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Guide to the James T. and Rachel Booth Powers Collection
[1864]-1948, undated
  PR 105

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


© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Sandra Markham

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on January 05, 2012
Description is in English.

Descriptive Summary

 
Title: James T. and Rachel Booth Powers Collection
Dates [inclusive]: [1864]-1948, undated
Abstract: Personal and theatrical portraits and ephemera of comic actors James T. Powers and Rachel Booth Powers.
Quantity: 1.76 Linear feet (3 boxes)
Location note: Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections
Call Phrase: PR 105

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Biographical Note

Rachel Booth and James T. Powers were stars of theatre at the turn of the twentieth century. Powers, a talented comedic actor and singer, was perhaps the better known of the two, and had a lengthier career on the stage than his wife. Booth and Powers appeared in productions billed as comic operas and operettas, light operas and, in the case of "The Old Homestead," a rural drama with comic roles, all of which were immensely popular with the middle class in the 1880s through the early 1900s.

"Jimmie" Powers was born James T. McGovern in New York in 1862 and raised on West 12th Street, a second-generation Irish-American whose maternal grandfather was the first mineral water manufacturer in the city. Powers' father, an alcoholic, walked away when Powers was a youngster, leaving the family to live in poverty. It was his father, however, who introduced Powers to the theatre in 1872 when they attended a performance of Dan Bryant's Minstrels. Powers' own stage debut was made with a minstrel show just a few years after. Following a short-lived partnership with Jay Fagan (as "Fagan and McGovern: The Acrobatic Micks"), he performed on the vaudeville circuit for two years as half of the comedy song and dance duo Kearney and Powers, a venture that chose its name from a neighborhood saloon trade sign and broke up by June 1879. Powers played small parts in stock productions in New York until 1883 when he moved to London. There he appeared in variety of roles and toured around England for two years, returning to New York in 1885. Notable for his red hair and remarkably expressive face, Powers worked thereafter in theaters around the Northeast where he specialized in characters with broad comic roles.

Powers met actress Rachel Booth in 1885 while they were both playing in the Boston production of Charles Hoyt's "A Tin Soldier." Booth was born in 1862 and raised in Rochester, New York, the daughter of Ansel Leander Booth, a printer; her mother Cecelia was, according to James Powers, "a beautiful and cultured woman," and her two sisters were an accomplished writer and a schoolteacher. Booth's stage career began at the age of 2 when she appeared as Harry in a Rochester production of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (see Box 1, folder 20). She was a literate and charming beauty whose roles primarily consisted of the comic figure in otherwise dramatic productions. Whenever his path crossed Booth's in New York in the following years, Powers took all opportunities to court the actress, as well as conducting a mail campaign for her hand when she was touring in other cities. Eventually she gave in to his persistent ardor, and they were married in Rochester on May 19, 1892. Afterward, Booth and Powers worked and toured together in several productions, including two turns in blackface for skits in "A Runaway Girl" and "The Messenger Boy."

During his lengthy career, James Powers wrote a number of song lyrics and short comedy sketches, several of which are in the collection of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Powers and Booth are featured on the cover of the published sheet music for "Dem White Pants at a Swell Cake Walk," a tune with lyrics by Powers, that they performed in "The Messenger Boy." In addition to his work on the legitimate stage, Powers was a regular in the numerous benefits regularly held for theatrical and other charity causes.

James Powers left the stage in 1935, and spent his retirement years writing his autobiography, Twinkle Little Star: Sparkling Memories of Seventy Years(New York: G. P. Putnam, 1939) in collaboration with his wife. He was an active member of The Players from 1889, and spent many of his days in the club's rooms on Gramercy Park; at the time of his death he was the association's oldest member. The Powers lived in the Ansonia Hotel in New York City, but also had homes in Richfield Springs, New York, and on Cape Cod during their lifetime. James T. Powers died at their home in New York City on February 11, 1943. Rachel Booth retired from the stage in 1920 and died at the Ansonia on July 23, 1955.

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Scope and Content Note

The James T. and Rachel Booth Powers Collection spans the period from about 1864 through 1948, and contains photographs and printed ephemera relating primarily to their professional lives in the theatre. The collection is divided into three series: Personal Photographs, Theatrical Photographs, and Ephemera.

Series I. Personal Photographs contains non-theatrical images of Booth and Powers along with photographs of their family members and friends. It is arranged in two sections: Family, and Miscellaneous. The first subseries holds professional studio portraits of Jessie Booth Church and Alice Booth Clark, two of Rachel Booth Powers' sisters in Rochester, New York, as well as a photograph of the Booth family grave monument, and a halftone printed page of collaged Booth family portraits (the latter a proof sheet from James Powers' autobiography). One photograph of Annie McGovern, the mother of James Powers, represents that family. Personal (non-costumed) portraits of both James and Rachel Booth Powers are found here; they are nearly all professional studio productions and show them in their daywear and traveling clothes. There are four portraits of James Powers in a well-worn leatherette accordion-fold frame, possibly kept by Booth and carried in her theatrical travels. Photographs of the Powers together include a pair taken of them at their summer home in Harwichport, Massachusetts, and another portrait of them in their first automobile. One folder of Rachel Booth Powers with her friends holds a set of three photographs with companions made during an outing at Silver Lake on July 23, 1884. The Miscellaneous subseries contains portraits of theatre personalities Clara Morris and Raymond Hitchcock, and one folder with portraits of two unidentified men. The final folder of the subseries holds three portraits inscribed to Jack Hopper by wrestler Frederico Naraganes, a woman named Ilsa, and the actor Digby Bell. Hopper's relationship to Powers or Booth is unknown.

Photographic formats in Series I include three tintypes (Box 1, folders 4 and 5) and one opalotype (Box 1, folder 2), with the remainder of the images being paper-based.

Series II. Theatrical Photographs holds images of both of the actors in character and costume for various productions throughout their lives. The photographs are arranged in four subseries: Photographs of Booth, Photographs of Booth and Powers together, Photographs of Powers, and Group Portraits. Within each subseries, the photographs are arranged alphabetically by the title of the theatrical production. Powers and Booth appeared together in productions for which photographs exist for just one of them; the second subseries should not be taken as a record of their work as a couple.

All of the photographs in Series II were taken in or published by commercial photographic studios, and most are mounted on overprinted boards. Rachel Booth inscribed the name of the character portrayed, the production title, the theatre, and a date on the verso of most of the photographs; as the hand is the same on all, it is likely that the inscriptions were added long after Booth left the stage and the identifications drawn from memory. A check of all Booth's and Powers' entries in George Odell's Annals of the New York Stage (New York: 1927-49, recording theatrical performances through 1894 only) to verify production titles and venues revealed some discrepancies with the inscriptions (Booth titles "Spooks" as "Sparks," for instance). Dates given in the folder list were either assigned by Booth (those not in brackets) or found in four sources (and given in [brackets]): Odell's Annals, and Powers' entries in Who's Who on the Stage (Boston: 1908), Who's Who in the Theatre (Boston: 1914), and Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre (New York: 1994). The latter dates are given solely to provide a chronological context to the images.

Many of Booth's and Powers' productions toured the country or were revived regularly at theatres within the city of New York, so the dates and theatres listed may not be entirely accurate and should not be used as a final source for their theatrical resumes. In addition, several of the photographs were taken or published in cities other than New York and therefore would not necessarily match up with Booth's dates and venues (all of her inscribed theatres are in New York). For instance, "Natural Gas" opened at New York's Bijou Theatre one year before the date she has inscribed on the photographs from that production which were issued by photo studios in New York, San Francisco, and Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio.

James Powers' lively and highly anecdotal autobiography Twinkle Little Star gives a detailed description of his work in the theatre with occasional references to Booth's career, but, unfortunately, does not provide a chronology of their lives as dates are rarely mentioned in the text. It does contain many illustrations of both Powers and Booth in costume, including a number of the photographs that are held in PR 105.

The final subseries, Group Portraits, holds two folders. One has two halftone prints of cast members of benefit performances in which James Powers participated; one was for the American Red Cross, the second unidentified except for a date of 1918. The cast members have autographed the pages. The second folder holds two unidentified theatrical groups. One large photograph was made outside the Belasco Theatre in Washington, DC, and shows over 100 men and women posing between billboards advertising James T. Powers starring "Somebody's Luggage," a musical comedy co-written by Powers which was produced in 1922. The second photograph is a fragment, perhaps half of a print, made in Boston of a fully costumed group on stage.

Series III. Ephemera consists of folders of printed ephemera related to James T. Powers' career. There are two pieces for events from The Players club, a set of progressive proofs for an advertisement of "The Rivals," and signed group photographs from benefits in which Powers performed. Miscellaneous print pieces contains a printed postcard advertising "Havana" and another similar-sized card for "The Blue Moon," as well as a folding print piece advertising a variety of boring and grinding machines that feature Powers' comic faces on the verso.

Arrangement

The Collection is organized into three series:

  1. Series I. Personal Photographs
  2. Series II. Theatrical Photographs
  3. Series III. Ephemera

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • Bell, Digby–Portraits
  • Booth, Rachel, 1862-1955--Portraits
  • Hitchcock, Raymond, 1865-1929
  • Morris, Clara, 1848-1925–Portraits
  • Naraganes, Frederico
  • Powers, James T., 1862-1943

Document Type

  • Ephemera
  • Opalotypes
  • Photographic prints
  • Tintypes

Subject Topics

  • American drama (comedy)--Pictorial works
  • Blackface entertainers--United States–Portraits
  • Musical theater–United States–Pictorial works
  • Theater–United States–Pictorial Works

Occupation(s)

  • Actors
  • Comedians

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Administrative Information

Provenance

Gift of Margaret DeVaney, presented in memory of James T. Powers and Rachel Booth Powers, December 1, 1955.

Access Restrictions

Open to qualified researchers.

Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to 30 photocopies per day per person. Suitability of the original for photocopying is at the discretion of the staff. Neither blueprints nor tracings can be copied under any circumstances. Duplication of large-format items will be done by the house photographer. See Print Room guidelines for details.

Use Restrictions

Permission to reproduce any Print Room holdings through publication must be obtained from

Rights and Reproductions
The New-York Historical Society
Two West 77th Street
New York, NY 10024

Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282
Fax: (212) 579-8794

The copyright law of the United States governs the making of photocopies and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials. Unpublished materials created before January 1, 1978 cannot be quoted in publication without permission of the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as the James T. and Rachel Booth Powers Collection, PR 105, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society.

Related Material at The New-York Historical Society

Additional photographs of Booth and Powers also appear in the Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections' Theatrical Portraits File (PR 104); a daguerreotype of Rachel Booth's father is in the Cased Photograph File (PR 012), the gift of the actress.

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Container List

Series I. Personal Photographs

Scope and Contents note

Photographs are arranged in two subseries: Family and Miscellaneous; and are filed alphabetically by sitter within. Numbers in parentheses indicate the number of images in the folder.

Subseries I. Family

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 1 Booth family members (7)
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 2 McGovern, Annie (1)
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 3 Powers, James T.--Four portraits in a frame
1891
Box: 1 Folder : 4 Powers, James T.--Portraits (11)
1884-1920, undated
Box: 1 Folder : 5 Powers, Rachel Booth--Portraits, formal and informal (17)
1948, undated
Box: 1 Folder : 6 Powers, Rachel Booth with James Powers--At their summer home, Harwichport, MA (2)
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 7 Powers, Rachel Booth--With friends (4)
1884, undated

Subseries II. Miscellaneous

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 8 Clara Morris, Raymond Hitchcock (2)
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 9 Unidentified men (2)
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 10 Portraits inscribed to Jack Hopper (3)
1902-1926, undated

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Series II. Theatrical Photographs

Scope and Contents note

Photographs are arranged in four subseries: Booth, Booth and Powers, Powers, and Group Portraits, and filed in alphabetical order by title of production within. Numbers in parentheses indicate the number of photographs in the folder.

Subseries I. Booth, Rachel

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 11 "The Crowing Hen" at Wallack's Theatre (1)
[1885]
Box: 1 Folder : 12 "The Jewel of Asia" at Criterion Theatre (5)
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 13 "Natural Gas" (12)
1890
Box: 1 Folder : 14 "The Old Homestead" (7)
1887
Box: 1 Folder : 15 "One of the Finest" at 14th Street Theatre (3)
[1882]
Box: 1 Folder : 16 "Our German Senator" at 14th Street Theatre (2)
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 17 "The Pied Piper of Hamlin" (1)
undated
Box: 1 Folder : 18 "[Spooks], or Cynthia's Lovers" at Union Square Theatre (3)
[1892]
Box: 1 Folder : 19 "That Man" at [New] Park Theatre (3)
[1884]
Box: 1 Folder : 20 "Uncle Tom's Cabin" at the Grand Opera House, Rochester (1)
[1864]
Box: 1 Folder : 21 Unidentified productions (3)
undated

Subseries II. Booth, Rachel and James T. Powers

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 2 Folder : 22 "A Mad Bargain" at Bijou Theatre (7)
1892-93
Box: 2 Folder : 23 "The Messenger Boy" (3)
1901-02
Box: 2 Folder : 24 "A Runaway Girl" at Daly's Theatre--Loose portraits (11)
1897-98
Box: 2 Folder : 25 "A Runaway Girl" at Daly's Theatre--Souvenir photograph album for 100th performance
1898
Box: 2 Folder : 26 "A Tin Soldier" (4)
1885
Box: 2 Folder : 27 "Walker, London" (7)
[1894]

Subseries III. Powers, James T.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 2 Folder : 28 "Circus Girl" at Daly's Theatre (5)
1898
Box: 2 Folder : 29 "The Drum Major" at Casino Theatre (2)
1888
Box: 2 Folder : 30 "Erminie" at Casino Theatre (2)
1889
Box: 2 Folder : 31 "Gentleman Joe" at Bijou Theatre (2)
undated
Box: 2 Folder : 32 "The Marquis" at Casino Theatre (3)
1887
Box: 2 Folder : 33 "Nadjy" at Casino Theatre (3)
1889
Box: 2 Folder : 34 "The New New Boy" (1)
undated
Box: 2 Folder : 35 "A Princess of Kensington" (1)
[1903]
Box: 2 Folder : 36 "San Toy" at Daly's Theatre (2)
undated
Box: 2 Folder : 37 "A Straight Tip"--Photographs in costume and with posters (4)
1892
Box: 2 Folder : 38 "Whittington and His Cat" at Drury Lane Theatre, London (1)
1885
Box: 2 Folder : 39 "Yeoman of the Guard" at Casino Theatre (1)
[1888]
Box: 2 Folder : 40 Unidentified productions (2)
1891, undated

Subseries IV. Group Portraits

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 2 Folder : 41 Signed photographs of cast members from benefit performances
1918, undated
Box: 2 Folder : 42 Unidentified theatrical groups
[1922], undated

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Series III. Ephemera

Scope and Contents note

This series consists of folders of printed ephemera related to James T. Powers' career.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 2 Folder : 43 Caricature
undated
Box: 2 Folder : 44 The Players 50th Anniversary dinner program
1938 Nov. 6
Box: 2 Folder : 45 Miscellaneous print pieces
undated

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Oversize

From Series I. Personal Photographs

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 3 Folder : 46 Powers, James T.--Glass paperweight with portrait
undated
Box: 3 Folder : 47 Powers, James T.--Portraits (3)
1884-1920, undated
Box: 3 Folder : 48 Powers, Rachel Booth--Portraits, formal and informal (1)
1948, undated
Box: 3 Folder : 49 Powers, Rachel Booth--With James Powers in their first automobile (1)
undated

From Series II. Theatrical Photographs

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 3 Folder : 50 Booth, Rachel--"The Old Homestead" (2)
undated
Box: 3 Folder : 51 Booth, Rachel and James T. Powers--"A Mad Bargain" (1)
1892-93
Box: 3 Folder : 52 Booth, Rachel and James T. Powers--"The Messenger Boy" (1)
1901-02
Box: 3 Folder : 53 Booth, Rachel and James T. Powers--"A Runaway Girl" (1)
1897-98
Box: 3 Folder : 54 Booth, Rachel and James T. Powers--"A Tin Soldier" (1)
1885
Box: 3 Folder : 55 Powers, James T.--"The Blue Moon" (1)
1906
Box: 3 Folder : 56 Powers, James T.--"Circus Girl" (2)
1898
Box: 3 Folder : 57 Powers, James T.--"The Geisha" (3)
1931
Box: 3 Folder : 58 Powers, James T.--"Havana" (1)
[1909]
Box: 3 Folder : 59 Powers, James T.--"The Rivals" (3)
1922-23
Box: 3 Folder : 60 Powers, James T.--"A Straight Tip": The company at Derby Day, Chicago (1)
1891

From Series III. Ephemera

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 3 Folder : 61 Poster for "A Runaway Girl"
1900
Box: 3 Folder : 62 Poster for The Players Sixth Annual Classic Revival
1927
Box: 3 Folder : 63 Progressive proofs and advertisement for "The Rivals"
1923

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