Betty Corwin, Archivist Who Founded Theater on Film and Tape Collection, Has Died

Corwin got permission from five theatrical unions to record Broadway shows for posterity.

Betty Corwin has died at the age of 98.
Betty Corwin has died at the age of 98.
(© Kacey Anisa Stamats)

Betty Corwin, the pioneering theater archivist responsible for the creation of the Theater on Film and Tape at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, died on September 10 at the age of 98.

Born November 19, 1920, in New York City, Corwin first proposed the idea of preserving live theater performances to the Lincoln Center library in 1969. She didn't know if she could do it, but the idea was worthy enough that Thor Wood, then the head of the Theater division at the library, gave her a desk and a three-month timeline. Working on a volunteer basis, Corwin convinced five theatrical unions that her project was worthy. Actors Equity Association, the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, the Dramatists Guild, American Federation of Musicians, and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees all came aboard.

The first recording was made in the fall of 1970, an off-Broadway rock musical called Golden Bat. The first Broadway recording was Liza Minnelli's 1974 concert Liza at the Winter Garden Theatre. The collection now includes more than 8,100 recordings of Broadway, off-Broadway, and regional productions, ranging from the entirety of August Wilson's Century Cycle to Hello, Dolly! starring Bette Midler. The collection is open to qualified researchers, scholars, actors, directors, and others.

For her work, Corwin was recognized with a Special Tony Award in 2001, as well as an Outer Critics Circle Special Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Broadway Theatre Institute, special Drama Desk and Obie Awards, and a Certificate of Appreciation from the City of New York, among many other honors.

Corwin stepped down from the archive in 2000 at the age of 90. She also founded and produced, for 26 years, the League of Professional Theatre Women's Oral History Project, and coproduced its Women in Theatre television series.

Predeceased by her husband, Henry, Corwin is survived by children Pamela, John, and Tom, three grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.