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Guide to the Burr McIntosh Photograph Collection
 PR 41

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Ricky Hunter

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on August 20, 2019
Description is in English.

Biographical Note

Burr McIntosh had an eclectic career. He was known, at different points in his life, to be a lecturer, photographer, movie studio owner, actor, author, publisher, reporter and a pioneer in the early movie and radio business. While many of these endeavors were short-lived, they gained him prestige and popularity among the stylish set.

He was born William McIntosh August 21, 1862, in Wellsville, Ohio, and attended Lafayette College, 1880 - 82, and Princeton, 1882 - 83. After Princeton, McIntosh was in the coal business in Pittsburgh for a brief time and then followed this up with a short stint as a reporter for the Philadelphia News. He came to New York and made his theatrical debut in Bartley Campbell's "Paquita" in August 31, 1885, beginning his most successful and memorable career, as an actor on the theatrical stage. He adopted a stage name at this time, changing his first name to Burr. His biggest success came playing the character Talbot "Taffy" Wynne in the original 1895 Broadway production of "Trilby" at the Garden Theatre. He repeated this performance in major Broadway revivals in 1905 and 1915, as well as in a production in London at His Majesty's Theatre. McIntosh also appeared in a number of Augustus Thomas' plays, beginning with "Arizona" and "In Mizzoura."

In 1898, Burr McIntosh went to Cuba to cover the Spanish-American War for Leslie's Weekly as a reporter and photographer. Defying orders forbidding any newspapermen to land in Cuba until every soldier in the Army had landed, he jumped over the side of a boat and swam to shore in time to get the only photographs of the troops coming ashore at Daiquiri. In Cuba, he became ill with "yellow jack" (a form of yellow fever) and was out of action. He eventually recovered and wrote of his exploits in a 1901 book,  What Little I Saw of Cuba.

The year 1901 also saw the establishment of his first photographic studio on West 33rd Street, conveniently located across from the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, a meeting place of many of the society and theatrical people whose portraits would be taken by the studio. This work led McIntosh to found the Burr McIntosh Monthly, which ran from 1903 to 1910, and offered portraits of theater idols, scenes at fashionable athletic events, picturesque genre and nature studies, and discussions of photography as art. In 1908, McIntosh declared bankruptcy and ceased publishing in May 1910.

In addition to acting and publishing, Burr McIntosh accompanied Secretary of War William H. Taft's 1905 peace trip to the Philippines as the official photographer.

In 1910, Burr McIntosh announced an elaborate plan to found an artists' colony with the fortune he hoped to make from the early movie industry. To accomplish this goal, he moved to California to organize his own film company. He also announced his retirement from the stage after his 1909 national tour in "The Gentleman from Mississippi." This retirement was not permanent as McIntosh appeared on Broadway six more times between 1914 and his last play, "Robert E. Lee," in 1923, including his successful revival of Taffy in "Trilby" in 1915. Neither the fortune from the movie industry nor the artists' colony ever materialized. His movie career began in 1914 recreating his stage performance in "In Mizzoura." The following year he starred in the title role of the movie " Colonel Carter of Cartersville," which was the only film that he ever produced. His work as an actor in movies stretched from the silent movies of 1914 until the era of sound movies, ending with "The Richest Girl in the World" in 1934.

McIntosh took time away from movies during the First World War when he lectured on patriotism and the role of the United States in the war at venues around the country, including the Metropolitan Opera House and Carnegie Hall in New York. He also entertained as a YMCA worker in army camps in France and Germany. After the war, he supported Leonard Wood for the Republican presidential nomination with further speaking appearances.

In the disastrous year of 1929, Burr McIntosh declared bankruptcy. His wife, the former Jean Snowden of Saratoga, whom he had married in New York in 1914, attempted suicide. According to an interview that McIntosh gave to the New York Times at this time, she had succumbed to her serious disappointment that McIntosh's work in Hollywood had not produced the financial returns they had anticipated.

From 1930 until his death in Los Angeles on April 28, 1942, Burr McIntosh was known as the "Cheerful Philosopher" as the host of a radio programs and in a series of lectures offering optimistic views on life. He had one daughter, Nancy McIntosh.