Tony Pastor collection

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Collection Data

Tony Pastor is considered the "Father of American Vaudeville". The collection consists of photographs (mostly of Tony Pastor), manuscript scripts and actor's sides for vaudeville skits, handbills, a limited amount of correspondence and personal papers, personal memorabilia of Mrs. Tony Pastor, some clippings, and correspondence between the original purchaser of the collection, Charles Hechler, Jr., and the musicologist Sigmund Spaeth.
Pastor, Tony, 1837-1908 (Creator)
Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1863 - 1959
Library locations
Billy Rose Theatre Division
Shelf locator: *T-Mss 1995-028
Theater -- History -- 19th century
Theater -- New York (State) -- New York
Biographical/historical: Tony Pastor (1837-1908), singer, songwriter and theater manager considered by many to be the Father of American Vaudeville, was born into the theatre. His father was a violinist in the theatre orchestra at Billy Mitchell's theatre in New York. At the age of six, young Antonio sang at temperance meetings, which may have influenced his later determination to remove the influence of alcohol in his own theatres. As Tony Pastor, he followed his brothers into circuses and variety shows, expanding his range of talents to include acrobatics, clowning, ring mastering, and minstrelsy. With the onset of the Civil War, he seemed to have found his true calling as a singer of topical songs, most with a sentimental or comic edge. Such was his popularity that he was able to leap into "legitimate variety," appearing as a comic singer at various theatres in New York and on the road before assembling his own company and establishing himself as a manager in his own theatre. He opened in 1865 at 201 Bowery, remaining there for ten years, after which he made the jump to 585 Broadway, which became renowned as Tony Pastor's. From there, in 1881, he joined the northward flow of theatres to the Tammany building on East 14th Street, within earshot of the theatre district at Union Square. He remained there for the rest of his professional life. When he began as a singer in the variety theatres, they catered mostly to an all male population with the exception of the gallery prostitutes, who frequented the music halls in search of customers. Pastor was determined to clean up the theatres, present a wholesome and attractive bill of acts, and entice women into his theatres. Although his first efforts were not successful, he resorted to giving away all sorts of prizes to lure the female population and his actions gradually paid off. As one wag observed, Pastor's shows became so clean that "a child could take his parents into his theatre." Under Pastor's tutelage, many of the stage luminaries of a later era began their careers at his theatres, notably Weber and Fields, Harrigan and Hart, Lillian Russell, May Irwin, Nat Goodwin, Denman Thompson, the four Cohans, and many others. Not only was he successful in finding and showcasing performers, he gave work to many writers, composers and lyricists, whom he commissioned to provide the songs and skits for his shows. He made a yearly trip to England to survey the English music hall scene and to buy up songs he thought he might be able to use. His lasting contribution was in transforming the variety show into American vaudeville, similar yet different from its European counterparts, by presenting a broad array of American performers singing and dancing to American songs.
Content: The Tony Pastor Collection represents part of a lost era in American theatre: the vaudeville age. Considered the "Father of American Vaudeville," Pastor almost singlehandedly revolutionized variety entertainment by making it family-oriented and tailoring the acts and skits to fit the talents of the performers, many of whom he discovered at the beginning of their careers. The collection that was presented to the Billy Rose Theatre Division contains few interesting documents about his career but does include handwritten scripts and actor's sides for some of the one-act plays and skits that appeared in Pastor's theatres, which will provide insights into the kind of entertainment that was offered in the best vaudeville bills. It also contains photographs of Tony Pastor, programs and broadsides, clippings, a small amount of correspondence, a few songs, and miscellaneous ephemera.
Content: Original unpublished music that came with the collection was transferred to the Library's Music Division
Physical Description
Extent: 3.5 linear feet (7 boxes)
Type of Resource
Still image
Notated music
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b15861947
MSS Unit ID: 21700
Archives collections id: archives_collections_21700
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): 74927200-b113-0139-f6ed-0242ac110005
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