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L. E. Behymer Collection, 1879-1947
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Lyndon Ellsworth Behymer was an early 20th century music impresario in the Los Angeles area. His sixty-year career involved working with acts including Nellie Melba, Tommaso Salvini, Edwin Booth, Ignace Jan Paderewski, Mei-Lan-Fan, Lily Pons, John Philip Sousa, Anna Pavlova, Isadora Duncan, Maud Allen, Frederick Warde, and Mary Garden. Behymer, known at “Bee” throughout his career, was unique in working independently in a time when most theatre and music in the region was managed by large corporations. He is often credited with altering the cultural scene in Los Angeles, raising the Western city’s profile as a cultural beacon. The L. E. Behymer Collection contains 2.75 linear feet of photographs, print materials, correspondence, ephemera, and scrapbooks that pertain to the personal life and professional activities of Lynden Ellsworth Behymer, early 20th century, California-based impresario. The bulk of the collection is the performer materials, consisting of autographed and unsigned photographs of performers and other performer images, such as postcards, cartoons, and posters.
Lynden Ellsworth Behymer was born on November 5, 1866 in New Palestine, Ohio. Following the American Civil War, in which Behymer’s father fought with the Union Army, the family moved to Shelbyville, Illinois. During his youth, Behymer cultivated an interest in music and theatre while completing his high school education, all at the encouragement of his father to make something of himself. After finishing his schooling, Behymer settled in the Dakota Territory to stake a mining claim during the Black Hills Gold Rush era. It was there that he married Minetta Sparks, a local teacher and school principle. The couple settled in present day South Dakota, where Behymer operated a store. Soon after settling down, however, the pair’s entire home and business were destroyed in a cyclone. In 1886, following this loss, Behymer and his wife relocated to California. It was here that Behymer began working his way up in the music and theatrical world, starting with a job at the Grand Opera House. Behymer made his initial mark on the scene when he helped bring the first significant opera production to Los Angeles with the National Grand Opera Company. With this performance, Behymer began his career as a Los Angeles area impresario. His career spanned sixty years and involved bringing such acts as Nellie Melba, Tommaso Salvini, Edwin Booth, Ignace Jan Paderewski, Mei-Lan-Fan, Lily Pons, John Philip Sousa, Anna Pavlova, Isadora Duncan, Maud Allen, Frederick Warde, and Mary Garden. While centered around Los Angeles, Behymer played a role in performances throughout California and the West. In 1904, Behymer also founded the Gamut Club with a group of Los Angeles performers. This organization quickly expanded to include other contributors to and financers of cultural events such as writers and businessmen. The Gamut Club building was formerly located at 1044 South Hope Street in Downtown Los Angeles and included a 668-seat theatre, music, and banquet room in addition to artists’ studios. Behymer, known at “Bee” to those who knew him throughout his career, altered the cultural scene in Los Angeles. Previously, most theatre and music in the region was managed by large corporations, but Bee operated independently, giving him more flexibility and influence. Before the turn of the century, the West was never regarded as a cultural beacon, but Behymer helped to change this impression, raising the profile of West as a cultured place capable of drawing nationally and internationally recognized performers. The legacy of Behymer includes organizing Los Angeles’ first symphony orchestra in 1914, which he managed for eighteen years; formation of the Philharmonic courses throughout major cities of the American Southwest; taking part in the founding of the Hollywood Bowl; bringing performances from the Metropolitan Opera Company and Chicago Opera Company; and playing an instrumental role in the opening of the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. At the height of his career, Behymer organized seasons with hundreds of bookings in cities across California and the West. Behymer was also known for his dynamic programs that appealed to the mainstream by combining operatic performances with popular singers, such as Sarah Bernhardt, and with Vaudeville acts. It was through this relentless pursuit of musical, theatrical, and operatic acts, and his popular programs, that Behymer was able to raise the American West’s profile as a cultural center to rival the East. Throughout his lifetime, Behymer received dozens of foreign honors and local accolades, including those from the International Institute of American Ideals, the City of Los Angeles Department of Municipal Art Bureau of Music, and the International Adventurers.
7 boxes (2.75 linear feet)
This collection is stored on-site at the Central Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. It is open for research by appointment only.