Access Alert! Indiana University Department of Theatre and Drama records

The finding aid for the Indiana University Department of Theatre and Drama records is now available online!  A portion of the collection was processed in 2007, however I had the pleasure of integrating two substantial additional accessions of related material in 2010 and tied everything together with revised descriptive information.

Set Design, from the University Theatre performances of Broken   Dishes, 1937.
Hand painted watercolor Set Design, from the University Theatre performances of Broken Dishes, 1937.

I know, I know: enough with the archival jargon.  (Sometimes I just can’t help myself!)  What exactly is in this collection, you ask?  Well, it’s an exciting mix of materials documenting the Indiana University Department of Theatre and Drama from 1925-2007.  It does not merely include administrative and course records, but also a plethora of visually captivating programs, newspaper reviews, scripts, posters, and performance photographs documenting theatre productions in association with the University Theatre, Brown County Playhouse, Indiana Theatre Company, and I.U. Theatre Circle.  Overall, the collection provides a rich history of dramatic expression and theatrical training at Indiana University, which attests to the maturation of the department and associated performance initiatives.

Poster advertising the University Theatre 1965-1966 season.
Poster advertising the University Theatre 1965-1966 season.

My favorite aspect of processing this collection was working with the Production Files series, which includes more than twenty boxes of materials documenting various stage productions, both time honored classics and modern productions.  It was incredibly interesting to see the gradual stylistic and topical changes apparent in performances over the course of more than seven decades.  The events and movements taking place in the world at large were often reflected on the stage, including relatively barren set designs during the Great Depression era, lavish productions typifying the 1950s post-war America period, and creatively stylized performances dealing with race and gender issues in the 1960s-1970s.  Even the evolution of poster and program designs within the collection lends an interesting component to understanding artistic expression and the role of drama on campus over time.

Antigone, as performed by the Indiana Theatre Company--a regional   touring performance group which included Indiana University Department   of Theatre and Drama students.
"Antigone," as performed in 1969 by the Indiana Theatre Company--a regional touring performance group which included Indiana University Department of Theatre and Drama students.

Materials which originated from the Brown County Playhouse, with which IU had a partnership from 1949-2010, offer a wealth of documentation on the origins and development of this unique cultural offering highly popular with South Central Indiana locals and visitors alike.  The Brown

Performance photograph of The Barker, as performed at the Brown   County Playhouse, 1951.
Performance photograph of "The Barker," as performed at the Brown County Playhouse, 1951.

County Playhouse began as a rudimentary stage constructed in a barn with an adjoining tent covering the otherwise outdoor audience space, though a more solid, rain resistant structure was built in 1977 to accommodate a growing audience base.  It operated as a summer theatre, and specialized in comedic plays.  Performance programs exhibit the theatre’s unique, laid-back style, while many newspaper clippings attest to the popular success of the venue and actors’ prowess. The Playhouse closed its doors for good at the end of the 2010 season.

Some other specific highlights that may be of interest to researchers, alumni, student actors, and casual theatre fanatics include materials documenting the 1941 world premier of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright William Saroyan’s Jim Dandy at the then newly opened Indiana University Auditorium and evidence of one of the IU Theatre and Drama Department’s most highly celebrated alumni, Kevin Kline, in 1960s era performances such as Wingless Victory.  Many more treasures lie in waiting within the collection!

[Note: Additional photographs related to performances in the collection may also be available through the IU Archives Photographs Collection.  Don’t hesitate to ask!]

You Never Know When The President Will Show Up

In the last few weeks of my internship, I have been working hard to finish W.T.K. Nugent’s collection. Though I end each day with piles of xeroxed articles to toss in the recycling bin, the number of boxes never seems to get any smaller. The academic life series of papers has been finished and I am now working through the many speeches given by Dr. Nugent over the course of 40 years in academia. The content is quite interesting – Dr. Nugent traveled all over this hemisphere to talk, to places that include Germany, Israel, Ireland, and England. He mainly spoke on his areas of expertise, which are the West and demographic history, but he also branched out a bit occasionally. One speech given was titled “What Would You Do If You Were 20 and Living in Indianapolis in 1849?” (The answer: Farm.)

Continuing the streak of finding random objects hidden in the folders of this collection, today I stumbled on a piece of blue agate rock, hand-picked by Nebraska’s governor in the 1960s. It’s a pretty little rock. I wish I had a reason to archive it along with the academic appointment letters I found with it, but sadly I do not, so back to Dr. Nugent it goes. A few pages later in this folder I ran across a program for a birthday celebration in 1966 for President Harry S. Truman, which is not something one sees every day so I flipped it open and found this:

If it looks like a program with a bunch of scribbles in the corner, well, that’s what it is. However, when you take a closer look:

"Harry S Truman"
"Harry S Truman"

Amid the other signatures, you can make out “Harry S. Truman” – conveniently, next to Truman’s name on the program. This is definitely not something you see every day, so I got a little excited. Then I remembered that there is no proof that this is really a signature from Truman himself, nor are the other signatures written out to Dr. Nugent. I’m not sure why this is in the collection, and it will take some detective work to prove that this is the real deal, but in the meantime it’s still pretty interesting.

Satisfied with my find, I continued processing the folder, but a few pages after I found a browned invitation:

“To honor the President of the United States and Mrs. Kennedy and the Vice President of the United States and Mrs. Johnson, it is proposed to give a Ball, to which you are cordially invited, in the National Guard Armory, City of Washington, on Friday evening, the twentieth of January, at nine o’clock.” [Dated 1961]

This appears to be an invitation to President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural ball. Fresh off of the Truman find, my excitement also had to be quashed as there is no explanation for this being in Dr. Nugent’s folder nor is there evidence that it’s authentic. Still… it’s a pretty exciting thing to see. These kind of papers would usually be on display at a presidential library or history museum, yet here they are scattered into the papers of a former IU professor. It is not absurd to assume that Dr. Nugent attended both these events, but that is as yet to be determined.

Little 500: Entertainers of the Past

There’s a little event going on in town this week.

Victorious Little 500 riders, 1964

Yep, it’s time for Little 500 at Indiana University, for many years called the World’s Greatest College Weekend.

The race was the brainchild of Howard “Howdy” Wilcox. Wilcox, Director of the IU Foundation (IUF), established the IU Student Foundation Committee in 1950 in order to raise awareness of the Foundation and its purpose. He saw the race as an opportunity to publicize the IU Student Foundation and raise scholarship money for students working their way through school. The bike race, modeled after the Indianapolis 500, was first run in 1951. The first years featured only the race but before long a Variety Show was added and in subsequent years additional entertainment and events were developed, including the Golf Jamboree (1958), the Cream and Crimson intra-squad football game (1963), and the Style Show (1969).

This year there has been a tremendous amount of excitement over the headliner Lil Wayne and I thought there might be some interest in learning a bit about the past acts that have come for Little 500. In 1953, IUF Director Bill Armstrong decided to add a little celebrity luster and brought in the first Little 500 Sweetheart, actress and singer Lu Ann Simms. Simms was given every photo op possible throughout the weekend.

Actress and singer Lu Ann Simms served as the first Little 500 Sweetheart in 1953.
Actress and singer Lu Ann Simms served as the first Little 500 Sweetheart in 1953.

With the crowds the race began to draw, Armstrong harbored concerns about what folks could do in town post-race, so two years later he added a Variety Show. The headliner that year was Horace Heidt and his 50-person “Swift Show Wagon.” The group performed at the Auditorium and a new tradition was born. Feeling there could still be more, in 1960 Armstrong launched the Friday night concert, the Little 500 Extravaganza. The first performers were The Four Lads, who entertained crowds from the Woodlawn tennis courts.

In his book, The Little 500: The Story of the World’s Greatest College Weekend, author John Schwarb relays the story of Armstrong’s greatest celebrity coup, Bob Hope. Schwarb writes, “Making a personal crusade out of landing the big act of the day, he traveled to Hope’s North Hollywood, California, home in early 1963 to personally ask for the star’s attendance. Initially Hope rebuffed Armstrong’s request, saying that IU couldn’t be anywhere near as great as advertised, and that the school up the road in West Lafayette was better.” [this archivist’s response: *gasp*] Armstrong continued to pursue Hope and he agreed to come in 1964. That year, Little 500 set an attendance record of 23,790 and Hope delivered with four shows to accommodate the deluge of ticket sales. But when Armstrong in turn delivered his $30,000 check, Hope tore it up. Turned out he had such a great time that he asked to return the next year and did so again in 1967, 1971, and 1975, donating his fees to a scholarship fund in his name. (Interested in applying? Check out

The McGuire Sisters were 1954's Little 500 Sweethearts.
The McGuire Sisters were 1954's Little 500 Sweethearts.

So, there have been a lot of celebrities connected to Little 500. Some other names of the past:

  • 1955: Horace Heidt’s Swift Show Wagon
  • 1958: headliners Don Cherry & Tina Robin; Popoff Teddy Family, and Al Cobine
  • 1965: The Kingsmen
  • 1969: Tony Bennett, George Kirby, and the Sandpipers
  • 1970: Chicago
  • 1978: Lou Rawls
  • 1983: Barbara Mandrell & the Do-Rites
  • 1988: Innuendo, the Cones, & Voyage
  • 1992: Larry Crane, Henry Lee Summer, and John Mellencamp
  • 1993: The BoDeans (openers were Material Issue & The Why Store)
  • 2001: Nelly
  • 2005: The Roots
IU alums, what were some of your favorite Little 500 shows?

Jim Thorpe: World’s Greatest Athlete

Jim Thorpe with punters
Jim Thorpe with Indiana punters

I recently caught the documentary “Jim Thorpe, The World’s Greatest Athlete” on WFIU. I love documentaries and this one is worth a watch. But unless I missed it, they never mentioned the time this legend spent at Indiana University!

If you do not know the story, Thorpe, a Native American, began his athletic career at Pennsylvania’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School in 1907 where he played baseball, football, and was a member of the track team. He excelled in football and under the tutelage of Glen Scobey “Pop” Warner, Thorpe became a star on the Carlisle team. Before long the small school was winning against the likes of Harvard and Yale.

In 1912, Thorpe went to Stockholm as a member of the American Olympic track team. There he smashed previously held records, winning gold medals for the pentathlon and decathlon. He came home with $50,000 in trophies, including a chalice in the shape of a Viking ship presented to him by the Czar of Russia. Sadly, within a month, the Olympic Committee stripped him of his hard won medals, as it was learned that he had been paid a small sum for playing summer baseball – Jim Thorpe, they decided, was no amateur athlete.

This hardly meant an end to his sports career – quite the opposite, in fact. In 1913, he signed a contract to play baseball with the New York Giants, and went on to also play for the Chicago Cardinals and Canton (Ohio) Bulldogs. In 1920, he was elected president of the American Professional Football Association, the forerunner of today’s NFL.

Clearly, this guy was a big deal.

So where’s the IU connection?

Well, in 1914 IU hired C.C. Childs as its head football coach. In seeking out additional coaching staff, Childs considered — and passed over — job-seeker Knute Rockne (some of you may have heard of him) and remembered his fellow Olympic team member Thorpe. Thorpe was wrapping up a season with the Giants and he looked with interest at the opportunity to return to football. To assist with IU’s 1915 football season, he asked for $1000 plus a room for his family at a Bloomington hotel. A deal was struck and the students were thrilled to learn that the World’s Greatest Athlete would be joining the coaching staff. Sadly, his addition to the staff did not help lead the Hoosiers to glory that season. They finished with one victory, over Northwestern, and tied with Washington and Lee. Despite the poor record, Thorpe was welcomed as a hero on the campus and in the Bloomington community.

Thorpe left Bloomington to continue his professional athletic career in baseball and football. Throughout his life, Thorpe struggled with alcoholism and after retiring as a player, he found himself moving from job to job. When he died of a heart attack in 1953, he was penniless. Thorpe, however, would be long remembered for his athletic prowess. In 1983, the International Olympic Committee restored his Olympic medals and in 1999, Senator Rick Santorum sponsored a U.S. Senate resolution to name him Athlete of the Century.