celebration of theater, the awards remind me of all the things I did not get out to see. This year, my biggest regret is Golden Boy With eight nominations, it is the most nominated play this season, and it closed this past January. There is some consolation , however, in using the Theater Collection of the City Museum to look back at the original production and its musical adaptation.

Souvenir program. Golden Boy, ca. 1937. Museum of the City of New York. 43.308.5.

Souvenir program for Golden Boy, ca. 1937. Museum of the City of New York. 43.308.5.

Opening at the Belasco Theatre on November 4, 1937, Golden Boy was the fifth full-length play from Clifford Odets  produced by the Group Theatre of which Odets was an integral part.  The play starred Luther Adler as  Joe Bonaparte, a young man gifted both as a boxer and violinist. The action revolves around Joe’s struggle between a life of fulfillment as a musician or the fame and fortune to be found in the ring.  The latter dream cannot occur without grave risk to the former.  Along the way, Joe falls in love with Lorna Moon (played by Frances Farmer), the girlfriend of his manager. The original production ran for 250 performances. It was directed by Harold Clurman, one of the founders of the Group Theatre, with assistance by company member Stanford Miesner. Golden Boy was the company’s biggest hit.  The show made enough money to support the company’s next two seasons. In the wake of their success, several members of the Group felt the allure of Hollywood. Odets’s own experience on the golden coast of California served in part to inspire Joe Bonaparte’s struggle.

Alfredo Valente. [Scene in the dressing room from Golden Boy.] 1937. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.8863.

Alfredo Valente. [Scene in the dressing room from Golden Boy.] 1937. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.8863.

Unknown. [Scene at the Bonaparte's home in Golden Boy] 1937. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.1641.

Unknown. [Scene at the Bonaparte’s home in Golden Boy.] 1937. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.1641.

The original production ran before the American Theatre Wing had conceived the notion of an award named in the memory of  actress and director Antoinette Perry.  In addition to Adler and Farmer, the cast included Morris Carnovsky as Joe’s father and Lee J. Cobb in a small role.  Cobb would later go on to star in the original production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, which won eight Tonys in 1949 at the second Antoinette Perry Awards. That production was directed by Elia Kazan. Kazan is perhaps best known for his work as a film director, but in 1937 he was an actor with the Group Theatre and part of the original Golden Boy cast.  (He’s the mug leaning against the wall in the scene below.)

Alfredo Valente. [Scene from Golden Boy.] 1937. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.8864.

Alfredo Valente. [Scene from Golden Boy.] 1937. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.8864.

Lee J. Cobb would return to Golden Boy, starring as Joe’s father, in the 1952 revival. Joe Bonaparte was played by John Garfield who had actually left his small part in the original run of the show to pursue a career in Hollywood.  In 1937, Garfield was frustrated when the leading role Odets promised him was given instead to Luther Adler.  He finally got his shot in 1952.

William Auerbach-Levy. [[Lee J. Cobb, John Garfield, Joseph Wiseman, Bette ] 1952. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.1717.

William Auerbach-Levy. [Joseph Wiseman, Bette Grayson, Lee J. Cobb, John Garfield, Joseph Wiseman] 1952. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.1717.

The show ran just 50 performances. It garnered no Tony mentions, and it proved to be Garfield’s last work. He died less than two months later.

Until this season’s offering, the 1952 production was the only revival since the original production. However, in 1964 a musical adaptation starring Sammy Davis, Jr. opened at the Majestic Theatre.

Souvenir program for Golden Boy, ca. 1965. Museum of the City of New York. 68.119.1761

Souvenir program for Golden Boy, ca. 1965. Museum of the City of New York. 68.119.1761.

The devil-may-care attitude displayed on the above souvenir program belies the true action of Golden Boy the musical. Charles Strouse and Lee Adams composed music and lyrics for the show.  Odets wrote the first version of the book, but his death in 1961 led to playwright William Gibson working on the script during the show’s out of town previews. The time frame was updated to the mid-1960s, and the lead character of Joe was re-worked with Sammy Davis, Jr. in mind.

Sam Siegel. Sugar Ray Robinson and Sammy Davis, Jr. in rehearsal for Golden Boy. 1964. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.8875

Sam Siegel. Sugar Ray Robinson and Sammy Davis, Jr. in rehearsal for Golden Boy. 1964. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.8875

Despite his perhaps unlikely physique, Davis played a boxer pulled between the lure of easy money and finding spiritual fulfillment as an artist.  The struggle was broadened to encompass the greater theme of an African-American man trying to find success in America. The romantic tension between Joe and Lorna is heightened because Joe is black and Lorna is white.

Friedman-Abeles. [Sammy Davis, Jr. and Paula Wayne in Golden Boy] 1964. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.8868.

Friedman-Abeles. [Sammy Davis, Jr. and Paula Wayne in Golden Boy] 1964. Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.8868.

 Golden Boy the musical ran for over 560 performances. It garnered four Tony nominations including Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical but did not take home any awards.

The rival of Odets’s original play opened last December at the Belasco Theatre that housed the original production. It ran just 53 performances, but with eight nominations, it is by far the most recognized play. I still regret not getting out to see it, but now I kind of wish I’d been around to see Sammy Davis, Jr. croon in the musical.

100 years of the Actors’ Equity Association

Look at the cast list in any theater program across the country and you will see a small * beside a performer’s name leading to a footnote indicating the performer belongs to the Actors’ Equity Association.  Peruse the program bios for these same starred performers and you will often encounter the phrase “proud member of Actors’ Equity.”  The union representing live theatrical performance turns 100 years old on Sunday. Rather than attempting 100 years of coverage in a single blog entry, this week’s posting will focus on just a few points of pride.

Actors’ Equity was founded on May 26, 1913 when 112 theatrical actors met at the Pabst Grand Circle Hotel in New York City.

Byron Company. [Columbus Circle.] 1902. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17949.

Byron Company. [Columbus Circle.] 1902. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.17949.

Unknown. [Francis Wilson in unidentified production], ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 52.21.25

Unknown. [Francis Wilson in unidentified production], ca. 1900. Museum of the City of New York. 52.21.25

Six months before this meeting the Actors’ Society of America, a previous attempt at organizing a labor union for theatrical actors, dissolved, due in large part to the fact that the Actors’ Society did not have the clout necessary for serious negotiations with theatrical managers. The plans for a new organization emerged from its ashes, and the May 26th meeting established a constitution for the new theatrical labor union. Comedic actor Francis Wilson was elected the Equity’s first president.

Equity’s first significant trial as a union came in 1919 when it joined with the American Federation of Labor (now the AFL-CIO).  Demanding better pay  and performance schedules from theater owners, the Union also fought for recognition. Tensions came to a head on August 7, 1919 when the casts of 12 New York productions refused to go on stage. By the end of the month, nine more New York theatres went dark and Equity members in Chicago, Boston, and Washington D.C. joined the strike.

White Studio [Actors' Equity strike of 1919.] 1919. Museum of the City of New York. 37.361.101.

White Studio [Actors’ Equity strike of 1919.] 1919. Museum of the City of New York. 37.361.101.

White Studio. [Actors' Equity Strike - The Committee.] 1919. Museum of the City of New York. 37.361.102.

White Studio. [Actors’ Equity Strike – The Committee.] 1919. Museum of the City of New York. 37.361.102.

Producers gave in to demands in early September after suffering an estimated loss of 3 million dollars in revenue. Equity had won its first major battle, and the result was a major blow to the power oftheater owners and managers who controlled the venues and booking across the United States.  Membership also quadrupled, bringing Equity performers to almost 14,000.

Program for "Malvalorca", 1922. Museum of the City of New York. 32.73.94

Program for “Malvalorca”, 1922. Museum of the City of New York. 32.73.94

Beginning in 1922, the organization sponsored a theatrical company run entirely by actors. Taking a lease on the 48th Street Theatre, the company’s inaugural production was Malvaloca. The Equity Players, Inc. went on to produce 13 more plays under that name  and 22 as the Actors’ Theatre. Productions were a mix of original work and revivals of major plays by Henrik Ibsen, Bernard Shaw, Eugene O’Neil, Oscar Wilde, and William Shakespeare. Though the company did not survive the depression, Equity Players focused on the quality of the actor and their shows were an important part of a move toward ensemble production.

Actors’ Equity Association played a part in the major social changes that swept across the country during the middle of the 20th century. The union was outspoken in its opposition to audience segregation and to  Senator Joseph McCarthy’s blacklist. Equity’s officials participated in congressional hearings advocating for governmental support of the arts that resulted in the 1965 establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Invitation to Equity's Golden Anniversary reception, 1963. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.50.3

Invitation to Equity’s Golden Anniversary reception, 1963. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.50.3

Equity celebrated its Golden Anniversary in 1963 with a month long extravaganza including a reception at Gracie Mansion and a special performance highlighting the best scenes and songs from the last 50 years of theatrical productions. Festivities  continued with exhibitions at the New York Public Library and the Museum of the City of New York.

Greene & Rossi, Inc. [Frederick O'Neal and May Davenport Seymour at opening reception for Equity's Golden Anniversary Exhibition.] 1963. Museum of the City of New York, exhibition archives.

Greene & Rossi, Inc. [Frederick O’Neal and May Davenport Seymour at opening reception for Equity’s Golden Anniversary Exhibition.] 1963. Museum of the City of New York, Exhibition archives.

The Museum’s exhibition was dedicated to Equity’s Golden Anniversary and included a benefit performance commemorating Equity’s accomplishments.  In the midst of the month of celebration, Equity took time to recognize the Museum’s Theater Curator, May Davenport Seymour, at a special exhibition preview arranged specifically for Equity members. Frederick O’Neal, Equity’s president-elect (the first African-American Equity president), presented Ms. Seymour with 50 roses and a scroll honoring her achievements as the founder of what was then called the Theater and Music Collection at the Museum. Ms. Seymour retired one month later after nearly 36 years spent establishing and curating the Museum’s collection.

Program insert, 1960. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.50.2.

Program insert, 1960. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.50.2.

The celebratory approbations were well deserved considering that just three years prior the organization was in another round of heated negotiations with theater owners. One of the major issues on the table was the establishment of a a pension plan. On June 1, 1960, the performers in The Tenth Man exercised a one-night shut down as protest in accordance with Equity’s harassment policy.  The next day, performers at 22 New York theatres showed up to work only to be informed that the show would not go on. The result was the largest work stoppage since 1919 in what theater producers dubbed a strike but Equity called a lockout. The Mayor’s office intervened with a plan to support pensions and the dispute was settled in less than two weeks at the expense of about one million dollars in ticket sales.

Program. Equity Annual Ball, 1924. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.50.1

Program. Equity Annual Ball, 1924. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.50.1

Since its inception, Equity has hosted events  celebrating its members and often fundraising to support wider efforts of theatrical promotion. In recent decades, those events have become more focused on the fight against one of the greatest threats to the theatrical community, the spread of HIV and AIDS. The committee for Equity Fights AIDS was established in 1987 to raise money for performers affected by HIV and AIDS. A year later, Broadway Cares was founded with the similar goal by The Producers’ Group. The two groups merged in 1992 to become Broadway Cares/Equity fights AIDS.

Program for Easter Bonnet Competition, 2009. Museum of The City of New York. F2013.50.4

Program for Easter Bonnet Competition, 2009. Museum of The City of New York. F2013.50.4

In addition to fundraising at shows, Broadway Cares/Equity fights AIDS sponsors auctions and themed events. The Broadway Bears auction sells teddy bears constructed to resemble current season characters. The more salaciously named Broadway Bares features strip-teases by Broadway performers. The program at right is for the 2009 Easter Bonnet Competition which raised $3,402,147 .

One can join an Equity by being a member in good standing of a sister union such as Screen Actor’s Guild or American Guild of Variety Artists  or by performing with an Equity contract production. At its centennial, Equity boasts nearly 50,000 members,  and every one of them has a story about how they earned the * next to their names.  For a more complete history of the Actors’ Equity Association, visit the timeline available on the organization’s website.

The curious case of the Carolyn Capers

In the normal course of my day as Theater Archivist for the Museum of the City of New York, I can count on encountering objects that impress, interest, inform, or even surprise me. Rarer is the object that utterly confounds me, such as the following image, discovered while doing some routine research.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Amatuer Productions, "Carolyn Capers of 1935, " 1935. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.20075

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Amateur Productions, “Carolyn Capers of 1935.” Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.20075

Who were these people and what could they possibly be doing?

Information in the record linked the “Carolyn” of the capers to the  Carolyn Laundry in Harlem. Located around 111 East 128th Street, the Carolyn Laundry was a large wash and delivery service that operated in the early decades of the 20th century.  There’s evidence to suggest a branch or garage space in the Bronx in addition to the Harlem building. The company was concerned with maintaining a clean workplace. As early as 1915, workers from various departments participated in monthly meetings that addressed safety concerns.  I wasn’t able to dig up much else on the history of the organization or its fate. The Byron Company, however, documented just enough aspects of life at the laundry to pique the curiosity.  Below is the building’s exterior.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Carolyn Laundry, 111 East 128th St., Building, With Auto Trucks, 1929. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.6829

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Carolyn Laundry, 111 East 128th St., Building, With Auto Trucks, 1929. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.6829

The delivery men all stand at attention next to their trucks, the very picture of a formal and professional work environment.  A photograph of the “Capers” is perhaps a bit less formal.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Amateur Productions, "Carolyn Capers," 1930. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.20067

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Amateur Productions, “Carolyn Capers,” 1930. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.20067

I still don’t know how exactly the “Carolyn Capers” emerged from the laundry. My best guess is that the “Capers” consisted of employees putting on amateur entertainments, presumably for each other. I found no evidence that the performers pictured were, in fact, employees, but it was not unheard of for companies to provide an entertainment outlet for their employees as a way to boost morale. It is possible that the office parties of yesteryear involved costumes, props, and a few solid musical numbers.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Carolyn Laundry, 111 East 128th St., Weighing Bags of Laundry, 1928. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.6819

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Carolyn Laundry, 111 East 128th St., Weighing Bags of Laundry, 1928. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.6819

Workers, like the ones pictured above, might have been able to kick up their heels with an original dance routine.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Amateur Productions, "Carolyn Capers," 1930. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.20065

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Amateur Productions, “Carolyn Capers,” 1930. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.20065

The “Capers” appear to follow a variety show format. The Byron Company captured a few years of productions. It’s possible the “Capers” was an annual event in the follies tradition of Ziegfeld, Grand Street, and Greenwich Village.  I haven’t noticed a particular holiday theme, but the footwear and lack of set pieces seem to imply dance numbers, songs, and comedic sketches.  These are not the dramatic poses of a straight play.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Amateur Productions, "Carolyn Capers," 1930. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.2069

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Amateur Productions, “Carolyn Capers,” 1930. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.20069

At the very least, performers showed more leg than work uniforms allowed.

Bryon Company (New York, N.Y.) Amateur Productions, "Carolyn Capers, 1934," 1934. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.20071

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Amateur Productions, “Carolyn Capers, 1934.” Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.20071

Though I found no information specifically about the “Capers,” amateur productions were experiencing a significant boom in Harlem at the time they were performed. Playwright and teacher Randolph Edmonds wrote in 1949 about the “Negro Little Theatre Movement,” describing a huge influx of  amateur performances in predominately African-American neighborhoods. The Little Theatre Movement sprang out of communities forming small groups to perform non-commercial works for each other. Throughout the 1920s and 30s, several amateur groups emerged in Harlem as a way to give outlet and find audiences for African-Americans excluded from the Broadway stage. The world famous Apollo Theatre began its amateur night in 1934. The “Capers” may seem to us a curious anomaly, but they were very much a product of their time.

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Amateur Productions, "Carolyn Capers of 1935," 1935. Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.20074

Byron Company (New York, N.Y.). Amateur Productions, “Carolyn Capers of 1935.” Museum of the City of New York. 93.1.1.20074

Visit the Museum’s Collections Portal to view more images of the Carolyn Laundry and the company’s capers.

What the Academy Took from Broadway

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was born 86 years ago this June.  Its conception was announced at a banquet dinner, and all 36 attendees were named founding members. Though created to celebrate the burgeoning film industry, the Academy was unable to escape its ties to theater, specifically the Broadway stage. The first president of the Academy was Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., who moved to films after a solid Broadway career. His wife took her stage name, Mary Pickford, before starring in the original Broadway run of The Warrens of Virginia.  She was the only female actress amongst the 36 founding members.

Unknown. [Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and Mary Pickford.] Museum of the City of New York, 52.321.14

Unknown. [Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and Mary Pickford.] Museum of the City of New York, 52.321.14

The connection between the early Academy and Broadway wasn’t limited to the people involved.  Often the early films celebrated by the Academy drew heavily on stories originally told on stage. The most nominated film in the first annual Academy Awards was based on the 1922 stage hit 7th Heaven.

Souvenir program for Seventh Heaven, 1923. Museum of the City of New York. 79.80.38

Souvenir program for 7th Heaven, 1923. Museum of the City of New York. 79.80.38

A romance between a street cleaner and a young prostitute that blooms under the shadow of World War I, the film garnered five nominations, winning in three categories: Best Writing – Adapted Story; Best Actress in a Leading Role; and Best Director, Dramatic Picture. The movie starred Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor.  The song “Diane” was written specifically for the film version.

"Diane" from Seventh Heaven by Museum of the City of New York. 42.406.67

“Diane” from 7th Heaven by Museum of the City of New York. 42.406.67

The Academy began hosting its awards show just as the silent film era was coming to an end.  The Jazz Singer, the first full-length feature film with synchronized sound, shared an Adapted Story nomination with 7th Heaven. (The Jazz Singer began its life on Broadway in 1925 play.) By the 2nd Academy Awards, only one out of the five nominees for Best Picture was a silent film. It was called The Patriot and was based on Ashley Dukes’s Broadway translation of Alfred Neumann’s  German play.

Souvenir program for The Patriot, 1928. Museum of the City of New York. 34.271.757A

Souvenir program for The Patriot, 1928. Museum of the City of New York. 34.271.757A

The Patriot depicts the life of Emperor Paul I of Russia. It won for Best Writing, but was recognized in several categories  (it tied for most nominations with In Old Arizona), including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor.   The following year George Arliss won for Best Actor, reprising in film the title role he originated on Broadway in 1911’s Disraeli.   As the British Prime Minister seeking control of the Suez Canal, Arliss starred in a 1917 revival production and a 1920 film version before getting an award for his 1929 film.

Warner Bros.[George Arliss in Disraeli, 1929.] Museum of the City of New York. 37.298.544

Warner Bros.[George Arliss in Disraeli, 1929.] Museum of the City of New York. 37.298.544

The Academy continued a strong connection to Broadway  through the Best Actor category.  Lionel Barrymore won for his portrayal of an alcoholic lawyer defending his daughter’s former flame from a murder charge in A Free Soul. In the film’s final scene, Barrymore delivers an intense 14-minute courtroom monologue.  Below is the same scene from the 1928 play starring Lester Lonergan.

White Studios (New York, N.Y.). [Courtroom scene from A Free Soul, 1929.] Museum of the City of New York. Detail of 50.200.422

White Studios (New York, N.Y.). [Courtroom scene from A Free Soul, 1929.] Museum of the City of New York. Detail of 50.200.422

Two movie adaptations of Broadway plays took major awards at the 5th Academy Awards.  Frank Borzage won Best Director and Edwin J. Burke won Best Adapted Screenplay for Bad Girl, based on Vina Delmar’s 1930 play.  Here are Sylvia Sindey and Paul Kelly from the Broadway production, perhaps giving a clue to the source of the title.

White Studios (New York, N.Y.) [Scene from Bad Girl, 1930.] Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.96

White Studios (New York, N.Y.) [Scene from Bad Girl, 1930.] Museum of the City of New York. 68.80.96

The Best Picture honor for that year went to Grand Hotel, a movie about the residents, guests, and staff of a Berlin hotel.  Like Bad Girl, the film came from a 1930 Broadway production.

48_210_1765

Vandamm. [Scene from Grand Hotel at the National Theatre, 1930.] Museum of the City of New York. 48.210.1765

The early years of motion pictures were full of creative borrowing from the Broadway stage. Though the industry began to develop more and more original material over time, the connection has never entirely gone away. The past decade alone has seen wins for film versions of the Broadway musicals Chicago (2003) and Dreamgirls (2007), with adaptations of straight plays like Frost/Nixon (2009) and War Horse (2011) garnering Best Picture nominations.  This year the movie version of the Broadway smash hit  Les Miserables is nominated in 8 categories including Best Picture.  Oscar can’t seem to let go of the Great White Way.

Theater timecapsule – Greatest hits of 1912-1913 season

Talking about a Broadway blockbuster today requires a discourse on the song and dance numbers involved.  The musical reigns supreme at the Broadway box office, but this wasn’t always the case.   The book musical with its full integration of song, dance, and narrative was still in its infancy 100 years ago, and the  stand out hits  of the time were straight plays.

Flier for "Within the law". 1913. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.3

Flier for Within the Law. 1913. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.3

The biggest dramatic hit of the 1912-1913 season was the inaugural production at the  Eltinge 42nd Street TheatreWithin the Law opened on September 11, 1912.    In the play, young shop girl Mary Turner is accused of theft. Though she did not commit the crime, Mary is convicted to a three year sentence.  Making the most of her incarceration, Mary studies law and discovers legal ways to exact her revenge.  Once on the outside, she assembles a team from both sides of the law and begins extorting money from wealthy men including her accuser’s son.  Tension heightens when Mary’s mark sincerely falls in love with her, and she begins to return his feelings.

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). Jane Cowl as Mary Turner. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.1

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). Jane Cowl as Mary Turner. 1912. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.1

The story is full of confidence tricks, double-crosses, police informers, triple-crosses, and a gun shot on stage (made all the more blood-tingling through the use of the fairly new Maxim Silencer).  The play ends in true melodramatic form.  The real criminals are punished and love triumphs.  Audiences were rewarded with a thrilling evening of entertainment that did not significantly challenge the status quo.  Rich people may afford better protection under the law, but the hard-work of a virtuous spirit will ultimately win.

Souvenir program for "Within the law". 1913. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.2

Souvenir program for “Within the law”. 1913. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.2

Within the Law ran 541 performances with consistently high box office receipts, but it was only the second biggest hit of the season.  That honor fell to the comedy Peg O’ My Heart with over 600 performances.  Also a girl from humble beginnings, the titular Peg (played by Laurette Taylor) travels to England to be reunited with long-lost relatives.

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Laurette Taylor as Peg with Michael the dog.] 1913. Museum of the City of New York. 34.79.521

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Laurette Taylor as Peg with Michael the dog.] 1913. Museum of the City of New York. 34.79.521

Peg’s father is poor and Irish, and her mother ran off with him to America, effectively abandoning her own wealthy English family.  Peg’s uncle has recently passed away and left her a small fortune. This same uncle also left a stipend to any respectable family members willing to take up Peg’s education and introduction into society.  Peg’s aunt, Mrs. Chichester, left desperate by a bad investment scheme, welcomes Peg into her home.

Soon the warmth of Peg’s Irish-American manners crashes against the hypocritical reserve of her English relations.  In a scene in Act II, Peg returns home from a dance with her sweetheart “Jerry” (later discovered to be Sir Gerald) and runs into her cousin Ethel sneaking out to elope with a married man.

White Studio (New York, N.Y.) Laurette Taylor as Peg and Christine Norman as Ethel.] 1913. Museum of the City of New York. 48.210.1430

White Studio (New York, N.Y.). [Laurette Taylor as Peg and Christine Norman as Ethel.] 1913. Museum of the City of New York. 48.210.1430

When the noise of their run-in wakes the house, Peg cheerily admits to coming from the dance in an effort to distract the family from the fact that her cousin is fully clothed at a nocturnal hour.  Peg’s sacrifice teaches the Chichesters the value of familial duty and care. The play ends as it must, with all parties reconciled, everyone once again financially comfortable, and Peg with her arms around her sweetheart Jerry.

The popular song “Peg O’ My Heart” by Alfred Bryan and Fred Fisher is said to be inspired by the play’s main character.  Though it did not appear in the  play, the song was performed on Broadway as part of the Ziegfeld Follies of 1913.  100 years later, the popularity of the song has outlasted that of the original play.

Sheet music for "Peg o' my heart", 1913. Museum of the City of New York. 70.49.148

Sheet music for “Peg o’ my heart”, 1913. Museum of the City of New York. 70.49.148

Peg O’ My Heart enjoyed another successful run in 1922 again starring Laurette Taylor, who also starred in a silent film version of the play that same year.  Despite the success of its first two runs, no Broadway production has been mounted since 1922. Within the Law was also only revived once on Broadway, just 16 years after its smash debut.  The play was considered too dated and closed within the month it opened.  Though record breaking hits, both productions were unable to endure the changing times.  With influence of European artistic movements in the wake of World War I, audiences were no longer satisfied with the clear cut heroes and villains of melodrama.