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Theater Biography Collection

Portrait of two women

Lillie Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt, 1887.
Sarony, photographer.
Theater Biography Collection.

Collection Dates: circa 1750-1970 (bulk 1820-1950)
Size: circa 536 linear feet
Access: All names in the collection may be searched in the Bio File database. Items located in oversize portfolios will not be paged. An appointment is required to view framed or rolled items, unhoused objects, and material located in flat file drawers. All other material is open for research.
Contact: Performing Arts staff

The massive Theater Biography Collection (the "Bio File") is a growing collection which documents the careers of British and American performing arts figures. It is an artificial collection assembled by collectors and performing arts staff. The collection is organized in three series: I. Performers, II. Authors and Production Personnel, and III. Composites, Unidentified, and Non-theater Related.

The Performers series, which comprises the bulk of the collection, includes over 10,000 British and American dramatic and variety performers. Although individuals are primarily represented by publicity material such as photographs, prints, playbills, programs, and posters, the collection also contains letters, legal documents, scrapbooks, paintings and drawings, sheet music, books and pamphlets, and other memorabilia. Coverage ranges from a single piece to hundreds of items.

In Series I, the following individuals are represented by at least one box, flat file drawer, bound volume, or oversize item: Maude Adams, Viola Allen, Sara Allgood, Mary Anderson, Lawrence Barrett, Diana Barrymore, Ethel Barrymore, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, David Belasco, Dion Boucicault, Billie Burke, Mrs. Leslie Carter, Julius Xavier Chabert, Maurice Chevalier, Rose Coghlan, George M. Cohan, George Colman the Elder, George Colman the Younger, Katherine Cornell, William H. Crane, Charlotte Cushman, Augustin Daly, Edward L. Davenport, Fanny Davenport, Jefferson De Angelis, Henry E. Dixey, John Drew II, Katherine Dunham, Eleanora Duse, Robert W. Elliston, Edwin Emery, Maurice Evans, William Farren, William Faversham, May Isabel Fisk, Minnie Maddern Fiske, William J. Florence, Edwin Forrest, Della Fox, David Garrick, Mrs. G. H. Gilbert, Yvette Guilbert, James K. Hackett, Walter Hampden, John Hare, Harrigan and Hart, Edward Harrigan, Helen Hayes, Anna Held, E. M. Holland, George Holland, DeWolf Hopper, Henry Irving, Henry B. Irving, May Irwin, Elsie Janis, Joseph Jefferson, Dorothy Jordan, Bertha Kalich, Charles Kean, Edmund Kean, Charles Kemble, John Philip Kemble, Hy Kraft, Wilton Lackaye, Lillie Langtry, Gertrude Lawrence, Jenny Lind, John Liston, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, William Charles Macready, Mary Mannering, Richard Mansfield, Julia Marlowe, Charles James Mathews, Adah Isaacs Menken, Henry Miller, Mistinguett, Helena Modjeska, Janet Murdock, Adelaide Neilson, Barbara Nikisch, A. M. Palmer, Tony Pastor, Marjorie Patterson, Ada Rehan, Pat Rooney I, Pat Rooney II, Lillian Russell, Gustavo Salvini, Almira Sessions, Sarah Siddons, Otis Skinner, Edmund Smedley, E. H. Sothern, Frances Starr, Hal Stone, Fred Stone, Marie Teagarden, Marie Tempest, Ellen Terry, Denman Thompson, Lenore Ulric, Edna Wallace-Hopper, James W. Wallack, Lester Wallack, Blanche Walsh, David Warfield, Henry Warren, Weber and Fields, and Francis Wilson.

The Authors and Production Personnel series includes material for playwrights, critics, directors, agents, and producers, as well as theater managers and lawyers. The following individuals are represented by at least one box, flat file drawer, bound volume, or oversize item: Authors and critics Bertolt Brecht, Noel Coward, Charles Dickens, Moss Hart, Claire Booth Luce, Eugene O'Neill, George Bernard Shaw, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Tennessee Williams, and Alexander Woollcott; and directors Herbert Machiz and Max Reinhardt. Little of Series III is cataloged, but the material is open for research. Entries in the database are limited to box-level descriptions. The Non-theater Related portion of this series includes sports figures, heads of state, and royalty.

Related Materials

Over the years, parts of the Bio File have been hived away into separate collections. Holdings for Wilson Barrett, Sarah Bernhardt, Edwin Booth, James Clouser, Edith Evans, Patrick Hines, B. Iden Payne, Sarah Rollitts, William Shakespeare, J. Scott Smart, Roland Young, and Florenz Ziegfeld (his collection and the Ziegfeld photograph collection) are now treated as discrete collections within the performing arts collection. Nearly all holdings for set and costume designers were removed and transferred to the Costume and Scenic Design Collection. Most manuscripts in the Bio File were transferred to a separate collection called Theatre Arts Manuscripts, located in the manuscripts collection.

Elsewhere in the performing arts collection, two other artificial collections are organized by name of performer. The Card Photograph Collection contains images of figures from legitimate theater, the concert stage, and popular entertainment. Coverage overlaps with the Bio File. The Prints Collection is an image collection which, though limited in format, covers approximately the same time period as the Bio File. Researchers may also wish to consult the Poster Collection which contains images of popular performers, and is organized by title of play.

 

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