Actor, manager, playwright, director, producer and theater owner, David Belasco was one of the outstanding personalities of the American theater at the turn of the century. He is most notable for his exotic stage productions, famous for their lavishness and scenic realism, and his discovery and training of actors such as Mrs. Leslie Carter, Blanche Bates, David Warfield and Frances Starr. He made good use of the mechanical inventions of his day including innovations in the use of lighting, was involved in the fight against the Theatrical Syndicate, and wrote plays of his own, mostly collaborations and adaptations of sentimental melodrama. The collection contains Belasco correspondence with actors and others, 53 scrapbooks of photographs by White Studio and Byron Studio of Belasco productions [1898-1930], and 30 rolls of microfilm of scrapbooks of clippings [1898-1930] (*ZAN-*T-279).
Content: 10.5 linear feet (55 boxes and 30 rolls of microfilm)
Biographical/historical: Actor-manager, playwright, director, producer and theater owner, David Belasco was one of the outstanding personalities of the American theater. Born in San Francisco on July 25, 1853, to Portuguese-Jewish parents who had emigrated from England, Belasco, whose father had been on the London stage, began acting as a child. He was a call boy and then stage manager in San Francisco before moving to New York in 1882 to manage the Madison Square Theatre under Daniel Frohman. Seeking greater freedom, he left that theater and was a freelance playwright and director before becoming stage manager, again under Daniel Frohman, at the Lyceum Theatre in 1887. In 1890 he left to again work independently, staging a number of his own plays, mainly collaborations. The most successful of these were THE GIRL I LEFT BEHIND ME (1893), THE HEART OF MARYLAND(1895), ZAZA (1898), and MADAME BUTTERFLY(1900). In 1901 he began his association with the actor David Warfield in Charles Klein's THE AUCTIONEER. In 1902 he opened the first Belasco Theatre, which had opened as the Republic in 1900, and where several of his most famous plays were first seen including Klein's THE MUSIC MASTER(1904), ADREA (1905), and THE GIRL OF THE GOLDEN WEST(1905). His success enabled him to build a new theater which opened in 1907 as the Stuyvesant Theater with Warfield in A GRAND ARMY MANand was renamed the Belasco in 1910 (the earlier Belasco Theatre reverted to its original name). It was here that he staged THE RETURN OF PETER GRIMM(1911), considered by many his finest work. He remained at the Belasco until his death on May 14, 1931.
Belasco's greatest contributions to the American stage were his elaborate, realistic scenic displays using the latest mechanical inventions and experiments in the use of lighting, his discovery and launching of a number of the stars of his day including Mrs. Leslie Carter, Blanche Bates, David Warfield and Frances Starr, and his participation in the ultimately successful fight against the Theatrical Syndicate, Klaw-Erlanger, which was strangling theater in the United States. He continued the tradition of importing plays from Europe rather than encouraging new American dramatists. His own plays, mostly melodramas, were primarily adaptations and dramatizations of earlier works; he was sued for plagiarism a number of times, but always won. His last two decades saw his influence decline, eclipsed by the rise of a new generation of American playwrights such as Eugene O'Neill, and a new kind of theater. But Belasco had brought a fresh realism to theater production and was the most successful man of the theater in turn-of-the-century America where spectacular and emotionally wrenching melodramas were in vogue.
Belasco was married to Cecilia Loverich from 1873 until her death in 1925. They had two daughters, Reina, who married theatrical producer Morris Gest, and Augusta, who predeceased her parents.
Content: The collection contains Belasco correspondence with actors and others, 53 scrapbooks of photographs by White Studio and Byron Studio of Belasco productions, 1898-1930, and 30 rolls of microfilm of scrapbooks of clippings, halftones, reviews, and programs, 1898-1930. It also includes a few speeches and articles by Belasco, a few legal documents, clippings about him, and other printed material. Drawings for costume designs, sets and posters for Belasco productions were removed from the Papers and placed in the Library's "Originals" files under production title.
Content: Following then current practice, programs, photographs, scripts, and original color drawings for costume designs were removed from the Belasco Papers shortly after their 1931 acquisition and placed under production title in the appropriate Library files: Programs, Photographs, Scripts, and Originals