Burnside's correspondence dates from 1893, the year before he left London for
New York, until 1949, a few years before his death. The correspondence is
the largest portion of the papers, filling 66 boxes, and occupying 27.5
linear feet. There are letters present for every year spanned, with the
fewest letters dating from the 1890s, and the most from Burnside's
Hippodrome years, ca. 1908-1923. Letters are both
incoming and outgoing; some received by Burnside contain shorthand replies.
Telegrams, phone messages (many received at The Lambs),
greeting cards, invitations, and circulars are also included, some
separately, at the end of the correspondence series, others scattered
throughout the correspondence.
Readers should realize that since the papers came to the Library in extreme
disorder, the order which now exists was, for the most part, imposed by the
Library. When files were found in subject, alphabetical, or chronological
order, they were maintained that way.
The correspondence is grouped in three parallel subseries. Chronological and
Chronological - Additional were organized by the Theater Division, and are
both in chronological order. Chronological By Year contains correspondence
in order only by year, and was organized by the Rare Book and Manuscripts
Division. Topics, dates, and correspondents in all three series are
essentially the same, the only thing different is the level of organization.
Much of the correspondence concerns logistics of the numerous productions
with which Burnside was involved. Hippodrome productions appear to be most
fully documented. Also covered are: the tail end of Burnside's London period
(sparsely); his early years in the United States, particularly with the
Jefferson De Angelis Opera Company and various Shubert companies;
productions for non-theatrical organizations, particularly the Hermits Club,
the Pittsburgh Athletic Association, the 1926 Philadelphia Sesquicentennial,
and the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair; the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas
he staged during the 1930s and 1940s; Lambs “gambols;”
and the many shows Burnside wrote and/or staged throughout his career.
Of note is the large number of letters Burnside received from performers and
their agents requesting work at the Hippodrome. These performers included:
acrobats; actors; animal acts (with elephants, horses, dogs, goats,
ostriches, ducks, seals, sea-lions, bugs, and other creatures); animal
impersonators; bicyclists; chorus girls; clowns; comedians; dancers;
equestriennes; high divers; ice skaters; jugglers; magicians; strong men;
swimmers; whistlers; and a varied crowd of others.
Letterheads are often decorated with illustrations or photographs of
performers and their acts. Performers generally described what they did,
often including publicity photographs, flyers, brochures, portions of
scripts, posters (some of which are in Box 119 or the map case), and
clippings as further illustration.
Burnside also received letters from friends and relatives of performers who
were writing on their behalf requesting work, help in times of distress, and
in the case of young people far from home, guidance.
The correspondence also documents the work of Burnside Studios; Burnside's
efforts in the film industry in New York, 1920s, and in Hollywood during the
1930s; participation in theatrical clubs and organizations, particularly The
Lambs, in which he was active for many years; war work (including Burnside's
membership in the Mayor's Committee of Welcome to Homecoming Troops, 1919);
and some personal and family matters.
Burnside's correspondents included, along with performers, members of theater
management ranging from office workers to theater owner; designers of sets,
costumes, and lighting; all sorts of stagecraft workers and suppliers;
lawyers; engineers; insurance agents; and everyone else whose work was
necessary to his productions. He also corresponded with theatrical
colleagues in the United States and London; amateur theatrical groups from
schools, prisons, and charities requesting help with their productions; and
Frequent or prominent correspondents include: Harry Askin, Irving Berlin,Charles B. Cochran, Jefferson De Angelis,
Charles B. Dillingham, A.
(Alfredo Leonardo) Edel, Florence Edel,
Bruce Edwards, Michel Fokine,
Charles Frohman, Loie Fuller,
John Golden, Silvio Hein,
Harry Houdini, Elsie Janis,
George S. Kaufman, Victor
Kiraly, Harry Kline, Jesse L.
Lasky, Mark Luescher, Anna
Pavlova, J.J. Shubert, Lee
Shubert, Sam Shubert, John
Philip Sousa, Oswald Stoll,
Fred A. Stone, Arthur
Voegtlin, Ned Wayburn, and Flo
One group of family letters was found as a separate group, and has been kept
that way. These, ca.1900s-1940s, consist primarily of correspondence among
members of Burnside's immediate family: his wife Kittie, sister
Nell Dowling, daughters Kathryne
Burnside, Helen Burnside Blewitt, and
Betty Burnside Anderson, and sons-in-law
James T. Anderson and George Blewitt.
Letters received by Burnside's daughters from friends are
included. These largely concern personal matters. Some exceptions are
mentions of Burnside's work, and of Kathryne's brief acting career, and
letters, 1930s, to Burnside in Hollywood from George Blewitt,
who was apparently taking care of some business matters for
Burnside in New York and New Jersey.
Additional family correspondence - including letters from Margaret
Thorne, 1890s, concerning both personal and theatrical
matters, and other relatives still in England - can be found scattered
throughout the first three correspondence series.