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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.

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