Scope and arrangement
Burnside's papers date from 1893-1952. The correspondence, 1893-1950, constitutes more than half of the collection, and largely concerns theatrical productions with which he was involved as producer, director, or author, particularly at the New York Hippodrome. Also included are manuscripts, records documenting the production of shows, legal and financial documents, and miscellaneous address books, appointment books, memorandum books, clippings, printed material, photographs, and stenographic notebooks documenting Burnside's theatrical career and, to a smaller extent, his personal life. Correspondence and other records, 1890s-1940s, from the many theatrical clubs and organizations to which Burnside belonged, particularly the New York City club The Lambs, are included.
The R.H. Burnside Papers are arranged in seven series:
Burnside's correspondence dates from 1893, the year before he left London for New York, until 1949, a few years before his death. The correspondence is the largest portion of the papers, filling 66 boxes, and occupying 27.5 linear feet. There are letters present for every year spanned, with the fewest letters dating from the 1890s, and the most from Burnside's Hippodrome years, ca. 1908-1923. Letters are both incoming and outgoing; some received by Burnside contain shorthand replies. Telegrams, phone messages (many received at The Lambs), greeting cards, invitations, and circulars are also included, some separately, at the end of the correspondence series, others scattered throughout the correspondence.
Readers should realize that since the papers came to the Library in extreme disorder, the order which now exists was, for the most part, imposed by the Library. When files were found in subject, alphabetical, or chronological order, they were maintained that way.
The correspondence is grouped in three parallel subseries. Chronological and Chronological - Additional were organized by the Theater Division, and are both in chronological order. Chronological By Year contains correspondence in order only by year, and was organized by the Rare Book and Manuscripts Division. Topics, dates, and correspondents in all three series are essentially the same, the only thing different is the level of organization.
Much of the correspondence concerns logistics of the numerous productions with which Burnside was involved. Hippodrome productions appear to be most fully documented. Also covered are: the tail end of Burnside's London period (sparsely); his early years in the United States, particularly with the Jefferson De Angelis Opera Company and various Shubert companies; productions for non-theatrical organizations, particularly the Hermits Club, the Pittsburgh Athletic Association, the 1926 Philadelphia Sesquicentennial, and the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair; the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas he staged during the 1930s and 1940s; Lambs “gambols;” and the many shows Burnside wrote and/or staged throughout his career.
Of note is the large number of letters Burnside received from performers and their agents requesting work at the Hippodrome. These performers included: acrobats; actors; animal acts (with elephants, horses, dogs, goats, ostriches, ducks, seals, sea-lions, bugs, and other creatures); animal impersonators; bicyclists; chorus girls; clowns; comedians; dancers; equestriennes; high divers; ice skaters; jugglers; magicians; strong men; swimmers; whistlers; and a varied crowd of others.
Letterheads are often decorated with illustrations or photographs of performers and their acts. Performers generally described what they did, often including publicity photographs, flyers, brochures, portions of scripts, posters (some of which are in Box 119 or the map case), and clippings as further illustration.
Burnside also received letters from friends and relatives of performers who were writing on their behalf requesting work, help in times of distress, and in the case of young people far from home, guidance.
The correspondence also documents the work of Burnside Studios; Burnside's efforts in the film industry in New York, 1920s, and in Hollywood during the 1930s; participation in theatrical clubs and organizations, particularly The Lambs, in which he was active for many years; war work (including Burnside's membership in the Mayor's Committee of Welcome to Homecoming Troops, 1919); and some personal and family matters.
Burnside's correspondents included, along with performers, members of theater management ranging from office workers to theater owner; designers of sets, costumes, and lighting; all sorts of stagecraft workers and suppliers; lawyers; engineers; insurance agents; and everyone else whose work was necessary to his productions. He also corresponded with theatrical colleagues in the United States and London; amateur theatrical groups from schools, prisons, and charities requesting help with their productions; and others.
Frequent or prominent correspondents include: Harry Askin, Irving Berlin, Charles B. Cochran, Jefferson De Angelis, Charles B. Dillingham, A. (Alfredo Leonardo) Edel, Florence Edel, Bruce Edwards, Michel Fokine, Charles Frohman, Loie Fuller, John Golden, Silvio Hein, Harry Houdini, Elsie Janis, George S. Kaufman, Victor Kiraly, Harry Kline, Jesse L. Lasky, Mark Luescher, Anna Pavlova, J.J. Shubert, Lee Shubert, Sam Shubert, John Philip Sousa, Oswald Stoll, Fred A. Stone, Arthur Voegtlin, Ned Wayburn, and Flo Ziegfeld.
One group of family letters was found as a separate group, and has been kept that way. These, ca.1900s-1940s, consist primarily of correspondence among members of Burnside's immediate family: his wife Kittie, sister Nell Dowling, daughters Kathryne Burnside, Helen Burnside Blewitt, and Betty Burnside Anderson, and sons-in-law James T. Andersonand George Blewitt. Letters received by Burnside's daughters from friends are included. These largely concern personal matters. Some exceptions are mentions of Burnside's work, and of Kathryne's brief acting career, and letters, 1930s, to Burnside in Hollywood from George Blewitt, who was apparently taking care of some business matters for Burnside in New York and New Jersey.
Additional family correspondence - including letters from Margaret Thorne, 1890s, concerning both personal and theatrical matters, and other relatives still in England - can be found scattered throughout the first three correspondence series.
Manuscripts and typescripts, both loose and in notebooks, are of shows, theatrical spectacles, brief plot sketches and ideas, song lyrics, and some non-theatrical writings. Many are incomplete or fragmentary. Notes, memoranda, and stage diagrams accompany some. Some manuscripts are attributed to Burnside either by himself or with collaborators; some are attributed to others; most are unattributed. Manuscripts or portions of manuscripts of The Bauble Shop, by Henry Arthur Jones; The Caliph; Crook Farm; Lady of Luzon; Miss Millions; Ten Minutes in a Lunch Room, a play by Burnside with an anti-Prohibition theme; The Three Romeos; and Burnside's spectacle for Rotary International, are among those included. A few “cinema scenarios” written by Burnside in Hollywood, 1930s, are included. Also included is a series, numbered 1-50 (some are missing), 1910s-1920s, of synopses of plays and stories. These appeaar to have been properties of Famous Players-Lasky Corp. Zoe Akins, Clemence Dane, Richard Harding Davis, and Mary Roberts Rinehart are among the authors of these.
Production records consist mainly of lists of cast members, costumes, properties, and repertoire. Also included are portions of scripts with stage directions, lighting instructions, and other critical notes; rehearsal and production schedules; cards with cast members' measurements; route lists from touring companies; stage managers' reports; Hippodrome nurse's reports; costume sketches and stage diagrams (some delicate sketches have been put in box 119); descriptions of dances; programs; some bills; notes and memoranda. Approximately half of this material is alphabetical by production, the rest is a mixture of fragmentary or unidentified materials from various productions. Two shows are represented by quite a large amount of material: The Big Show, written and staged, 1916, by Burnside for the Hippodrome, and his Miss Millions, produced 1919.
There is additional production material in the form of volumes and index cards. This includes: a group of alphabetical index cards, ca. 1919, listing male performers' names; addresses; “nationalities;” type, range, and quality of voice; appearance; and experience. Also, an order book, 1915-1916, containing records of orders made by the carpentry, electrical, engineering, house, nurse's, properties, and scenic departments of an unnamed theater (probably the Hippodrome); three volumes containing lists of plays, cast lists, and other production material; and four volumes, 1923-1924, and n.d., which appear to have belonged to the Charles Frohman Play Bureau, containing alphabetical lists of plays.
Some very rough, largely undated notes and memoranda are also included. These contain lists of things to do; lists of names; lists of acts, shows, and songs; stage directions and suggestions for shows; telephone messages; sketches and diagrams; fragments of manuscripts; and other miscellaneous fragments of information.
Included are Burnside's contracts, 1894-1940s, with employers, publishers of his work, collaborators, and authors of works he wanted to produce. Also included is a large group of contracts between performers and the New York Hippodrome; some contracts between performers and Charles Dillingham, Charles Frohman, and the Shuberts are included. A small notebook listing contracts in alphabetical order, A - K, ca. 1910s-1920s, is included. Some leases, copyright documents, documents resulting from various legal cases (particularly Harry Sears vs. New York Hippodrome Corp., ca. 1916-1918), and some personal legal documents (including birth, death, marriage, and baptism certificates, and wills) are also included.
General financial records consist primarily of paid and unpaid bills. Also included are receipts, estimates, budgets, salary lists, Hippodrome supply requisition forms, expense account statements, bank slips, rough notes, and some letters and memoranda. These document a wide range of expenses associated with Burnside's theatrical productions: costs of sets and lighting; costumes; salaries of performers, designers, laborers, office workers, and others associated with productions; purchase and rental of books and music; rental of theaters and halls; paint, lumber, fabric, and other supplies; photography; printing; insurance; advertising; legal expenses; theater maintenance and repairs; more. Also documented are more peripheral and personal expenses such as taxis, car rental, flowers, liquor, hotels and restaurants, theatrical club dues, and subscriptions to trade journals. As the dates suggest, these records document productions with which Burnside was associated over the course of his entire career in the United States. Of note is a group of daily financial reports, 1924, for Burnside's film Manhattan.
A fair amount of family financial records are mixed in with the above. These consist of department store, tuition, medical, automotive, and home maintenance bills; stock certificates; insurance policies; tax documents; leases; mortgages; and rent statements and other documents from a building that Burnside owned at 121 Manhattan Ave. in Harlem. A small group of family financial records, 1896-1949, were found separate from the bulk of the financial records, and have been maintained as a separate unit.
The bulk of the financial records are arranged by decade. Some portions of the records are in finer chronological order, reflecting work done by the Theater Division.
There are account books, 1903-1929 and undated, and bank books, 1897-1943, both with gaps, that document both personal and professional finances.
The Box Office and Royalty Statements subseries has materials from theaters throughout the United States where shows that Burnside wrote and/or staged (including Gilbert and Sullivan productions, 1930s-1940s, and Hippodrome road shows) were touring. The box office statements show the number of tickets sold at each price per performance, and the gross receipts. Most also show the state of the weather, the local “opposition” with which Burnside's show had to compete, and the percentages taken by the company and the theater. Box office statements are accompanied by royalty statements showing Burnside's percentage of the weekly gross. Some miscellaneous royalty statements are included. Box office and royalty statements are in chronological order.
There are royalty statements from T.B. Harms and Francis, Day and Hunter (known as Harms, Inc. by the 1940s), publishers of Burnside's songs, and possibly other works. Some related letters and receipts, 1918-1920s, are included.
The Hippodrome weekly statements show receipts from performances (and from other income-producing activities, such as the sale of programs, candy, and cigars, the cloakroom, and the tearoom) and operating expenses. Statements from Hippodrome road shows, showing additional expenses for railroad fares, loading, extra musicians, and other travel requirements are included among these. These are in chronological order, but they are incomplete, and there is a large gap from 1912-1915.
A few similar statements, 1907-1931, from miscellaneous non-Hippodrome performances, particularly the Ripples Company, 1930, are also included.
Correspondence, circulars, memoranda, meeting notices, minutes, tickets, invitations, programs, legal and financial documents, reports, publications, lists of members, membership applications, death announcements, and Burnside's membership cards and club bills, date from the 1890s-1940s with the bulk from the 1920s. These come from the many theatrical clubs and organizations, mostly in New York City, to which Burnside belonged, or with which he dealt. Approximately one third of this material comes from the New York City theatrical club The Lambs, to which Burnside belonged from 1898 until his death. Lambs records reflect Burnside's activities as an official, committee member, and organizer of some of the club's “gambols.” The Friars (with letters signed by George M. Cohan as “Abbot”), Green Room, and Lotus clubs are also well represented. Other organizations include: Actors' Equity Association; Actors Fund of America; American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP); Catholic Actors' Guild; Huckleberry Indians; the Masquers (Hollywood); the Players; the Sixty Club; Society of American Dramatists and Composers; St. Cecile Lodge No. 568, a Masonic lodge; the Strollers; United Managers' Protective Association; White Rats Actors' Union of America; and miscellaneous groups.
Some non-theatrical organizations, mostly athletic or social clubs, including the New York Athletic Association, the City Club of New York, and some Ridgewood organizations are also included.
Of note are two very long good luck telegrams (False Faces, 1927 and China Rose, 1925)sent to Burnside by The Lambs and signed by many members. These, and some other oversized club records, are in box 119.
Included are 27 appointment books, 1897-1948; a few rough memorandum books; a few address books and fragments of address books; stenographic notebooks containing notes for letters and manuscripts; and clippings, ca. 1900s-1940s of articles mostly about Burnside and his work, and jokes and cartoons (some with annotations) that he was probably gathering as ideas for shows. Also, photographs of Burnside and members of his family; postcards showing his house in Ridgewood; publicity photographs of acts (similar to those accompanying letters in the correspondence series); and three contact prints showing the stage set for Miss Millions and an unidentified production. Miscellaneous printed material includes programs; business cards (Burnside's and others'); advertising material; and performers' brochures. Of note are two souvenir books from the Hippodrome, 1912-1912 and undated, and one issue, 1917, of the Hippodrome Ushers' Gazette.
Also included are typescript newspaper and radio interviews, press releases, and announcements, ca. 1920s-1940s, largely concerning Burnside and the Hippodrome, and some school papers belonging to Burnside's daughters.