A Collective Noise From the Collectors
In response to Filichia's column on collecting theater memorabilia, readers write in about their own treasures.
Maryann Lopinto wrote, "Peter, don't start with what I collect and why. I have no room for anything. I can't tell you how many boxes I have." But then she calmed down enough to write, "One thing I have collected for years is every show's first full-sized announcement ad in the New York Times. It is amazing who's listed in the cast of some of them, like Celeste Holm in The Grass Harp and On a Clear Day with Louis Jourdan, neither of whom wound up in the show."
As Reverend Salvation sings in The Cradle Will Rock, "Collection!" That was the subject of a recent column in which I listed a few of my more arcane items, including a pepper that was provided from the props of Prettybelle. (Can you say that three times fast? Probably as well as you can say, "Titus the tailor told ten tall tales to Titania, the titmouse.") My mentioning some of my collectibles caused Janet to write and ask, "Can I play at your house?" Sure, Janet. You can see the cassette I got in Australia with the original cast album of Wonderful Town on one side and, on the other, the original cast album of Your Arm's Too Short to Box with God. (Wonder why those two very different musicals were paired? Because MCA issued all of its cast albums on cassette, one to a side, and decided to put them in alphabetical order.)
The idea for the column came because I had found a book and a magazine article, each of which detailed fanatical collectors, neither of which included a mention of even a single theater-obsessed person. Christopher Tkaczyk had a point when he wrote me to ask, "Hadn't it occurred to you that the book and the magazine article feature odd collections? There's nothing strange or unique about collecting theater mementos. I would guess it's one of the most common hobbies in the U.S. Even theatergoers who don't consider themselves die-hards will hold onto old programs for years. While I was growing up in Detroit, I remember saving scrapbooks of the newspaper advertisements for tours of Broadway shows. Silly? Yes, but it was a cheap way for a poor kid to enjoy some of that theatrical glamour."
In the article, I wrote about two guys who have Cassie's actual dress from A Chorus Line hanging on their bedroom wall. That caused one of the pair to write, "There are now two walls glorifying the lady in red where the skirt is proudly displayed. Our gallery -- much more expansive now than when you saw it years ago -- is a treasured Chorus Line museum, complete with the original 1975-1977 marquee that hung at the Shubert, the mylar cast list, critic's quotes, window cards, hundreds of photos and memorabilia. And it's professionally lit!"
Susan L. Schulman, the crackerjack press agent, was impressed at the items I mentioned but crowed, "Ah, but do you have a poster for The Merchant starring a dead guy at a theater where the show never played?" (She means Zero Mostel, who died before the show could open at the Plymouth.) Wrote Jon Maas, "You may have the real obscuria, but because I worked on 42nd Street, I have the official backstage security pass/photo i.d. from when the show opened at the Winter Garden. I still have the opening night party invitation, one of Theoni V. Aldredge's original costume designs (in truth, it was sketched by Martin Paklidinaz), the various show buttons, a Ken Duncan photo of Merrick which he insisted be destroyed (I didn't do it), and the best of all, a tea towel with the Merrick photo and 'You light up my life' written on it."
Ronni Krasnow mentioned her "original props and opening night gifts from Ragtime, Seussical, and A Man of No Importance. But my absolute favorite thing is a very rare piece of Seussical sheet music that Lynn and Stephen recently gave me, which is why it's my favorite." Bob Stempin mentioned that he has an autographed picture of Rex Harrison from when the actor was knighted by the Queen: "I got it when Rex was at Duke University trying out The Circle, when I was his chauffeur."
Brigadude wrote, "You didn't mention mugs. Don't you have any? They're my favorite theatrical things. Surely you must have one rare mug in that apartment." Actually, not too many, but the one that is most intriguing is the one for Stage Door Charley, the musical that would come to be known as Busker Alley before it closed out of town. My only other mug of interest is from the 1987 London production of Follies, which I love because it says "Follies -- a Broadway legend." And while I've never poured a drop into the Stage Door Charley mug, I use the Follies one all the time. I don't mind if it gets a little worse looking as the years continue; there's something about Follies -- maybe it's the crack in the logo's face -- that makes deterioration a natural condition for this show. That's why I like to play my old scratchy Follies LP instead of my pristine CD. It sounds more like Follies that way.
Josh Ellis has a unique treasure. "I love my I Do! I Do! pillow with 'GOD IS LOVE' (yes, all in caps) embroidered on it. I learned from [the show's composer] Harvey Schmidt that my pillow, which was featured prominently in the original production, was not made by the props department but, rather, embroidered by the legend herself, one Mary Martin. I bid and got it at the first Broadway Cares auction in Shubert Alley. I thought of asking Miss Martin to autograph it but feared she might ask for it -- and then how would I be able to say no?"
Peter Salomon gave me a big laugh when he reported, "My memorabilia collection is depressingly small, although I did once have a 10-foot cross from a production of Jesus Christ Superstar in which I was involved. That didn't last through many moves before I decided to donate it to a local community theater. It isn't easy to move a 10-foot cross." But, Peter, that was your cross to bear! "Oh," he added, "I have an autographed program of Ed Ames in Shenandoah at the Paper Mill Playhouse. I was in sixth grade and must have sung 'Freedom' for the entire rest of the year."
Halhillco titled his e-mail "Terence Stamp" in honor of the actor who played the title role in the 1965 movie The Collector. "I wonder," he wrote, "if you had the foresight to hold on to tickets for shows that closed before you could see them? How I wish that, for the mere cost of two or three dollars, I had held onto my tickets to Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen or A Place For Polly or Norman, Is That You?" I understand, Halhillco; I had a ticket for Anyone Can Whistle for the June 3 matinee but the show had been closed for seven weeks by that date. At the time, with me in a job that paid two bucks an hour, the $7.50 meant more to me than the souvenir.
Christopher Tkaczyk finished his e-mail with, "Perhaps you've discovered your next task: A book on theater memorabilia. It would be interesting to know if any collections have stood the block at Sotheby's, and how much they went for." Good point, Chris. Sometimes, I think none of us who collect need to sock away any money for retirement. Considering the amounts that I see some items snagging on E-bay these days, I think we're all in good shape.