Scope and arrangement
The Chamberlain and Lyman Brown Theatrical Agent Records are approximately 351 linear feet and contain business and personal correspondence, legal and financial papers, scrapbooks, production materials, clipping files, scripts, and photographs covering the history of the entertainment industry from the end of the 19th century through the middle of the 20th century. The bulk of the agency records spans more than a fifty year period beginning in 1903 and ending in 1959. Much of the material in the papers pertains to Chamberlain Brown and his activities from his early career as an actor to his death in 1955.
Chamberlain and Lyman Brown represented many famous actors including Spencer Tracy, John Carradine, Lon Chaney, Jr., Tom Ewell (who worked in the agency office), Hal Holbrook, Ruth Chatterton and Constance Collier, among others. The Brown Brothers also claimed to have launched the careers of Clark Gable, Helen Hayes, Alfred Lunt, Jeanette MacDonald, Tallulah Bankhead, Don Ameche, Jack Haley, Preston Foster, Rudolph Valentino, Robert Walker, and Glenda Farrell.
From their childhood, the Brown Brothers also collected theatrical materials consisting of autographs and ephemera from actors and actresses during the late 1800s. The collection contains a large number of these items, either collected or purchased by the Brown Brothers, for many 19th and early 20th century performers. The agency files are also included in the collection. There are also a number of papers relating to actress and singer Fritzi Scheff, a particular favorite of the brothers. The agency correspondence and associated ephemera documents the range and changes in the performing arts industry for almost half a century. The collection contains extensive materials on 19th and 20th century theater including over six hundred scrapbooks, correspondence from many famous, as well as now forgotten actors, singers, vaudevillians, burlesque performers and managers, extensive newspaper clippings, autographs, signed photographs, and programs. The Brown Brothers continued to correspond with many of these performers, including Mrs. Leslie Carter, Marie Curtis, and Amelia Bingham, after their retirement from the stage.
There are also materials relating to Edward Everett Horton, Claire Boothe Luce, members of the Barrymore and Drew families, Clark Gable, Ray Bolger, Joe E. Brown, Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, Rosalind Russell, and Barbara Stanwyck. These as well as many other actors and actresses, both famous and unknown, are represented in the correspondence of the collection. Also included in the collection is correspondence from producers, directors and managers such as George M. Cohan, Lee Shubert and George Cukor. While working as an actor, playwright Clifford Odets corresponded with Chamberlain Brown and wrote an in-depth profile titled “The Great God Brown” (1928). Extensive correspondence from stock company managers and professional associations, particularly Actors’ Equity Association, also exist in the files. Chamberlain Brown’s correspondence with World War II servicemen, as well as with incarcerated men, is also included in the collection.
Legal and financial papers document the ever-present financial difficulties that beset the Brown Brothers. Some personal and family papers and photographs can also be found in the collection.
The Chamberlain and Lyman Brown papers are arranged in eleven series:
- 1849 - 19605.5 boxes
This series contains correspondence to and from the Brown and Chamberlain families, as well as some family documents. There are also personal records belonging to Chamberlain and Lyman Brown.
- Sub-series 1 – Family Correspondence
- Sub-series 2 – General
- 1858 - 1961107.5 boxes
This series is comprised of agency correspondence, largely to and from both professional and aspiring performers, but also from, producers, directors, managers, stock companies playwrights, and professional organizations such as Actors’ Equity Association. Chamberlain Brown’s correspondence to a number of soldiers and sailors during World War II and also to prisoners is also included in this series. Autographs collected and/or purchased by the Brown brothers are also contained in this series.
- 1909 - 195517 boxes
This series comprises the theatrical productions, including the stock companies run by the Brown brothers, as well as radio programs, clubs, lectures, and publications founded, produced, or performed by Chamberlain Brown. Writings include manuscripts by both Chamberlain and Lyman Brown. The General files contain materials for projects ranging from proposed (but unproduced) stock seasons to ideas for giving acting lessons.
- 195813.5 boxes
This series contains playscripts, many undated, which may have been sent by aspiring playwrights, or possibly used for plays cast by the Brown brothers. They range from Whirligig: A Dramatic Conundrum in Two Guesses by Edgar Smith, music by John Stromberg, and lyrics by Harry B. Smith (1899) to Brook Hollow by George Batson (ca. 1958). There are several radio scripts such as American Youth by Normand A. Archimbault (undated), New Tomorrows(1945) and Youth Promenade (1945) by Elsa Larabee Andrezen. Of special interest are Angel by Melchior Lengyel, English version by Guy Bolton (1934) and a one-act version of A Tale of Two Cities also by Guy Bolton (undated). There is also an undated script for the play Between Us Two by actress Florence Auer. Reader reports, synopses, fragments, and unidentified scripts are also contained in this series. One Lyle Leverich was a script reader for the Brown agency.
- 1899 - 196120.5 boxes
This series consists of contracts, commission cards and sheets for clients, bank statements, correspondence and legal documents for collection actions against the Brown brothers, invoices, and receipts relating to their business and personal finances, which were almost always intertwined. Documents from family wills and trusts are included in this series.
- 1908 - 19558.75 boxes
Included in this series are contact cards for performers and stage managers, stock theater schedules, bulletins, and notes by Lyman Brown, and administrative office files.
- 1905 - 19551.5 boxes
This series is comprised of extensive correspondence between Scheff and the Brown brothers, from 1920 to 1955, manuscript drafts of a biography, programs, ephemera, and clippings. There are also contracts, some financial papers, and a few publicity materials for a 1930 vaudeville tour of Fritzi Scheff and Company, presented by Chamberlain Brown.
- 1886 - 19563.75 boxes
This series contains both personal and family photos, as well as agency photos of performers and of other theatrical subjects, and photos either sent to or purchased by the Brown brothers. Some photos are autographed.
- Sub-series 1 – Personal and Family
- Sub-series 2 – Performers and Clients
- Sub-series 3 – General
- 1902 - 196115.75 boxes
This series consists of the voluminous newspaper clippings on performers kept by the Brown brothers on numerous stage and screen personalities through 1961, the year of Lyman Brown’s death. The clipping files include some of the Brown brothers’ favorite stars such as Alice Brady, Violet Heming, Helen Menken, Blanche Ring, and Frances Starr, as well as some of their discoveries such as Clark Gable and Helen Hayes. There are also files for Billie Burke, Louis Calhern, Eddie Cantor, Claudette Colbert, Ann Corio, William Gaxton, Al Jolson, Elsa Maxwell, Burgess Meredith, Barbara Stanwyck, Sophie Tucker, Rudy Vallee, Orson Welles, Robert Young, and others.
- 1903 – 1914637 boxes
This series contains a most extensive collection of scrapbooks kept by Chamberlain and Lyman Brown from their childhood through their adulthood, mostly documenting a large array of 19th and 20th century performers, as well as other theater subjects. There are also several personal scrapbooks relating to Chamberlain Brown. A number of the scrapbooks contain programs for miscellaneous productions seen by the Brown brothers at theaters such as the Hartford Opera House, Parsons Theatre also in Hartford, Connecticut, and on trips to New York City. Several scrapbooks also cover miscellaneous actors and actresses. The Theatre Recordscrapbooks (1903 – 1914) include two volumes of the playgoing diaries kept by Chamberlain and Lyman Brown, while several other volumes appear to have been purchased. (See also Related Materials – Chamberlain and Lyman Brown Theatrical Diaries.)
Included in the scrapbooks are mostly clippings, but also programs, a number of photographs, and other ephemera for the performers. In some instances, there are multiple scrapbooks for the star, such as Edith Ellis, Violet Heming, Elsie Janis, Helen Menken, Tom Mix, Marjorie Rambeau, and Joseph Schildkraut to name but a few. Some of the most notable personalities include Maude Adams, Humphrey Bogart, Mrs. Leslie Carter, Clark Gable, Helen Hayes, Edward Everett Horton, Bert Lahr, Fredric March, Carlotta Monterey, Antoinette Perry, William Powell, Fritzi Scheff, Clifton Webb, and Peggy Wood.
The Chamberlain Brown scrapbooks provide some of the only information in the collection on his early career. His summer productions of The Social Stew (1909) and The Chorus Boy (1910) in Annisquam, Massachusetts are well-documented in the scrapbooks. The two Westchester Theatre scrapbooks document the 1931-1932 productions there by the Chamberlain Brown Players.
- 1890s - 195318 boxes
This series is comprised of lists of stock productions, scrapbook fragments for stars such as Kenneth MacKenna, Paul Muni, Ethel Shutta, and Ernest Truex, photographs, posters, publicity materials, and clippings, some of which are autographed. The lists and schedules of stock productions appear to have been filled-in by the Brown office. Photographs include a portrait of Chamberlain Brown (ca. 1920s), as well as a photo of Emma Brown Lyman (Aunt Kittie).
Of particular note are the posters for some of Chamberlain Brown’s early productions, including The Social Stewand The Chorus Boy at the Village Hall, Annisquam, Massachusetts (1909, 1910), and for Night of January 16th at Bronxville Auditorium (1936), as well as newsletters for the Brown brothers’ stock companies at the Greenwich Theatre, Greenwich, Connecticut (1929) and Riviera Theatre, New York City (1931). There are also clippings autographed by Bennett Cerf, Charles Laughton, and Winged Victorycast members.