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Pasadena Playhouse records: Finding Aid
mssPlayhouse  
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Collection Details
 
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administration Information
  • Scope and Content
  • Arrangement
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Pasadena Playhouse records
    Dates (inclusive): Approximately 1687-2013
    Bulk Dates: 1916-1979
    Collection Number: mssPlayhouse
    Creator: Pasadena Playhouse
    Extent: 362 boxes, 98 volumes, 6 oversize folders, and 22 audiovisual items (223 linear feet)
    Repository: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
    Huntington Library
    1151 Oxford Road
    San Marino, California 91108
    Phone: 626-405-2191
    Email: reference@huntington.org
    URL: http://www.huntington.org
    Abstract: This collection contains the records of the Pasadena Playhouse, a community theater established in Pasadena, California, in 1917. Materials consist primarily of theater programs, scrapbooks, business records, correspondence, clippings, scripts, school catalogues, brochures and ephemera, indexes, photographs, original drawings of set and costume designs, and research materials originally housed in the organization's. The materials document the performance history of the various theaters of the Playhouse and also contain partial administrative records and school records, with particular strength in coverage for the "Mainstage" theater and an extensive run of programs and performance photographs. The core records are strengthened by the complementary personal paper collections of directors, performers, and others associated with the Playhouse.
    Language: English.
    Note:
    Finding aid last updated on April 30, 2019.

    Administration Information

    Access

    The collection is open to qualified researchers by prior application through the Reader Services Department. For more information, please visit the Huntington's website: www.huntington.org. 
    Some audiovisual items and negatives are stored in cold storage. Collection material in cold storage requires extended retrieval and delivery time.

    Publication Rights

    The Huntington Library does not require that researchers request permission to quote from or publish images of this material, nor does it charge fees for such activities. The responsibility for identifying the copyright holder, if there is one, and obtaining necessary permissions rests with the researcher.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item]. Pasadena Playhouse records, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

    Provenance

    The bulk of the collection was received from the Pasadena Playhouse Alumni and Associates in February 1987. It has been supplemented by additional donations by former affiliates of the Playhouse over the years.

    Processing Information

    The collection was initially processed at the Huntington Library in the 1980s and 1990s by Susan Naulty, Cathy Cherbosque, and Anne Wray. In 2017 and 2018, Sue Tyson re-processed the collection and wrote the finding aid. In 2019, Gina Giang completed physical control over the collection and added Series IX: Index cards.

    Separated Materials Note

    The following books were transferred to the General Collections, April 2019: Playhouse / Diane Alexander ; foreword by Raymond Burr (circa 1984), Raymond Burr : a film, radio, and television biography (1994), and The Pasadena Playhouse : a celebration of one of the oldest theatrical producing organizations in America (1992).

    Historical Note

    The Pasadena Playhouse produced over 1,600 plays between 1917 and 1969, training and featuring hundreds of leading actors of the twentieth century. At one time the largest community theater west of New York, the Playhouse pioneered a "theatre-in-the-round" staging technique and became a leader in the Little Theatre movement that began prior to World War I. During the organization's "golden years" from the 1920s through the 1940s, it staged hundreds of new plays, including American and world premieres by Eugene O'Neill, William Saroyan, Tennessee Williams, and Noel Coward, and became known internationally as the only American theater to have performed all of Shakespeare's plays.
    The Playhouse had its roots in 1916, when actor and director Gilmor Brown brought a company of professional actors from the Midwest to Pasadena, California. Brown rented the Savoy Theatre on North Fair Oaks Avenue and served as manager, director, and lead actor of the troupe, which he renamed the Savoy Players (variously the Savoy Stock Company). Troupe members included John Allard, Lilian Buck, Jack M. Castleman, Vail Hobart, Minnie Janicki, Orrin Knox, Virginia Lykins, Frank Staples, Marjorie Sinclair, and Wendell Wilson; the company would eventually form the nucleus of the Pasadena Community Playhouse, its name as of 1917. In its first year of operation the group performed Man of the Hour (September 1916) and, in November 1917, four one-act plays, including The Song of Lady Lotus Eyes which featured a young Martha Graham (1894-1991).
    In 1918, Brown founded the Pasadena Community Playhouse Association. A nonprofit corporation with a board of directors, the Association enlisted Brown as its manager and director. After initially holding performances at the Pasadena Shakespeare Club, Brown returned to the Savoy Theatre, renaming the organization the Community Playhouse of Pasadena, and its acting company the Community Players. Audiences embraced the Playhouse's artistic integrity and vision despite its small size and precarious survival due to the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919. The company continued to put on a range of plays and, in 1919, started a new Workshop theater. In 1920, Charles Prickett, who had acted and worked with the Players since 1917, became the Playhouse business manager.
    In 1922, the Playhouse theatre was condemned as a fire hazard and over 1,000 community members and cultural organizations rallied to donate funds for a new building. The Pasadena Community Playhouse at 39 South El Molino, designed by architect Elmer Grey, was dedicated on May 31, 1924, and opened its doors a year later, with a performance of Victor Mape's The Amethyst. The Playhouse, which initially comprised a Mainstage (seating 820) and a recital hall, expanded to include the Patio and the East Balcony and West Balcony Theatres (each seating 50). The Pasadena Playhouse continues to operate at this location as of 2019.
    In 1924, Brown founded the Playbox theater, which pioneered the technique of central staging, also known as theater-in-the-round. Located in a private home in Pasadena, the Playbox was intended to bring niche and experimental work small audiences, for which tickets could be obtained only on a subscription basis. In 1926, the Playhouse revived the Workshop Theatre (later the Laboratory Theatre).
    In 1927-1928, Brown and Prickett founded the Pasadena Playhouse School of Theatre Arts (variously called School of the Theatre), with Eugenia Ong as Dean. The School, whose first class boasted 21 students, offered coursework in all aspects of theater production, including acting, directing, set and costume design, set construction, eurythmics/body movement, dance, and more. Where the Mainstage was reserved for professional-level productions, the East and West Balcony Theatres (later renamed the Huxley and Prickett Theatres) provided students the opportunity to perform before paying audiences. (Additionally, the Patio Theatre was student-centered with participation by community members). The school, which offered Bachelor's and Master's degrees (the latter in collaboration with other institutions) in acting, directing, stage technology, playwriting, and theater administration, would eventually be renamed the College of Theatre Arts (variously, College of the Theatre).
    1930, Brown started the annual One-Act Play Tournaments, which provided a venue for California high school students to compete before judges in categories such as acting and directing; and in 1935, he launched the Midsummer Drama Festival, initially focusing on Shakespeare plays before broadening out to a other playwrights and topical programs. The Playhouse also began training programs in television, radio, and film instruction, collaborating with a local television station in experimental television projects in 1933, and eventually created its own TV and radio production studios. In 1930 and 1936, a charitable gift enabled the Playhouse to pay off its debt and build a six-story annex.
    May 1937, the Playhouse re-incorporated as the Pasadena Playhouse Association (dropping "Community" from its title), uniting under this aegis the newly-accredited College of Theatre Arts and the Pasadena Playhouse. That year, the California State Legislature designated the Pasadena Playhouse as the State Theatre of California, and soon thereafter, Playhouse postgraduate students participated in touring productions all over the state as the State Theatre Players.
    Gilmor Brown died in January 1960, and the Playhouse underwent a period of financial and other difficulties. In 1969, the Playhouse declared bankruptcy and, along with the College of Theatre Arts, closed its doors. The City of Pasadena bought the Playhouse in 1975 from the Bank of America and in the late 1970s, entrepreneur and developer David Houk began efforts to save it, opening the 52-seat Interim Theatre in 1980; the 99-seat Balcony Theatre in 1982; the Playhouse in 1986. By the early 1990s, with a subscriber base of over 24,000 patrons, the Playhouse produced eight plays per year. In 1997, it named Sheldon Epps its artistic director, the first director of color at a major theater in Southern California. Danny Feldman succeeded Epps in 2016. The organization marked its centennial anniversary in 2017.

    Gilmor Brown (1886-1960)

    Playhouse founder and director, actor, and author George Gilmor Brown, known as Gilmor Brown, was born on June 16, 1886, near New Salem, North Dakota to parents Orville Brown and Emma Louise Gilmor Brown. He grew up in Denver, Colorado, where he discovered his love of theater. At the age of eight, Brown founded his first theater company, a troupe of children from his neighborhood named The Tuxedo Stock Company, for which he wrote, staged, and acted in most of the plays. After high school, Brown studied theater in Chicago, joined a touring company, and founded several theater troupes, producing plays in Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas. In approximately 1914, Brown and his extended family moved to Pasadena.
    Brown acted in many of the Playhouse productions, including as Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor and as Tiberius in Lazarus Laughed. Under Brown, the Playhouse produced over 1600 plays, 175 of which were world premieres, and the Playhouse was the only American theater to produce all of Shakespeare's plays. Brown was a key figure in the Little Theater movement, which sought to underscore and support the importance of community theaters, and was active in local and national theatrical organizations, including the Drama League of America and the American National Theater Association. He wrote or adapted four stage plays, including The Cricket on the Hearth (adapted from a novel by Charles Dickens, 1934); and co-authored a textbook with Alice Garwood, General Principles of Play Direction (1936). In 1926, Brown was awarded the first-ever Arthur Noble gold medal award, for which he was honored as Pasadena's "most useful citizen." Brown died January 11, 1960, in Palm Springs, California.

    Fairfax Proudfit Walkup (1887-1976)

    Pasadena Playhouse educator, School and College of Theatre Arts dean, playwright, executive, and board member. Fairfax Proudfit Walkup was born November 17, 1887 in Memphis, Tennessee. She began studies at Vassar College in 1905, but was forced to withdraw to care for her family; in 1922, she returned to her studies, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California and then Master's and Doctoral degrees from the University of Utah, where her studies focused on costume, set design, and theater history. She moved to Pasadena in 1924 and immediately became involved with the Pasadena Community Playhouse as an actress, including in Playbox productions. Walkup also served as a costumer for the Playhouse, and taught courses in costume and fashion, eventually rising to positions including Dean of the Pasadena Playhouse College of Theatre Arts, Vice-President of the Playhouse, and member of the Board of Trustees.
    Her writings included "Outline History of Costume, Based on Authentic and Historic Sources" (article, 1933); "The Sunbonnet Woman: Fashions in Utah Pioneer Costume" (article, 1947); Dressing the Part: A History of Costume for the Theatre (book, 1950), a text widely used in college theater courses; and an appendix on costume and make-up for the book, Modern Theatre Practice: A Handbook of Play Production (1938), by Hubert Heffner, John Selden, and Hunton Dade Sellman. Her plays include Jade Bracelet (undated). She also served as a professor in the theater department of California State University, Fullerton, and at the Universities of Arizona, Iowa, and Utah, as well as at Stanford University. Fairfax Walkup died on September 30, 1976, in Anaheim, California.

    Lenore Shanewise (1887-1980)

    Actress, stage director, and teacher Lenore Shanewise was born October 12, 1887 in Denver, Iowa. She studied at the University of Northern Iowa; at Iowa State Teachers College, where she later taught English, elocution, and interpretive reading; and at the University of Chicago, where she studied public speaking and drama and participated in the Dramatic Club; graduated from in 1911. In 1916, spurred by health concerns, she visited California, joining the drama section of the Schubert Club in Los Angeles; after returning to her teaching duties in Iowa and teaching at other colleges, she moved once again to California, in 1921, and remained there for the rest of her professional career. Shanewise began taking courses at the Summer Arts Colony and soon joined the Pasadena Community Players. She became an assistant director at the Pasadena Community Playhouse in 1923 and remained there for four decades, acting in or directing hundreds of productions; giving lectures on community play production and on modern theater; and mentoring actors, including Raymond Burr. In the 1950s and 1960s, she also acted in television productions, including on Burr's show, Perry Mason; NBC's Matinee Theater; and The Twilight Zone. Shanewise retired from the Playhouse in 1967 and died in San Diego on December 22, 1980.

    Existence and Location of Copies

    Several audiovisual items in the collection were digitized by the California Audiovisual Preservation Project (CAVPP) in 2018 and are being hosted by the Internet Archive. Pasadena Playhouse records  

    Scope and Content

    The collection contains materials documenting the history and activities of the Pasadena Playhouse and its College of Theatre Arts. It includes approximately 15,000 photographs; 5,000 theater programs; 300 scripts; over 100 scrapbooks; 70 set and costume designs; and a few musical scores; as well as board meeting minutes; business records including ledgers, financial records, and correspondence; student catalogs, manuals, and yearbooks; curricular materials; newspaper clippings; theater periodicals; and various subject files. Also included are publications and business records from the Pasadena Playhouse Alumni and Associates, as well as a set of indexes (Series IX) and other research materials compiled by archivists at the Huntington Library (Series IVV). The materials date from approximately 1657-2013, with the bulk of the materials dating from the beginnings of the Playhouse in 1916 through its bankruptcy in 1969.
    Major areas of interest represented in the collection include the Playhouse Board of Trustees' meeting minutes and correspondence; correspondence and business records of Playhouse executives and administrators, including Gilmor Brown, Fairfax Walkup, and Lenore Shanewise; writings, photographs, scrapbooks, and clippings detailing various aspects of the Pasadena Playhouse's history; catalogs, photographs, and promotional and curricular materials documenting the School of the Theatre (later College of Theatre Arts), its students, and student life; performance photographs, theater programs, original set and costume designs, scripts and scores, and supplementary materials reflecting productions at the Playhouse's venues (Community Playhouse, Mainstage, Playbox, Workshop and Laboratory Theatres, Patio Theatre, and East and West Balcony Theatres) as well from various student, traveling, and special events productions; and the holdings of the Playhouse's library and museum.
    Along with Brown, Prickett, Walkup, and Shanewise, other key figures surfacing within the collection include Maurice Wells, assistant director of the Playbox; Charles Lane, actor in many Playhouse productions; Ralph Freud, a director at the Playhouse; Catherine Turney, a member of the School of the Theatre's first class who went on to become director of the Workshop; Dorothy Arzner, a filmmaker from the silent film era into the 1940s and cinema instructor at the Playhouse; Gail Shoup, a Playhouse staff director; Bobker Ben Ali, a writer and director whose productions included Manya: The Story of Marie Curie (circa 1938) and The People Win Thru (1952); Board chairs David Crandall and Earl Messer; and actors Maudie and Oliver Prickett, Charles Prickett's spouse and brother, respectively. The core records are strengthened by the complementary personal paper collections of directors, performers, and others associated with the Playhouse, including ben Ali; Graydon Spalding; Gail Shoup; and more (see Series VIII, Related Personal Collections).
    The collection features the work of photographers including Jerome Robinson, Jack Powell, Gordon Spalding, Kim Spalding, and A. E. Arnold, and the original set and costume designs of James Hyde; Jānis Muncis; Rita Glover, who was the first woman to be admitted to the Designers Guild of California; and Robert Redington Sharpe, among many others.

    Arrangement

    The collection is arranged in the following nine series:
    • Series I. Administrative
      • Subseries A. Board of Trustees files
      • Subseries B. Business records
      • Subseries C. Principals
      • Subseries D. Pasadena Playhouse Alumni and Associates
    • Series II. Playhouse history
      • Subseries A. Historical treatments
      • Subseries B. Photographs
      • Subseries C. Scrapbooks
      • Subseries D. Clippings
      • Subseries E. Other historical materials
    • Series III. School/College of the Theatre
      • Subseries A. Administrative
      • Subseries B. Catalogs, student manuals, and yearbooks
      • Subseries C. Commencements
      • Subseries D. Courses and curricular
      • Subseries E. Promotion and publicity
      • Subseries F. Students and student life
    • Series IV. Theater programs and related materials
      • Subseries A. Early Gilmor Brown troupes, Savoy Theatre
      • Subseries B. Community players of Pasadena/Community Playhouse
      • Subseries C. Mainstage
      • Subseries D. Playbox
      • Subseries E. Other venues
      • Subseries F. Other student productions
      • Subseries G. Special events; visiting and offsite productions
    • Series V. Theater performance and related photographs
      • Subseries A. Community Playhouse and Mainstage productions
      • Subseries B. Playbox productions
      • Subseries C. Mainstage, Playbox, and Gilmor Brown
      • Subseries D. Other venues
      • Subseries E. Other student productions
      • Subseries F. Other performance and related photographs
    • Series VI. Theater production materials
      • Subseries A. Various
      • Subseries B. Set and costume designs
      • Subseries C. Scores
      • Subseries D. Scripts
    • Series VII. Library, museum, and research files
      • Subseries A. Administrative
      • Subseries B. Theater periodicals
      • Subseries C. Materials related to theater rroduction
      • Subseries D. Programs and publicity materials
      • Subseries E. Subject files
      • Subseries F. Additional research materials
    • Series VIII. Related personal collections
      • Subseries A. Ben Ali, Bobker
      • Subseries B. Blanchard, Frederick
      • Subseries C. Bowditch, Vincent
      • Subseries D. Cook, Philip
      • Subseries E. Evans, June
      • Subseries F. Haas, William
      • Subseries G. Howell, Helen
      • Subseries H. Prickett, Oliver
      • Subseries I. Shoup, Gail
      • Subseries J. Spalding, Graydon
      • Subseries K. Sterling, Eloise
      • Subseries L. Van Dyke, Philip
    • Series IX. Index cards

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the Huntington Library's Online Catalog.  

    Personal Names

    Brown, Gilmor -- Archives.
    Prickett, Charles -- Archives.
    Shanewise, Lenore, 1887-1980 -- Archives.
    Walkup, Fairfax Proudfit, 1887-1976 -- Archives.

    Corporate Names

    Drama League of America.
    Federal Theatre Project (U.S.).
    Pasadena Community Playhouse.
    Pasadena Community Playhouse Association.
    Pasadena Playhouse.
    Pasadena Playhouse Alumni & Associates.
    Pasadena Playhouse Association.

    Subjects

    Acting -- Study and teaching -- California -- Pasadena.
    Advertising campaigns -- California -- Pasadena.
    Arena theater -- California -- Pasadena.
    Community theater -- California -- Pasadena.
    Costume design.
    Drama.
    Drama -- 20th century -- Periodicals.
    Drama festivals -- California -- Pasadena.
    Little theater movement -- California -- Pasadena.
    Motion pictures -- Study and teaching -- California -- Pasadena.
    Plays -- Production and direction.
    Radio -- Study and teaching -- California -- Pasadena.
    Students -- California -- Pasadena.
    Students -- Drama -- California -- Pasadena.
    Television -- Study and teaching -- California -- Pasadena.
    Theater -- California -- Pasadena.
    Theater -- Production and direction.
    Theater -- Reviews.
    Theater -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- California -- Pasadena.
    Theater and society.
    Theater management.
    Theater programs -- Specimens.
    Theaters -- Stage-setting and scenery.
    Theatrical companies -- California -- Pasadena.
    Veterans -- Education -- California -- Pasadena.
    Veterans -- Training of -- California -- Pasadena.

    Geographic Areas

    Pasadena (Calif.)

    Form/Genres

    Business records.
    Card indexes.
    Card photographs.
    Clippings (information artifacts).
    Correspondence.
    Drama.
    Drama (literary genre).
    Drawings (visual works).
    Ephemera (general object genre).
    Financial records.
    Ledgers (account books).
    Negatives (photographs).
    Plays (performing arts compositions).
    Photographs.
    Photograph albums.
    Promotional materials.
    Scores (documents for music).
    Scrapbooks.
    Theater programs.
    Theater reviews.

    Alternate Authors

    Arnold, A. E., 1941-, photographer.
    Ben Ali, Bobker, 1921-1985, actor.
    Ben Ali, Bobker, 1921-1985, author.
    Ben Ali, Bobker, 1921-1985, compiler.
    Ben Ali, Bobker, 1921-1985, director.
    Blanchard, Frederick W., 1878-1948, actor.
    Blanchard, Frederick W., 1878-1948, compiler.
    Bowditch, Vincent Yardley, 1916-1985, actor.
    Bowditch, Vincent Yardley, 1916-1985, compiler.
    Brown, Gilmor, 1886-1960, actor.
    Brown, Gilmor, 1886-1960, author.
    Brown, Gilmor, 1886-1960, producer.
    Brown, Gilmor, 1886-1960, stage director.
    Brown, Gilmor, 1886-1960, stage manager.
    Cook, Philip, compiler.
    Cook, Philip, dancer.
    Eaton, Jerry, photographer.
    Evans, June, actor.
    Evans, June, compiler.
    Haas, William, compiler.
    Howell Helen, compiler.
    Howell, Helen, set designer.
    Hyde, James, designer
    Powell, Jack, photographer.
    Martin, W. Albert, photographer.
    Muncis, Janis, 1886-1955, costume designer.
    Muncis, Janis, 1886-1955, designer.
    Prickett, Charles F., 1901-1954, compiler.
    Prickett, Oliver, 1905-1992, actor.
    Prickett, Oliver, 1905-1992, compiler.
    Sharpe, Robert Redington, 1904-1934, art director.
    Sharpe, Robert Redington, 1904-1934, set designer.
    Sharpe, Robert Redington, 1904-1934, costume designer.
    Shoup, Gail, director.
    Shoup, Gail, interviewer.
    Spalding, Charles Gordon, 1905-1952, photographer.
    Spalding, Graydon E. (Graydon Edward), 1911-1993, actor.
    Spalding, Graydon E. (Graydon Edward), 1911-1993, compiler.
    Spalding, Kim, photographer.
    Sterling, Eloise, actor.
    Sterling, Eloise, compiler.
    Van Dyke, Philip, author.
    Van Dyke, Philip, compiler.