Some girls save ticket stubs as reminders of pleasant evenings at the theatre, other people buy glossy brochures from lobby hawkers describing intimate facts and figures of dramatists, many Harvard men have only pleasant memories of time spent in Howardian delight; but the University knows no bounds in its mementoes of theatrical history.
In three large rooms in Widener, in countless library shelves, in acres of show cases, and even on the restful expanses of many chairs, William Van Lennep, Curator of the College Library theatre collection, and his assistants attempt to index and catalogue Harvard's ever-growing and world famous collection of theatrical mementoes.
It all started in 1903 when John Drew, an actor, presented his souvenirs and library of theatrical books which he had amassed during his career. Never an institution to look a gift horse in the mouth, the library has since built this humble beginning into a respectable, or rather, an imposing reminder of the glory that was the Theatre.
17th Century Playbills
Although most of the present collection come from actors or from alumni who have made a life-time hobby of collecting theatrical "doo-dads," many of the present gems of the collection were the result of cleaning forays to non collectors attics or closets.
Memories of ballet, burlesque, vaudeville, opera, minstrels, stage and even the circus abound in this collection which is considered the finest in the English speaking entertainment field.
Among the many theatre publications in the collection are playbills dating back to the 17th century from England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Australia and the United States. These pieces comprise a good part of the collection, since collection employees stopped counting them when they reached the million mark.
Collection Open to All
Other items of interest in the assortment are playbills of the 1850s advertising for "respectable young men to act as auxiliaries," stage directions for the audience advising theatre-goers to greet the play with "shouts of applause" and "appropriate outbursts of mirth," and exhortations to actresses saying with all the correctness of an English Aa student, "Ladies, if you smoke do so in private-as we do not want to see it."
Van Lennep with his usual genial air urges all visitors to return again with a guest; and despite the collection's great intrinsic quality, Van Lennep asserts, "The collection is not a museum piece. It is here to be used by anyone who is interested in any phase of the theatre.