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Posts from the Billy Rose Theatre Division

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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Classroom Connections: Lists for Lesson Planning (Gr. 6-12)

Aguilar Library, 1938 - Librarian w/ students. Want to know more about our current educational initiatives? See The ABC of Education: Why Libraries Matter by Maggie Jacobs, Director of Educational ProgramsWe have just shuttered the doors on our first Education Innovation @ NYPL Summer Institute. During this three week Institute, master teachers from NYC (and further afar) met curators from our Research 

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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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When They Trod the Boards: Giancarlo Esposito, Breaking Bad-Ass on Broadway

Being an actor doesn't shield you from having a conscience.

—Giancarlo Esposito

Giancarlo Esposito, as Gus Fring, stares down a sniper in the TV series Breaking Bad, 2011.Giancarlo, as Julio, sings in the Broadway musical Seesaw, 1973.A true NYC moment: Giancarlo and brother Vincent take a sidewalk hotdog break during the musical The Me Nobody Knows, 1971. Photo: NewsdayI don't know how the final season of the TV series Breaking Bad will end, but it is pretty clear that Walter White is on a one-way trip to hell. As the well-intentioned chemistry teacher turned 

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Kay Brown Barrett: The First Victim of "Scarlett Fever"

Laurence Olivier and Kay Brown BarrettI recently processed the papers of talent scout and agent Kay Brown Barrett, known professionally as Kay Brown, or Katherine Brown. In her capacity as a scout for Selznick International Pictures, she was instrumental in some of the studio's biggest coups. She put Selznick onto the Daphne du Maurier novel, Rebecca, which would be Alfred Hitchcock's first 

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A Disturbed Genius Seen Through the Eyes of an Intimate Friend: William Inge and Barbara Baxley

Barbara BaxleyThough not as well remembered today as Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, William Inge was the most successful and acclaimed playwright in America in the 1950s. During that decade, Inge produced an unbroken string of successful plays: Come Back Little Sheba (1950), the Pulitzer Prize winner Picnic 

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Create Your Own Classic Film Festival

Mildred Pierce (T Photo B, Billy Rose Theatre Division)The fourth annual TCM Classic Film Festival, held April 25 to 28 in Hollywood, included screenings of roughly 80 films and featured at least as many special guests, including Jane Fonda, Eva Marie Saint, Max von Sydow, and Mel Brooks. Festivalgoers got to watch Fonda add her hand and footprints to the TCL (formerly Graumann's) Chinese Theatre forecourt, listen to Tippi Hedren discuss her experience working with Alfred Hitchcock, 

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A Family for My Art: Poets at the American Place Theatre

The Place

Anne Sexton and Marian SeldesIn 1963, a small not-for-profit theater called the American Place Theatre was founded in St. Clements Church, a Victorian Gothic church tucked away in Manhattan's Theater District. The theater was founded by the minister and actor Sidney Lanier, acting teacher Wynn Handman, and actor Michael Tolan. Their goal was to foster good writing for theater by providing a place where American writers, both emerging and established, could find support in writing new works for the stage. Their vision shines through the entirety of the

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Dorothy Loudon's Luv Letters

Life on the road was a hard-knock life for Dorothy Loudon, who spent much of the sixties traveling to far flung locations all over North America to perform in her cabaret act and, later, in the touring companies of Luv and The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. A guarded person whenever she wasn't "on," Loudon hated leaving her beloved Manhattan, but—in the days before Annie made her a Broadway star—it was the most lucrative way to ply her trade.

A breakdown of the Luv tour shows just how grueling those ten months of Loudon's life 

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When They Trod the Boards: Christopher Walken, Song and Dance Man

How do we love Christopher Walken? On his 70th birthday, let us count the ways. Star of film, TV, and NYPL's own iBook Point, somehow everyone has a favorite film that stars him, be it The Deer Hunter, True Romance, or Pulp Fiction. The consummate villain, he faced off

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Musical of the Month: Make Mine Manhattan

A guest post by UnsungMusicalsCo director, Ben West

The CompanyPhotograph © Dixie Sheridan Currently in its fifth year, UnsungMusicalsCo. (UMC) is a not-for-profit production company that I founded with the aim of researching, restoring and presenting obscure but artistically sound works from the Golden Age of musical theatre. It should be noted upfront that I am perhaps more liberal than most in my definition of the Golden Age, by which I mean those 40 glorious years between the Follies: Mr. Florenz Ziegfeld's in 1931 and Mr. Stephen 

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Metamorphosis of a Song: “What Do the Simple Folk Do?”

I've blogged before about my joy in finding something I never knew existed in the richly varied archival holdings of the New York Public Library, but while processing the James Barton Papers, I had an epiphany of another color: finding something I've wanted to get my hands on for nearly twenty years.

Bear with me while I set the scene for this discovery with some personal history. It would be an understatement to say that I'm a fan of lyricist and librettist Alan Jay Lerner.

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A Cold Night's Death: The Allure of Scandinavian Crime Fiction

Maybe you've got the Nordic noir bug from reading Stieg Larsson's Millennium series (we've all seen those ubiquitous neon paperbacks on the subway) or were enthralled earlier by Peter Høeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow or the Detective Wallander series of books. However you encounter them, Scandicrime writers such as Henning Mankell, Larsson, or Jo Nesbø are like a good bag of chips, it's hard not to have another. This is a selective guide to some notable authors and detective series from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and even some Nordic noir from Iceland, and what's better, a guide to

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Cubiculo Theatre: What’s in a Name?

Every neighborhood, street, and building in New York has a history. Sometimes all that is left is an obscure name. That is what has become of the Cubiculo Condominium at 414 West 51st Street, which is described on a real estate site as a fabulous brownstone penthouse duplex with 4 bedrooms, 3 full baths "right out of La Bohème but without all the coughing and the poverty." The condo in 

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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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Dorothy Loudon and Annie

Dorothy Loudon wasn't working. Neither was Annie.

Loudon, by the mid-1970s, had gone into a semi-voluntary semi-retirement. The Women, in 1973, was the last of a half-dozen promising Broadway shows (if you count Lolita, My Love, which never quite made it to New York) that closed in less than three months. She had enjoyed more success touring — Paul Zindel's The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, in 1971-1972, had been her favorite stage role — but Loudon was tired of the road, and hated leaving New York.

She turned down 

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The Lost Musicals: Redhead

Musicals are often most associated with women, or at least with divas: the larger than life stars that musicals are built around. To get a show produced you want to have a decent score and story, but another thing that sells the backers — and the audience — is having a name attached. You need Ethel Merman, Gertrude Lawrence, Mary Martin, Julie Andrews, Chita Rivera, Angela Lansbury, Carol Channing, Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, or last but not least, the star of our show, that improbably sexy, brittle but strong, mercurial, redheaded dancer, Gwen 

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