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Stars and Treasures: 75 Years of Collecting Theatre


Since its founding in 1931, the Billy Rose Theatre Collection, a division of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, has amassed more than nine million items, which together constitute the world's preeminent record of live theater in all its manifestations. The collection's holdings are of such repute that researchers from every continent have availed themselves of its treasures and resources. This year marks the 75th anniversary of this world-renowned collection and The New York Public Library will commemorate the occasion with celebratory events throughout the year. The centerpiece of this anniversary celebration will be a major exhibition featuring hundreds of rare or unique treasures from the collection. The exhibition will consist of artifacts that, in most cases, have been viewed by only a few researchers on-site and, in many cases, have never before been seen by the public. Among the items featured in the exhibition will be costume jewelry worn by Edwin Booth in Hamlet, costume designs by Cecil Beaton for the original production of My Fair Lady, a bejeweled belt worn by Sarah Bernhardt in Cleopatra, letters written by Harry Houdini, heartbreaking letters from American playwright Tennessee Williams describing the burden of alcoholism and its effect upon his writing, and a color caricature by Al Hirschfeld portraying George Bernard Shaw as a red-faced, horned devil. Many contemporary actors have loaned their personal treasures for this exhibition. One among many is a silver smelling-salts vial once owned by actress Ellen Terry and now a prized possession of actress Jane Alexander.