From the very first double page, black and white photograph of the first anniversary of The Show Off’s original run at the Playhouse Theatre (February 5, 1925) written by George Kelly – uncle of Grace Kelly – where we see some audience members covering their faces with their programs, trying not to be photographed we become aware that this new book published by Turner Publishing Company – Historic Photos of Broadway – New York Theater 1850-1970 will have some very special and intriguing images.
And we are not disappointed. Not by one of the 240 large-format photos that have been selected with extreme care by Leonard Jacobs from the Billy Rose Theatre Division, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. In an easy to read style that is knowledgeable, fascinating and chock full of humor Mr. Jacobs has written the text and captions with some wonderfully original insights into the history of New York Theater.
Historic Photos of Broadway may very well be subtitled “the disappearance and demolition of New York Theatres” – the Eltinge Theatre with orchestra seats labeled slender, medium and stout! The Morosco, the Helen Hayes and the Bijou – gone. And the 5,000 seat Hippodrome. What an experience it must have been to see the extravaganza “Jumbo” starring Jimmy Durante and a live elephant! (pg.174).
The Booths, the Barrymores, Bankhead, Berlin, Bernstein, Bernhardt, Belasco, Bailey, Balanchine, Barrie, Beckett, Blaine, Blake, Brando, Brice, Brecht, Burrows, Burton and Blitzstein are just some of the B’s. There’s a whole alphabet of photos to savor… including Doris Eaton who at the time of the writing of this book was 104 years old – the youngest-ever Ziegfeld Follies girl.
Reading this book was such a treat, enabling me to relive a surprising series of firsts and lasts: “The Rivals” first acting role at Hofstra University. The Alvin Theatre my very first professional, disastrous audition – in a cattle call for the chorus of “Wildcat”. Ethel Merman, my first equity job in a revival of “Call Me Madame” (We were both from Astoria and I told her so. You can imagine the reaction.) – “Susan and God” written by Rachel Crothers – one of the first plays I reviewed for Talk Entertainment.com – The Winter Garden where I saw the final performance of Streisand in “Funny Girl” and “No, No Nanette” one of the last shows I auditioned for before retiring from the stage at the ripe old age of 25.
I’m sure that anyone connected with the theatre will have similar responses to many of the stories and images shown in this amazing, remarkable and hard-to-put-down book. To quote Mr. Jacobs – “It’s ogle-worthy!”
NOTE: to see Doris Eaton dance – http://laurenredniss.com/century_girl/doris/