Iconic photos of a changing city, and commentary on our Collections & Exhibitions from the crew at MCNY.org
Since fall of 2013, the City Museum has been involved in a large scale digitization project to digitally capture and describe over 30,000 images of theatrical production. It gives me great pleasure and supreme pride to announce we now have over 15,000 images freely available to view on the Museum’s Collections Portal. Cue streamers, balloons, fireworks, and all other celebratory ephemera.
15,000 images is a lot, and our powerhouse cataloging team has done an excellent job identifying the productions and people in each photograph. Every once in a while, however, a mystery emerges, and there is no way to know just who or what is in the photograph. Let’s take a look at some of these mysteries: unidentified people or productions that deserved to be known.The first mystery image comes from the 1965 Broadway production of Flora, the Red Menace. This musical not only marked the Broadway debut of Liza Minnelli, but was also the first collaboration between composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, the duo that went on to create Chicago and Cabaret. In the above photograph, we see a dancer captured mid-air during a rehearsal. Who was she and what was her role in Flora? The mystery endures.
Unfortunately, many of the unidentified persons are dancers, who as any lover of A Chorus Line will tell you, are no less deserving of recognition than the stars of the show.These two dancers (above and below) come from the 1921 musical revue Bombo. Built around the talents of star Al Jolson, these beautiful photographs beg the question of identity. What kind of pose is the dancer striking? Are those blonde curls a wig? So many questions. The passage of decades might perhaps explain the missing names of the Bombo dancers, but even a more recent production such as the 1971 musical Follies leaves gaps in knowledge when it comes to the some of the dancers. Showcasing the stunning costumes of Florenz Klotz, the identity of these Follies showgirls remain a mystery even amidst a musical about showgirls. Most of the mysteries in the theatrical production photographs revolve around the identity of the person in the picture. On rare occasions, however, the person is known, but the production remains unidentified. In the photograph below, we know the performer is Dorothy Dickson, but we don’t know what she’s performing. This photograph was originally filed with Caliban of the Yellow Sands, but it does not at all resemble other photographs from that production. It possibly was mislabeled, but what is it then? Besides terrifying, I mean. On rarer occasions still, we are totally stumped. Dorothy Mackaill is identified in the dinner scene below but her companion is not. Originally, the photograph was part of the the file for the 1912 play, The Bird of Paradise, but Ms. Mackaill never appeared in that show. Also, the setting does not match the description of the play or particularly its Hawaiian setting. It is even possible that this photograph could be a movie still. (Gasp!) We just don’t know. If you have any information, dear reader, about the above images (or any other unidentifieds you may have come across on the Collections Portal), please do not hesitate to email us at email@example.com or leave a comment below..
Digitization of theatrical production photographs is made possible by the generous support of the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Frederick Loewe Foundation. And we are not done yet, so stay tuned for more Portal uploads, more blogs, and possibly more mysteries. Cue eerie music and curtain.