Tuesday, August 19, 2014

My Circus and Musical Theatre Writings, Papers and Interview Tapes to Reside at San Francisco's Museum of Performance & Design

I am pleased to announce that my papers and tapes, amassed in connection with the eight books I have written, have been accepted for permanent inclusion at the Museum of Performance & Design in San Francisco (MPD), formerly known as the San Francisco Performing Arts Library & Museum.

Thanks to the gratifying interest and support of the museum's head librarian and archivist, Kirsten Tanaka, in counsel with her colleagues, this will be the home for my archives.

The setting has particular meaning to me, for I was born in San Francisco, raised in a house in the shadows of the North Windmill at the west end of Golden Gate Park, directly across the street from the Big Dipper roller coaster, which was managed by my Uncle Smitty, at Playland-at-the-Beach.  My grandfather was a locally respected painter whose work was well reviewed.  I graduated from San Francisco State University, where I produced, directed and co-wrote the annual student revue, Kampus Kapers.

After first getting published in Variety, Dora Williams, a San Francisco agent representing artists and writers, sent me, despite my reservations, to the offices at Troubadour Press of children's book publisher Malcolm Whyte. Although it did not seem that I was right for a kid's book, and Mr. Whyte correctly sensed my ambivalence, he took the time to spirit me in the direction of a book, out of the ordinary, that might "evoke" the world of circus in a way that it might not have been evoked before.  This meeting resulted in my writing Behind the Big Top, my first book.

Among many reasons that make MPD the location ideal,  it covers the performing arts in general, and one of my books -- Flower Drum Songs: The Story of Two Musicals -- draws upon interviews I conducted with many of the Asian-American actors who appeared in one or both of the Broadway versions, either the original of 1958, and/or the revival of 2002.  The significance of Chinatown in San Francisco gives my collection, I believe, additional  relevance to the city's history.

And of course, there is San Francisco itself, one of the most popular travel destinations in the world!

Presently, in the words of Ms. Tanaka, MPD is "deinstalling" itself from the War Memorial Veterans Building, itsself due for retrofitting, and into temporary quarters.  In 2015, MPD will occupy a permanent new home at another location in the city.  That is when my collection will become available.

The archives I will be handing over include tapes of interviews that amount to approximately 130 hours, the majority of them with circus personalities from here to Russia and China; dozens of color transparencies along with black and white images handed to me while I was in the Soviet Union in 1979, working on research for my book Circus Rings Around Russia.

The collection is also enhanced by the wonderful black and white photography of Ted Sato, official photographer for Ringling-Barnum during its last years under canvas.

There are notes on my press work for James Bros. Circus, and other activities related to entertainment reporting and criticism in which I have been engaged, extending back to boyhood publications and to my earliest correspondence with Walter H. Hohenadel, editor of The White Tops, who was the first to publish me.

A large folder is stuffed (I need to add a second) with unsolicited post-publication research, letters and documents from interested parties adding to or questioning certain assertions made in my book Big Top Boss: John Ringling North and the Circus; even a taped interview with a woman who wished to share her recollections, for the record, of the friendly association she claimed to have enjoyed with JRN.

Anyway, I could go on and on.  But it's nice to know that my collection and archives will enjoy ideal safe keeping, and be available soon for others to view, listen to, and draw from.


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