Tag Archives: Actors

Chantecler, a Barnyard Fantasy

"Chantecler" theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.65.

“Chantecler” theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.65.

While digitizing the vast collection of over 30,000 photographs that make up the theatre production files at the Museum of the City of New York, a project generously funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services, there oftentimes come to light incredible images that are unusual and dream-like, seemingly attached to a time and space very distant from a typical 21st century production. One example is the photographs by White Studios of the 1911 Broadway production of Chantecler, a Verse Play in Four Acts, by French poet and dramatist Edmond Rostand, adapted by Louis N. Parker. Rostrand had dealt with 10 years of writer’s block before writing the script and the production was particularly contentious: the public was shocked that such an elaborate production featured chickens; the original Paris production was postponed due to a great flood; and the American version was surrounded in controversy over the casting of a woman (Maude Adams) as the male protagonist.

Act 4 of "Chantecler" - "In the Heart of a Wood", 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.53.

Act 4 of “Chantecler” – “In the Heart of a Wood”, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.53.

The plot centers around the existential struggle of the rooster Chantecler (meaning ‘clear singing’), who is convinced that his crowing is solely responsible for the sun rising. There is much conflict among the barnyard animals:  jealousy, deception, denial of the possibility Chantecler could emit a call so beautiful it could command daylight. Chantecler defends his belief in his life-summoning art, even placing its importance above the affections of a beautiful young pheasant (who eventually learns to accept his dedication to deliver the dawn after he nearly gives his life for it).  Although it is revealed that the sun does rise regardless,  Chantecler maintains his conviction that it is his duty to signal the new day to every creature and to call attention to the radiant rays of light that shield the farm’s inhabitants from birds that prey in the darkness.

"Chantecler" theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.73.

“Chantecler” theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.73.

Although peculiar in its approach and aesthetic, Chantecler was unanimously heralded as a great work of philosophy and artistic accomplishment. Most of the tickets were sold in advance, due to the public anticipation as to whether Maude Adams could take on such a symbolic masculine role. The casting was seen as a publicity stunt by legendary producer Charles Frohman, who preferred Adams in gender-atypical roles, previously casting her in 1905 as Peter Pan. Chantecler premiered at the Knickerbocker Theater (Broadway and 38th Street), January 23, 1911. “The demand for seats was unprecedented. A line began to form at four o’clock in the afternoon preceding the day the sale opened. Within twenty-four hours after the window was raised at the box-office as high as $200 was offered in vain for a seat on the opening night.” (1) The play ran four months with nearly 100 performances, and subsequently toured more than 60 cities.

Maude Adams in the title role of "Chantecler", 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.52.

Maude Adams in the title role of “Chantecler”, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.52.

“To Miss Adams’s mind the most violent misconception of ‘Chantecler’ is the idea that the chief character should be absolutely masculine…The whole play, in a nutshell, to her way of thinking, is the story of an idealist going forth into the world and getting the edges rubbed off his ideals by the stern realities of life. But she believes that the cock’s steadfastness to these ideas, even when he learns that his part in the scheme of things is not as important as he thought it was is the most lasting lesson in the play, sending men and women out of the theatre determined to do their level best in their various undertakings.” (2)

"Chantecler" theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.58.

“Chantecler” theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.58.

It was the combination of pure spectacle with the humbling nature of the pastoral scene that made Chantecler such a unique phenomenon. The passions and aspirations of the ego in search of artistic expression and authenticity were reflected by literally stripping the stage of the human presence.

A review in the Indianapolis Star describes the impact of the unusual use of scale in the production:

“Chantecler…doesn’t look to most spectators more than twice the size of a real rooster and not more than half the height of Maude Adams. The transient effect is produced by an enlargement of the inanimate objects in sight…a haystack in the background is a mountain; a wheelbarrow fills the space of an oxcart…. That method of belittling the beasts and birds is feasible throughout, as no glimpse of a human figure is given in he whole play. A usual oak in a forest is a thick at the trunk of a California wonder tree.” (3)

"Chantecler" theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.60.

“Chantecler” theater still, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.60.

Upon observing the bewildering beauty of the production photos, it should be  no surprise that producer Frohman assembled a production design team of extraordinary ingenuity. Documents from the stage manager’s manual depict the cutting edge technology used to engineer the production. Remember, electric (tungsten) stage lights had only recently been invented!

Stage equipment for "Chantecler", 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.77.

Stage equipment for “Chantecler”, 1911. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 48.367.77.

Much of Chantecler’s stagecraft was developed by J.M. Hewlett, A.T. Hewlett, and Charles Basing under the direction of W.H. Gilmore. J.M. Hewlett (formally of McKim, Mead & White and founder of Lord and Hewlett) is perhaps best  known for designing notable buildings such as the Brooklyn Masonic Temple (1907) and Brooklyn Hospital (1920), to name a few. As a team, Hewlett and Basing were responsible for the design and execution of the infamous celestial ceiling in Grand Central Station, as well as many other important public works, including the eight historical murals at the Bank of New York and Trust Company building.

Chantecler_Museum_of_the_City_Of_New_York_23

“Chantecler” Press Clipping, 1911, From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

A description under a press photo (above) describes the way the special effects were achieved:

“Viewed from the auditorium this is a stage setting done in the regular way. It shows a superb and realistic forest full of color and atmosphere. In reality, however, there is no color there at all except what is thrown on from colored lights. The trees are only pieces of white gauze and the back drop, with its apparent elaborate distant perspective, only a plain black curtain.”

Below, a few documents from behind the scenes reveal  the technical skill ‘behind the curtain’ that went into producing this microcosmic wonder:

Chantecler_Museum_of_the_City_Of_New_York_03

“Chantecler” Stage Manager’s Script, Act 1. 1911, From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

Chantecler_Museum_of_the_City_Of_New_York_06

“Chantecler” Stage Manager’s Script, Act 1, Positions of Lights. 1911, From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

To read the original synopsis of the Chantecler play, view the  story card that was handed out to Knickerbocker Theatre audiences:

Chantecler_Museum_of_the_City_Of_New_York_19

“Chantecler” Knickerbocker Theatre Play Synopsis (recto). 1911, From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

Chantecler_Museum_of_the_City_Of_New_York_20

“Chantecler” Knickerbocker Theatre Play Synopsis (verso). 1911, From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York.

Click here to explore even more images of Chantecler. Click here to see all of the Broadway production photographs digitized to date under the IMLS grant.

(1) Frohman, Dainel and Marcosson, Issac F.,  Charles Frohman: Manager and Man, 1916.

(2) Fitzgerald, J.A., Chantecler Comes, Crows, and Conquers, Maryland Evening Post, Feb. 2, 1911

(3) Fyles, Franklin, Chantecler, Not only a Novelty in Gotham, Indianapolis Star, Jan. 29, 1911.

 

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.

 

Animals on Stage

Thanks to a generous Museums for America grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, I have the pleasure as Collections Assistant to aid in processing over 30,000 unique images documenting theatrical productions on New York City’s Broadway and Off-Broadway stages from the Museum of the City of New York’s Theater Collection. The grant allows the museum to digitize these images and make them accessible to the public, including performing arts scholars and theater enthusiasts across the nation.

The notion of Broadway evokes glamorous stars of the stage – Mary Martin, Tallulah Bankhead, and Gene Kelly, among others. But some of the most charismatic and hardworking actors from some of Broadway’s notable productions of the past weren’t humans at all.

Animals have been acting in stage productions on Broadway for decades, providing companionship to characters and making audiences smile.  Rigorous training goes into preparing an animal for a role, teaching him or her multiple commands so that the same tasks may be performed consistently several times a week on cue. One early canine actor played Flush in The Barretts of Wimpole Street.

Flush, the cocker spaniel from The Barretts of Wimpole Street.

Flush, the Cocker Spaniel from The Barretts of Wimpole Street. 1931. Museum of the City of New York, 33.34.35.

The Barretts of Wimpole Street is a play written by Rudolf Besier in 1930 and based on the romance between poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. It opened at the Empire Theatre on Broadway in 1931 starring Katharine Cornell and Brian Aherne, and ran for 370 performances. Flush the Cocker Spaniel was not only in the original production but also in the 1934 and 1945 revivals. According to the directions written by Besier in the official play script, a dog can sometimes be more of a diva than a human actor. Besier advised: “In the original production, the dog ‘Flush’ was an actor. But since to train a dog is sometimes even more difficult than to train a human actor, it is suggested that the dog should not be allowed on stage.” This did not deter any of the Broadway productions, however, and the dog playing Flush got a sparkling review by Andre Sennwald in the New York Times in 1934: “A report on the acting would be woefully inadequate without a tribute to Flush, the Cocker Spaniel of Elizabeth. His almost human and occasionally superhuman powers of expression are so remarkable as to cause some alarm for the superiority of the human race.”

Dog trainer Paul Sydell and canine assistants Suzie, Smoothy, and Dingle-Dingle

Dog trainer Paul Sydell practicing with his canine assistants Suzie, Smoothy, and Dingle-Dingle. 1961. Museum of the City of New York, 68.80.4927.

Paul Sydell with Smoothy the dog.

Paul Sydell with Smoothy the dog in Carnival. 1961. Museum of the City of New York, 68.80.4945.

In the musical Carnival a naïve, orphaned girl is taken in as an apprentice to a traveling French circus. Opening in 1961 at the Imperial Theatre, the show included several sensational acts like stilt-walkers, trick cyclists, and of course dog acrobats Suzie, Smoothy, and Dingle-Dingle with their trainer Paul Sydell. According to the show’s original Playbill, Sydell and the dogs were a top variety act and led a very glamorous life: “They have entertained audiences in such supper clubs as the Copacabana, the Palmer House, and Chez Parce. They have played all the leading theatres including the Radio City Music Hall, and appeared on all the leading television shows including those of Ed Sullivan, Perry Como, and Patti Page. Mrs. Sydell travels with the act and cooks for Suzie, Smoothy, and Dingle-Dingle. Once a week, after their bath, they get egg yolk enlivened by a dash of cognac.”

Jimmy Durante and Big Rosie the elephant

Jimmy Durante and Big Rosie the elephant in Jumbo. 1935. Museum of the City of New York, 37.414.10.

Just to show that not all animal actors come in small furry packages, Big Rosie the elephant made her stage debut in Jumbo, a musical about a financially-strapped circus which opened on Broadway at the Hippodrome Theatre on November 16, 1935. At the end of each performance, Jimmy Durante would lay down on the stage and permit Rosie to place her foot upon his head. The large, 5,000-seat theater was turned into a big top circus tent where various specialty acts, including acrobats and animal actors, performed during the show. Durante and Big Rosie apparently brought the house down at each performance with the famous ending line: when Durante tries to sneak off with Rosie, away from creditors, they ask him where he’s attempting to go with the elephant; Durante answered, “What elephant?”

Sarah Jessica Parker as Annie with Sandy the dog in Martin Charnin's Annie. Museum of the City of New York, 79.56.5.

Sarah Jessica Parker as Annie with Sandy the dog in Annie. 1979. Museum of the City of New York, 79.56.5.

Perhaps one of the most famous animal actors of all was Sandy, named for the character he played in the 1977 Broadway production of Annie, originally starring Andrea McArdle. (She was succeeded by a fourteen-year old Sarah Jessica Parker in 1979.) Sandy had led a hard-knock life as a stray and was one day away from being put down at the Connecticut Humane Society when trainer William Berloni adopted him, paying $8 and giving him a new life in the theater. Sandy was trained to be calm in front of thousands of people and learned to heel, stay, bark on cue, and cross the stage to search for Annie night after night. He went on to appear in 2,377 performances of Annie over seven years, performing twice at the Tony awards and six times at the White House, entertaining Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Sandy’s titular autobiography, published by Simon & Schuster, told the story in the “first person” of a dog that goes from being an abused puppy to a Broadway star. Sandy’s memory is honored through The Sandy Fund, affiliated with the Humane Society of New York, which has raised over $10,000 for animal rights, welfare, and rescue. Sandy’s story is an example of a classic rags-to-riches story, proving that even a mutt from Connecticut can make it big on the stage.

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.

Alfred E. Smith – the people’s politician?

Archival Intern, Karis Raeburn

Archival Intern, Karis Raeburn

This week, we have a  guest post from one of the interns who worked with us over the summer, Karis Raeburn, who has since returned to Dayton, Ohio, where she is obtaining her Master’s Degree in Public History, with studies in archives management, museum studies, and collection management, at Wright State University.  Karis processed the Alfred E. Smith papers  (finding aid available on the Museum’s catablog for archival collections) and before she headed back to school, she took the time to tell us more about Smith,  the collection, and her experience of processing it:

Alfred Emanuel “Al” Smith (1873-1944) grew up in the Fourth Ward of New York City’s Lower East Side.  This map provides a snapshot of living conditions in the neighborhood approximately ten years before his birth.  The wider electorate looked upon Smith as a “typical” New Yorker, and New Yorkers loved him for his humble origins.  Smith rose through politics with the backing of the  Tammany Hall political machine, sitting on the New York State Assembly and serving first as Sheriff of New York County and then as President of the Board of Aldermen, before going on to be elected governor of New York State four times between 1919 and 1928.  Smith went on to run as the Democratic candidate for the United States presidency in 1928, losing to Herbert Hoover.

Cartoon which would have been published in "The World" if Smith had won the 1928 presidential election. 1928. Museum of the City of New York. 43.366.48

Cartoon which would have been published in “The World” if Smith had won the 1928 presidential election. 1928. Museum of the City of New York. 43.366.48

When I first started looking at the documents in the Al Smith collection, I couldn’t quite believe that people had so much respect for a politician.   I’m British; we don’t like our politicians very much.  The collection, however, holds published articles in praise of Smith, an honorary doctorate from SUNY, and a booklet full of voter signatures in Smith’s home district pledging their support in the 1928 election.  Other messages of support came from the Motion Picture Theatre Owners of America, and one of Smith’s former teachers.  Could people really like a politician this much?

Front page of a book of signatures pledging support for Smith in the 1928 presidential election. 1928. Museum of the City of New York.

Front page of a book of signatures pledging support for Smith in the 1928 presidential election. 1928. Museum of the City of New York. 45.117.56

When I began researching Smith, I discovered that, far from the one-sided view of him I feared I was getting, the collection is actually an accurate representation of how popular Smith really was, at least in New York City.  It would be foolish to think he was universally loved: he was a Catholic, he was anti-Prohibition, and he was linked to Tammany Hall.  He was progressive in his support for civil rights, women’s rights and worker’s rights – gaining him admirers as well as detractors – but he tried to follow a populist line and always maintained an image as a true working class New Yorker.

Smith’s down to earth persona helped him win the race for  Governor of New York in 1918.  Although he lost the  next election in 1920, he was successful in the 1922, 1924 and 1926 elections, choosing not to run in 1928 in order to run for the United States presidency.  Running for president proved to be vastly different from running for governor, and Smith’s image worked against him in places that distrusted urbanites, despite the reality that, by 1928, Smith’s life in upstate New York looked more like that of a country gent than of a city slicker.  Smith was also seen as having a limited view of the country’s issues; he had never traveled outside New York state before the election campaign, spoke with a heavy New York accent, and his Roman Catholic religion was attacked with abuse and slurs throughout the campaign, especially in the south.

Smith and members of his family at the Oliver Street polling station. 1924. Museum of the City of New York. f2012.58.1175

Smith and members of his family at the Oliver Street polling station. 1924. Museum of the City of New York. f2012.58.1175

The 1928 Presidential election, though difficult to call during the campaign, resulted in a landslide victory for Hoover. After his devastating loss, Smith left politics behind and became president of Empire State, Inc., the organization that built the Empire State Building.   He held this position until his death in 1944, never returning to the political stage.

The collection contains documents that span Smith’s entire life, from playbills that document his childhood exploits in amateur dramatics at St. James’ School to his calendar notebook for 1945.  Smith’s scrapbook, created around 1896, shows his early interest in politics: he pasted a number of newspaper clippings on New York political stories alongside playbills and invitations to events.

Alfred E. Smith at Coney Island, age 4. 1877. Museum of the City of New York. 45.117.239

Alfred E. Smith at Coney Island, age 4. 1877. Museum of the City of New York. 45.117.239

There are photographs showing him throughout his lifetime, from a picture of him taken at Coney Island, aged 4, to a shot of him surrounded by his children and grandchildren.  There is even a memorial postage stamp in the collection, issued in Smith’s honor in 1945.  Among other documents attesting to his popularity, from as early as 1916, is a  beautifully illustrated testimonial presented to him from the Knights of Columbus  celebrating his election as Sheriff of New York County.

Front page of testimonial presented to Smith by the Knights of Columbus. 1916. Museum of the City of New York.

Front page of testimonial presented to Smith by the Knights of Columbus. 1916. Museum of the City of New York. 45.117.57

In 1928 his former teacher presented him with a certificate and photographs entitled “Fond Memories and Fonder Hopes to my Dear Boy Alfred E. Smith.” The honorary doctorate of laws conferred on him by SUNY in 1933 states, “Public Education in this State owes much to his broad-minded, consistent and courageous support, and the conferring of an honorary degree upon him will be but a just acknowledgment of this debt.”

Al Smith fishing. c1933. Museum of the City of New York. 45.117.132

Al Smith fishing. c1933. Museum of the City of New York. 45.117.132

The City Museum’s Alfred E. Smith papers are a window into the life of a man who, while not quite making it big on the national stage, was an extremely successful and well liked politician in New York City and State.  Click here to see more images of objects related to Smith in the collection.

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.

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.

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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.