Archive Material from Major 20th Century Theatrical Agencies for Bonhams & Butterfields Auction

. February 5, 2010

Bonhams & Butterfields is pleased to present the extensive archives of the New York theatrical agency, American Play Company (APC)/ Century Play Company (CPC), including correspondence, contracts, company records, and theatrical scripts covering the first two quarters of the 20th century (est. $120,000-180,000), during the Fine Books & Manuscripts auction on February 14, 2010.

The records of APC and CPC provide a rich resource of information on the business of show during the early 20th century, including author representation, show production, publishing, and licensing for television, film, radio, and stock production. The archive includes: a selection of contracts between agency and authors covering production rights, film and television rights, and publishing; correspondence between agents and authors, producers, publishers; company records; and nearly 1000 theatrical scripts, representing early working drafts of popular 20th century dramas and stock productions of the period.

Present in the archive are scripts by literary greats Philip Barry, Guy Bolton, George M. Cohan, John Colton, Rachel Crothers, Philip Dunning, Jacques Duval, Edna Ferber, Salisbury Field, Joseph Fields, Clyde Fitch, Elmer Harris, Lillian Hellman, Avery Hopwood, George S. Kaufman, Norman Krasna, Ring Lardner, Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse, Fredrick Lonsdale, Charles M. MacArthur and Ben Hecht, W.S. Maugham, A.A. Milne, Eugene O’Neill (early performance drafts of “Anna Christie,” “Mourning Becomes Electra,” “Strange Interlude,” and others), Sigmund Romberg, Harry Segal (including early drafts of “Heaven Can Wait” and original drafts of several unproduced plays), Preston Sturges, Tennessee Williams (early draft of “The Glass Menagerie” with original screen device note still intact), and many more.

The roots of the American Play Company date back to the 1880s, when Elizabeth Marbury became the protégé of theatrical impresario Daniel Frohman and convinced Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of Little Lord Fauntleroy, to let her act as her exclusive business representative. Marbury learned the practical side of theatrical management supervising the Broadway and traveling productions of Burnett’s play (based on her novel of the same name), involving herself down to the casting. From there she enjoyed great success, becoming the sole representative of the French Society of Authors, as well as the agent of such literary luminaries as George Bernard Shaw, Edmond Rostand, Hubert Henry Davis, W. Somerset Maugham, Jerome K. Jerome, J.M. Barrie, Brandon Thomas, Rachel Crothers, G.M. Cohan, Fritz Kreisler, Jerome Kern, Guy Bolton, and P.G. Wodehouse, among others.

In 1914, with the outbreak of war in Europe, Marbury decided to merge her company with Selwyn & Co, a competing theatrical agency, to form the American Play Company. By 1930 APC was actually an amalgam of Selwyn & Co, Elizabeth Marbury, Inc., The John Rumsey Play Company, The (original) American Play Company, and The De Mille Company.

John Rumsey (also a protégé of Frohman) took over the day-to-day management of the business from 1930 until the 1960s. In 1950, Rumsey negotiated a merger between APC and Century Play Company, a competing agency. Century Play Company was founded at the beginning of the 20th century, and may have had been a subsidiary of the Schubert organization. It was run by two men, James Thatcher and Thomas F. Kane, who, agency files reveal, sometimes executed agreements with authors on behalf of Century Play Company, and sometimes executed agreements in their own names. Thatcher died in 1930, and Kane ran the business until his death in 1950, after which the company was sold to American Play Company.

In the early 1960s, the company was purchased by Sheldon Abend, a former stevedore who threw himself into the business of intellectual property with such fervor that a significant Supreme Court case on copyright, Stewart v. Abend, bears his name.

Additional highlights from the 400-lot auction include a massive archive of photographs, correspondence and select building plans related to groundbreaking architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright (est. $20,000-30,000); two broadsides of John Wilkes Booth’s performances at the Boston Museum, featuring The Marble Heart, which was the show Lincoln saw Booth perform in D.C. in November of 1863 (est. $1,000-1,500); a fine example of Peter Force’s 1848 printing of the Declaration of Independence (est. $25,000-30,000); a rare Abraham Lincoln letter thanking those who helped celebrate former President Washington’s birthday in 1862 (est. $50,000-80,000) and a copy of Charles Darwin’s first published work, A Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty’s Ships Adventure and Beagle, 1839 (est. $20,000-30,000).

The illustrated catalogue will be available online for review and purchase at in the weeks preceding the sale.

Previews: February 5-7, San Francisco (timed to coincide with the Walter Larsen Book Fair); February 11-13, Los Angeles (timed to coincide with the California ABAA Book Fair) Auction: February 14, Los Angeles, simulcast to San Francisco

Category: Auction News

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