New York Public Library
Billy Rose Theatre Collection
40 Lincoln Center Plaza
New York, NY 10023-7498
6,700 keysheets (175,000 photoprints) : b&w
Luther White and his principal photographer, George W. Lucas, are credited with the development of flash-pan artificial lighting, which enabled the Studio to cut drastically the time necessary for studio and location photography. By 1904, with the further development of flashlighting, White Studio began to document theater, opera, music, dance and circus production on assignment from producers and theater owners such as David Belasco, Daniel Frohman, Lee and J.J. Shubert and Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. who wanted to provide visual material for the press. White's methods were considered ideal for creating images suitable for rotogravure reproduction in newspapers. Photographs were often taken from the first balcony or lighting booth at the final dress rehearsal and productions were often re-photographed after major cast changes, providing documentation of replacement actors as well as the original cast. In some cases, set models and costume sketches were also photographed. White Studio soon became the leading entertainment photography studio of its day, providing publicity photographs for performers. The Studio, because of its fine reputation in portraiture, also became involved in fashion photography.
The most comprehensive record of the American stage for the years 1903-1936, the collection of White Studio theatrical photographs reflects over 7,000 professional photographic assignments documenting more than 85% of all live performances of theater and vaudeville in New York. Over 6,700 key sheets covering the entire history of the Studio are included in the collection. The key sheets reproduce in positive miniature every photograph taken during each assignment and often include photographs of all sets and lighting effects, portraits of actors in each costume change, and stage shots displaying important scenes and plot elements, usually in the order in which they were performed. The estimated total number of individual images contained in the key sheets amounts to 175,000. The photographic images were used in print advertising, programs, posters, window and lobby cards, mailed promotional material, and sheet music covers. Portraits and scenes were reproduced in the then 13 New York City newspapers, and were fed to syndicated and independent out-of-town papers.
Some productions included in the White Studio key sheets are: Eugene O'Neill's THE EMPEROR JONES, THE HAIRY APE and WELDED; original productions of SHOW BOAT and SHUFFLE ALONG; and the ZIEGFELD FOLLIES of 1907 through 1936. The documentation of topical revue series, such as the FOLLIES, and the rival PASSING SHOWS, GEORGE WHITE'S SCANDALS and VANITIES provides primary research material on a variety of political issues satirized on stage, such as the anti-Suffragist scenes in the 1913 PASSING SHOW and the progression of Prohibition parodies in the 1919-1921 FOLLIES and SCANDALS. Stars depicted in the photographs include Paul Robeson, Grace George, Fanny Brice, Billie Burke, Marilyn Miller, Ernest Truex, and Blanche Yurka as well as early shots of Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart and Mary Boland in stage roles prior to their film careers.
In addition to English language commercial theater, the White Studio collection is rich in its documentation of non-English language theater, early motion pictures, theater architecture and design, and fashion. Yiddish language productions, rehearsals and events are documented along with performances in French, Italian and German theaters. Non-commercial theater is also represented through unique documentation of such community-based events as expositions, pageants and masques. Also represented are performances of traveling companies including the New York appearances of the Abbey Players, Mei Lan Feng, the Moscow Art Theater and the Moscow State Theatre.
The collection also depicts films and film-making in New York area studios during the 1910s and 1920s with the key sheets identifying performers in the era before on-screen credit for individuals. It also includes exterior and interior shots of historic theater buildings, including a number that were subsequently razed. The demolition of the Earl Carroll Theatre is documented. Also included are photographs of all the Keith circuit theaters of the 1920s, as well as cabarets, nightclubs, roof gardens, restaurants and dance halls. And finally, the fashion industry and fashion photography are documented by such well-known names as Coco Chanel, Jeanne Lanvin and Mariano Fortuny as well as by lesser-known New York based retail designers such as Peggy Hoyt and Sally Milgrim, now recognized as instrumental in the development of the American sportswear movement. The breadth of the visual information contained in the WhiteStudio collection makes it impossible to over-estimate the importance of this documentation for researchers in theater history, social history, popular culture, fashion history and related fields.
All print photographs in the White Studio collection were conserved and the originals are now mounted non-adhesively, on acid-free boards using polyester corners or slings. The keysheets have also been inserted in a three-sided polyester sleeve and the encapsulations placed in standard-size acid-free photographic storage boxes. This major preservation project was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
This collection also includes thousands of nitrate and acetate still film negatives, which are currently semi-processed and not available for general research access. Specific acetate negatives may be available for digital imaging orders, however.