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Posts by Barbara Cohen-Stratyner

Power: The American Way

George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, co-authors of some of Broadway’s most enduringly funny comedies, also collaborated on a topical pageant, The American Way, which opened at Broadway’s Center Theater, January 1939.Read More ›

The Most Significant Drum Head in Popular Music, Part 2

Upon taking physical possession of the piece, my mind was set on two objectives. The first was to prove to myself that the drum head really was what it appeared to be. And number two, proving to the collecting world in general that this was, in fact, the Sullivan show drum head. Read More ›

Vandamm and Machinal

Machinal is back on Broadway. Sophie Treadwell’s best known play is enjoying a successful revival at the Roundabout Theater. Although a journalist, Treadwell used elements of experimental playwriting to show the central character stuck on the machinery that limited the lives of 1920s women. Her choices doom her. Go to see it if you can.Read More ›

The Holy Grail of the Percussion World, Part 1

William F. Ludwig himself put it best when he said, “On February 9th, 1964, a new musical event burst from the TV screens across America. The Beatles had arrived, featuring Ringo Starr and his Ludwig Black Oyster drums. Literally overnight everyone wanted a drum set like Ringo’s. The drum boom was born!”Read More ›

Focus on Stage Lighting: Faust

This week’s post serves as a caption for the alternative image that the Library’s opening web page has been using when it highlights the Vandamm exhibition, Pioneering Poet of Light. Again, the web editors selected well, since the photograph of Faust illustrates the title so well.Read More ›

Violets and Vandamm

Part of the job of performance documentation was creation of images for the promotional articles, that ran in magazines such as Theatre. The featured play article featured 6 – 8 photographs of stage action laid out like a fashion magazine images cropped into rectangles and ovals connected by 1 sentence plot summaries. The article gives you a taste of the story line while promoting performers. The Vandamm Studio was especially good at preserving moments that convey emotional impact – viewers know that something important just happened.

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Those Mysterious Shadowy Dancers

This post answers a question about the image that the Library’s web page has been using when it highlights the Vandamm exhibition, Pioneering Poet of Light. I was thrilled when the web editors selected it, since it illustrates the title so well. So, here’s an extended caption, with musical accompaniment.

Three’s a Crowd was a revue, presented in the 1930-1931 season. Like The Band Wagon in last week's post, it was choreographed by the brilliantly innovative Albertina Rasch and paired a young Broadway/vaudeville veteran with a European ballet 

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"What Do You Say Up There?" Shooting the Set from Above

The most recent post looked at Vandamm photographs of dance rehearsals from footholds on the catwalks, ladders and rigging stations of Broadway theaters. This one focuses on their photographs of the stage crew setting up for those rehearsals.

Like all theater photographers, they depended on the crews to set scenes, move furniture and props, and adapt lighting. But, as you can see from the portraits and action shots, the Vandamms esteemed their IATSE colleagues and photographed them with the same respect as the performers. There are portraits of individuals or 

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"Hey Up There" Looking Down on Dancers

“Hey up there”

Broadway precision chorus lines were a staple of musical comedies and revues. A straight line of precision tappers, kickers or steppers could excite the audience in the orchestra, looking slightly up, or balcony, from which they were looking slightly down. But Broadway-trained Hollywood dance directors were giving audiences a multitude of angled points-of-view thanks to cameras and booms.

In the 1930s, the Vandamms went all out to give 

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The Line King's Vandamms

It has been a while since the last blog post. I have been busy with the installation and opening tours related to our final Fall exhibition, The Line Kings’ Library: Al Hirschfeld at The NYPL, which is on view in the Donald and Mary Oenslager Gallery here through January 4, 2014. It, the Vandamm exhibit and Michael Peto: Stage in 

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Or She to Hecuba... Vandamm's Greek Plays

Thorndike's 1919 production of The Trojan WomenDuring the War, Florence Vandamm had not lost her skill at showing character and movement. Her career was, in many ways, redefined by the portraits commissioned by Suffragist actress Sybil Thorndike in 1919. She photographed the cast of the 1919-1920 Holborn Empire (Theater) season of classical Greek and modern plays presented by Sybil Thorndike and Lewis Casson.

The images were used for press reproduction and in the season program. Thorndike chose to present the Gilbert Murray translations of The Trojan Women and 

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A Vandamm Postcard from London

Before leaving London in 1923, Florence Vandamm photographed Sybil Thorndike in at least five additional roles. Thorndike was known for her ability to play comedy and tragedy, so there was a wide range. She appeared in the suffrage play Jane Clegg for Edith Craig's Pioneer Players, 1922, reminding her audience that conditions remained despite the political victory. Thorndike also played in and presented modern comedies, such as Advertising April in 1923.

Theater promotional postcards were re-emerging after World War I restrictions on dark room materials.  

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Vandamm: A Journey's End

This post could also be called "In praise of Internet research." In terms of research, it was a triumph; in all other senses, a tragedy. Thanks to NYPL's electronic resources and Internet connection, I went from not knowing of the existence of a first husband to knowing where he was buried in 75 minutes.

Since starting to work on Florence Vandamm's professional biography, I have been spending odd bits of time searching her name on NYPL's amazing supply of electronic resources. So, one Friday afternoon, I searched the name 

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Vandamm and the Antarctic, Part 2

Vandamm scrapbook, Billy Rose Theatre DivisionThere is evidence that Commander Evans distributed autographed copies of portraits at his lectures, probably the Vandamm portrait. There is a description, here in the LPA collections, of attending his lecture and receiving an autographed portrait. Unfortunately, it is fictional, but…

Such an experience is detailed in descriptions of New York activities in Our Mutual Girl, a promotional magazine for fans of a film serial made by Mutual and 

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Vandamm and the Antarctic, Part I

Vandamm scrapbook, Billy Rose Theatre DivisionOne of the factors that brought success to the Florence Vandamm Studio in London and, later the Vandamm Studio in NYC, was her ability to keep track of negatives. This blog contains a prime early demonstration of that ability. Spoiler Alert—it gets a little bit surreal.

Like many photo studios, she created pairs of photographs of military officers and their wives, before assignments overseas. In 1912, she made a set of photographs (profiles, seated, standing, together, and separately) for a Royal Navy officer, 

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Vandamm, the Suffragist?

I admit to a historical prejudice—I really wanted Florence Vandamm to be a Suffragist. A woman running her own business in London, 1908, it just seemed natural. But the road to verification had surprising detours. The self-portrait that is the blog channel's key image gave me clues, but the Internet gave me proof and a great pay-off.

In the 1908–1915 scrapbook, there were newsprint copies of two sets of poses, of Adeline Bourne. One group were in harem-y clothes and showed her in costume for Salome (February 27–28, 1910). Others, including 

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Florence Vandamm

Perhaps the most widely published and least understood visual record of 20th century performing arts, the output of the Vandamm Studio has largely been utilized only as illustrative backdrop for the retelling of Broadway history. The prints, contact sheets, and negatives of theater, music and dance in London (1908–1923) and New York (1924–1963) are among the Library for the Performing Arts's most requested treasures.

Few are aware that the visionary photographer and portraitist who lent her talent and name to the studio was a woman and one who opened her 

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"It's Great! But Why is it Here?" Musical Revue Research Guide, Part 2

In the Research Guide, Part I, I advised that the easiest way to find information at LPA is by name or title. I advised that the research can benefit by compiling a list of every person in or involved in a production and serendipity can come your way. That third dancer from the left can become a star and/or obsessive collector or just happen to have the right piece of information in a clipping file. Sometimes, however, you can do your research prep and be looking in a 

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You Never Can Tell: Musical Revue Research Guide, Part 1

Visitors to the exhibition and blog channel The Great American Revue have peppered me with questions that can be summarized as: "where do you find that stuff?" Substitute artifacts for "stuff" and it becomes a request for a research guide.

The New York Public Library has been collecting performing arts content since the 1880s and online cataloging since the 1980s. Most of the material in the Revues 

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The Act I Finale

The Great American Revue is coming to the end of its run at the Vincent Astor Gallery, LPA. It employed Library for the Performing Arts treasures to represent the 15 revue series on Broadway, from the first Follies in 1907 — to the Pins & Needles series in 1939. The blog channel will continue and for the next few weeks, will focus on some of the treasures that we had to edit out of the exhibition.

For plotless revues 

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