Tag Archives: Theater

Elaine Stritch, Grande Dame of the Stage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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.

 

Breeches on Broadway

With Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Kinky Boots, and Matilda currently on stage, Broadway has placed a spotlight on issues of cross-dressing and gender identity. While processing the Museum of the City of New York’s Broadway Production Files as part of a project funded by an IMLS Museums for America grant, I’ve come across plays that have made me realize how much of our theatrical culture has included elements of drag and gender confusion, whether for comic or dramatic effect.

Mickey Rooney in drag for the musical revue Sugar Babies, 1979. From the Theater Collection, The Museum of the City of New York. 85.58.2.

Mickey Rooney in drag for the musical revue Sugar Babies, 1979. From the Theater Collection, The Museum of the City of New York. 85.58.2.

Cross-dressing has had a long and frequently controversial history in theater. While it was often used to draw laughs from the audience, traditionally with males impersonating female characters, even comedies can have a serious subtext. They permit a way of examining various facets of gender without overtly threatening social norms. Women were banned from the stage primarily for reasons of maintaining female chastity until the 17th century, when female singers were cast in male roles in operas. The term “breeches role,” referring to a role in which an actress appears in male clothing, originated during this period – breeches being the standard male garments worn at the time. Women wore these breeches to make them look the part of a masculine role, but the tightly fitted clothing still accentuated the feminine calves and contours that audiences found alluring. While males impersonating females on stage traditionally served as comedic relief or to cross sexual  boundaries and gender-specific behavior in a way that was acceptable to the audience, females impersonating males were required to act boyishly but still retain acceptable feminine attributes. This tradition lasted well into the twentieth century, and still holds precedence today. Women were cast in male roles because of their androgynous physicality and because females were better envisioned playing weak, fragile, or effeminate male characters.

This is exemplified in the play L’Aiglon by Edmond Rostand about the life of Napoleon’s son Napoleon II of France, Duke of Reichstadt. The play premiered in Paris in 1900 starring Sarah Bernhardt as the title character and in New York at the Knickerbocker Theatre in 1901 starring Maude Adams. The role of Napoleon II (who was nicknamed L’Aiglon, or “little eagle”) was played only by women, who portrayed L’Aiglon according to descriptions that characterized him as vulnerable and effeminate. Bernhardt had already become famous for cross-dressing while playing Hamlet on Broadway that same year.

Sarah Bernhardt in the title role of L'Aiglon, 1917. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 28.67.23

Sarah Bernhardt in the title role of L’Aiglon, 1917. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 28.67.23

Bernhardt commented on this in a Boston Transcript’s April 1, 1901 issue: “There is one reason why I think a woman is better suited to play parts like L’Aiglon and Hamlet than a man. These roles portray youths of twenty or twenty-one with the minds of men of forty. A boy of twenty cannot understand the philosophy of Hamlet nor the poetic enthusiasm of L’Aiglon…an older man…does not look the boy, nor has he the ready adaptability of the woman who can combine the light carriage of youth with the mature thought of the man.” She apparently had a method form of acting while putting on L’Aiglon, wearing men’s clothing off-stage and even at home to immerse herself in the part.

Miss Elsie de Wolfe, actress and prominent figure in New York City society at

Maude Adams as L'Aiglon, 1900. From the Theater Collection. The Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.127.

Maude Adams as L’Aiglon, 1900. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, F2013.41.127.

the time, commented on the differences she saw between Bernhardt’s L’Aiglon and Maude Adams’s in a September 17, 1900 issue of the New York Times: “Miss Adams sees in the Prince a weakling, which he was, a man without force or will; a dreamer. In her performance I think we will get the poetical side. And she is correct in her views. Hers will be the historical character. With Bernhardt you get a suggestion of power that did not belong to the man. It pervades everything she does – voice, bearing, and action.”

Blanche Marie Louise Oelrichs, at one time wife to actor John Barrymore and sister-in-law to actress Ethel Barrymore, played L’Aiglon in 1927 at the Cosmopolitan Theatre. Oelrichs wrote and acted under the pseudonym Michael Strange as an act of defiance against social norms.

Michael Strange as L'Aiglon and Effie Shannon as Marie Louise, 1927. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 50.178.678.

Michael Strange as L’Aiglon and Effie Shannon as Marie Louise, 1927. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 50.178.678.

Later in life, she and the author of the children’s book Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown, formed a long-term romantic relationship. While Bernhardt and Adams are known for shaping the role, Strange is best known for looking the part with her famous androgynous features.

Eva La Gallienne joined the ranks of female stars playing L’Aiglon at the Broadhurst Theatre in 1934. In an article of the San Bernardino County Sun published that same year, Miss Le Gallienne stated that along with Peter Pan, L’Aiglon was a role that, as a stage-struck young girl, she had written down on a list of parts she intended to play before she was thirty-five. She was thirty-four when she was cast as L’Aiglon, and said of her success that, “you can do anything if only you want to enough.”

Eva Le Gallienne as L’Aiglon and Ethel Barrymore as Marie Louise. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 37.350.32.

Eva Le Gallienne as L’Aiglon and Ethel Barrymore as Marie Louise. From the Theater Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 37.350.32.

The actresses playing L’Aiglon used the role in different ways to denaturalize gender as a dichotomy and instead blur the opposition between the two genders to show that there was a great deal of the female in this male role. While these women made great strides to challenge gender norms and achieve success in a male role, there still existed gender stereotypes connecting femininity with fragility and immaturity. Characters like Hamlet and L’Aiglon were considered inappropriate models for manhood and were therefore played by females. Whether it’s L’Aiglon or Hedwig and the Angry Inch, theater creates a space for the audience to acknowledge and question these stereotypes.

William Auerbach-Levy, Artist and Neighborhood Preservationist

William Auerbach-Levy was born in 1889 in Brest-Litovsk, then part of the Russian Empire. He immigrated with his parents to the United States around 1894 and grew up on the Lower East Side. He began drawing at a young age and eventually became renowned for caricature. He executed serious illustrations with equal skill, however, as shown below on the cover of the 1916 annual report of the Educational Alliance.

Cover of the 1916 annual report of the Educational Alliance by William Auerbach-Levy.

Cover of the 1916 annual report of the Educational Alliance. Illustration by William Auerbach-Levy.

Auerbach-Levy’s artistic abilities enabled him to effectively parody public figures, and his caricatures appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, the New York Post, Collier’s, and Esquire, to name a few. He also authored several newspaper articles and a book entitled Is That Me? to satisfy public interest in his profession. In the article, “A Caricaturist Snitches on His Victims – How Celebrities Act When Impaled on an Artist’s Pencil,” published in the October 18, 1925 issue of New York World, he wrote of the character actress Helen Westley: “When I told Helen Westley that I had come to do a caricature she said, ‘Of course it would be a caricature – aren’t you afraid you’ll forget how to make a straight drawing? Well, go ahead and be as wicked as you like. I’m used to it.’”

William Auerbach-Levy. Helen Westley. 1925. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.974

William Auerbach-Levy (1889-1964). [Helen Westley.] 1925. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.974

In the same article, Auerbach-Levy recounted his experience sketching Lionel Barrymore as he applied makeup backstage for “The Piker”. Barrymore saw the sketch right before the curtain went up. “‘Pretty good if you fix-” The curtain was going up. Of course I didn’t ‘fix’ it, whatever it was – I’ve learned that the subject’s criticism of his own caricature may safely be ignored.”

William Auerbach-Levy. Lionel Barrymore. ca. 1925. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.1670

William Auerbach-Levy. [Lionel Barrymore.] ca. 1925. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.1670

Auerbach-Levy’s article “Something About Caricature” appeared in the September 1933 issue of journal New Hope. He recalled in 1927 sketching producer Jed Harris as he worked with director George Abbott on the production “Coquette”.

Something About Caricature

“Something About Caricature” by William Auerbach-Levy. Published in New Hope Vol. I No. II, September 1933.

“I never saw a man so distressed as Harris when he finally looked over my sketches. Then with deadly earnestness he said, ‘You can’t print that in your paper!’” But as Auerbach-Levy later revealed to journalist Ernest Watson in “The Caricatures of William Auerbach-Levy,” printed in the April 1938 issue of Art Instruction: “Shortly after, I saw Jed again. He said, ‘Bill, that was a marvelous drawing of me! Everybody was crazy about it – you must have been inspired – don’t forget I’m buying the original.’ And, thereafter, it hung framed on his wall.”

William Auerbach-Levy. Jed Harris. ca. 1925. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.715

William Auerbach-Levy. [Jed Harris.] ca. 1927. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.715

Harris was not the only person so enamored of his caricature that he requested to buy it outright from Auerbach-Levy. The journalist H. L. Mencken took to his caricature and wrote in a letter to Auerbach-Levy: “I like the caricature very much. It is grotesque and yet it does justice to my underlying beauty. Needless to say, I’ll be delighted to have the original, if it still exists.”

William Auerbach-Levy. H. L. Mencken. ca. 1929. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.836

William Auerbach-Levy. [H. L. Mencken.] 1929. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.836

Letter from H. L. Mencken to William-Auerbach Levy, June 16, 1929. Museum of the City of New York. William Auerbach-Levy archives.

Letter from H. L. Mencken to William-Auerbach Levy, June 16, 1929.

Auerbach-Levy’s talents became so well-known, he was even commended in a New York Times article that had nothing to do with him. Critic Alexander Woollcott praised the performance of entertainer Cecilia Loftus in the April 10, 1938 article “Cissie Loftus – As Ever”: “You see most of what are palmed off on us as imitations are doubly that. They are really imitations of imitations. The true gift of caricature is rare. But once some one born with it – a Max Beerbohm, let us say, or a Frueh or an Auerbach-Levy….”

Jimmy Durante was also impressed with the artist when he went to Auerbach-Levy’s studio in Washington Square, as told in the August 6, 1942 article “This Artist Enjoys a Triple Career” that appeared in The Villager.

William Auerbach-Levy. Jimmy Durante. 1925-1950. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.145

William Auerbach-Levy. [Jimmy Durante.] 1925-1950. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.145

“As Jimmie walked through the door, Mr. Levy saw just the amusing angle he had hoped to catch and jotted it down before the unsuspecting subject knew what was happening.

‘What do you want me to do?’ queried Jimmie, ready to pose.

‘Nothing,’ replied Mr. Levy. ‘It’s done.’

‘I knew I was easy to caricature,’ exclaimed the gentleman with the nose, ‘but not so easy as all that.’”

William Auerbach-Levy. Jimmy Durante. 1945-1964. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.659

William Auerbach-Levy. [Jimmy Durante.] 1945-1964. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.659

Lucas-Pritchard and Lucas-Monroe. Judy Sinclair and Jimmy Durante at a party for "Top Banana". 1951. Museum of the City of New York. 80.104.1.2506

Lucas-Pritchard and Lucas-Monroe. [Judy Sinclair and Jimmy Durante at a party for "Top Banana".] 1951. Museum of the City of New York. 80.104.1.2506

Auerbach-Levy even caricatured himself.

William Auerbach-Levy (1889-1964). William-Auerbach Levy. 1920-1950. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.1083

William Auerbach-Levy (1889-1964). [William-Auerbach Levy.] 1920-1950. Museum of the City of New York. 64.100.1083

Auerbach-Levy accomplished much of his work at the aforementioned studio at 46 Washington Square South. He loved the studio and the surrounding Greenwich Village neighborhood so much, he created a scrapbook, now at the Museum. A cutout quote from the artist himself adorns the first page of the scrapbook: “The reason I like the Village better than any other part of New York is that here you can step out of your door and see the world. Life is here in all its manifestations. You can see more variety in the Village in five minutes than you can on a tour of the rest of the city. For an artist, that is very important.”

The second page of the scrapbook includes a reproduction of an oil painting produced around 1934 by Auerbach-Levy depicting his impression of Greenwich Village in winter.

Winter in Greenwich Village. Reproduction

Reproduction of oil painting by William Auerbach-Levy depicting Greenwich Village in the winter.

The artist Edward C. Caswell drew Auerbach-Levy’s studio and garden, and the drawings were printed in the Greenwich Village publication The Villager. Auerbach-Levy cut out the drawings from the newspaper and added them to his scrapbook.

Reproduction of Edward C. Caswell's drawing of William Auerbach-Levy's studio. Printed in The Villager, .

Reproduction of Edward C. Caswell’s drawing of William Auerbach-Levy’s studio. Printed in The Villager, February 26, 1941.

 

Reproduction of Edward C. Caswell's drawing of William Auerbach-Levy's garden. Printed in The Villager, September 16, 1943.

Reproduction of Edward C. Caswell’s drawing of William Auerbach-Levy’s garden. Printed in The Villager, September 28, 1939.

When Auerbach-Levy leased the studio in 1929, the entire 40 Washington Square block was owned by Albert Strunsky. In the early 1940s, Columbia University bought the block. In 1947, Columbia notified tenants on the block that their leases would not be renewed. Columbia, in turn, sold the block to NYU, which planned to demolish the buildings occupying the space between Sullivan and Macdougal Streets and Washington Square South and West Third Street to make room for a new law school. In addition to Auerbach-Levy, filmmaker Joris Ivens, artists Jacques Lipschitz and Kyohei Inukai, and pianist Celia Saloman would be among the 300-plus tenants to be displaced under the plan. The struggle between the competing interests of Greenwich Village artists and the university was faithfully captured by Auerbach-Levy in his scrapbook.

Caption

Houses scheduled to make way for a school. Printed in The Villager, February 17, 1949.

Not only did Auerbach-Levy document NYU’s expansion into Greenwich Village and the neighborhood’s attempts to stop it, he joined in the fight. As recounted in the June 16, 1949 issue of The Villager, “Skits Poke Fun At Tenants, Officials”: “Representatives of press and radio were honored guests Monday night, June 6, at a rollicking party in the studios of Beatrice Worthington and Ines Carillo, Washington Sq. S… The highlight of the evening was ‘a one shot, first and last showing’ of three skits entitled ‘The Follies of Washington Sq.’” The skits were written by Harold M. Fleming and produced by other soon-to-be-displaced tenants. Auerbach-Levy provided on-the-spot caricatures of people in the audience.

Caption

Spoofing NYU Is Serious Business for Washington Square Residents — and Others. By Haile Hendrix. Printed in Caricature, July 1949.

Despite the efforts of Auerbach-Levy and his neighbors, NYU won out. But Russell D. Niles, Dean of the law school, offered to help the artists locate other places to live and work. With help from NYU, Auerbach-Levy moved to 28 East Ninth Street in late 1949 or early 1950. Auerbach-Levy was also asked by NYU to do a caricature of Niles, which he provided. In addition, the university purchased a caricature of the United States Supreme Court and hung it in the Law Center’s student lounge. Auerbach-Levy even attended the dedication of Arthur T. Vanderbilt Hall, New York University Law Center in September 1951 and remarked to the New York Times that NYU had done “a magnificent job“.

Upon Auerbach-Levy’s death in 1964, the artist’s estate bequeathed 3,326 drawings to the Museum. We’ve recently digitized the work and have cataloged and uploaded about half of these so far to the Museum’s Collections Portal. Click here to view the finding aid for the collection, and here to see more Auerbach-Levy artwork online.

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.