Sunday, January 29, 2012

Brownies Theater, 1895

 From the Dec. 8, 1895 Boston Sunday Globe,  a play theater. Above, the proscenium.

 The stage above is set, with places numbered for the actors to hit their mark.

Presenting: the Brownies. Alas, I only have a few of the actors and their props.

Palmer Cox was a Canadian artist who created strange elfin creatures with round heads, little pot bellies and skinny arms and legs. Toy Collector has an excellent overview of the Brownie craze. I'm not even sure the Boston Sunday Globe art supplement had license to use the Brownies; apparently the beloved Brownie was adopted freely, with few if any alterations. You'll often see the real deal touted as "Palmer Cox's Brownies," so you know Mr. Cox was fighting for control of his creation. I remember the Brownie camera was marketed as late as the 1960s. Toy Collector says Kodak was not authorized to use the name or character when the camera was first introduced more than 100 years ago.

I love theater of all kinds: puppet, toy, Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional theater, and reading about old time vaudeville. One of the best movies about the theater is "All About Eve." I'm on a Stephen Sondheim kick (saw the great "Follies' last year), and highly recommend his book about his creative life, "Finishing the Hat." 

Below, some random theater-related items from my collection.

A new postcard of a vintage magazine cover. The great Billie Burke was married to Florenz Ziegfeld. Her theater work is lost to us, and it's likely she would not be remembered today if not for her lovely turn as the Good Witch Glinda in the 1939 movie of "The Wizard of Oz."

I didn't see this 2006 one-woman show, I'm not a big Bernhard fan, but I couldn't resist the postcard (free at a shop somewhere in the theater district, of course). A terrifically expressive face.

A classic. Lillian Hellman was a favorite when I was in college.
A great way to start buzz in the old days -- offer to stamp and mail the postcard to spread the word. But what if it's a negative review. Hmmm. Probably goes straight to the circular file.

I have a soft spot for toy theaters and marionettes. This postcard is from an exhibit of toy theaters that I attended in Brooklyn four years ago. Great Small Works produced a number of toy theater festivals and their web site has many pictures as well as a brief history of toy theaters.

The curtain rises on many other theatrical presentations at Sepia Saturday. Click the logo below.


  1. I've been correcting the text for the Dickens Journals Online Project and one of the magazines included Old Scenes and Scenery, I thought of this immediately I saw your first three images and the word proscenium. It gave me a correction problem because Dickens also included the word in Greek and there was no way I could make out the Greek letters.
    Play theatre maybe but entertaining none the less.

  2. Before Florenz Ziegfeld married Billie Burke he had a turbulent relation with Lillian Lorraine. She is featured in the Attics and Old Lace ss-post.

  3. You have some interesting theatrical artefacts there, but I too love model theatres. I had one as a child, but of course, being of paper and card, I have it no longer. I would sepnd hours playing with it.

  4. I enjoyed this tour through the various kinds of theater.

  5. That's so interesting about the Brownies. I have an old child's coin savings books with Brownies that look just like you described. I wonder if they were from the same artist?

  6. We used to have a little home made table theatre we used for paper cut out actors. Nothing as nice as the ones you have here.

  7. I love those Brownies. I remember Glinda (wonderful Glinda), but I never would have recognized her by her real name.

  8. Great post. Interesting to learn about the originator of the brownies.

  9. Thanks for the brownies. There are many collectibles featuring them, other than paper dolls. I recently saw a lot on ebay--a booklet about the Brownie Blocks manufactured by McLoughlin. No blocks, just the booklet.


  10. A fun spin on the theme, and your enthusiasm is contagious.