Much like genealogical research, photo collecting can be a serendipitous process – sometimes one finds answers, and interesting ones at that, when least expected. From time to time I have focused my efforts on one photographer or another, collecting everything available for sale at a given moment. One such photographer is Alfredo Valente (1899-1973), whose handsome portraits of Broadway stars (and others) give me joy.
I like to buy photographs where the subject is known, although a bit of detective research doesn’t trouble me. In the course of purchasing a Valente proof of Julie Haydon (Donella Donaldson, 1910-1994), I came across an attractive proof of Miss Haydon (and, so I understood, Martha Scott, 1912-2003) as part of a quartet, also by Valente, so I bought it, too. I spent a bit of time trying to figure out what show these four women had appeared in, and came up with the note (to myself) that Miss Haydon and Miss Scott had done some summer stock in 1937-38…
Another photo was probably part of the same acquisition process – an intriguing Valente proof of an even larger group, rather casually identified as “Group Theatre members.” I count twelve people in the image, and I must confess that not a single member of one of the preeminent theater companies of the twentieth century leapt out at me.
This past weekend, I was doing a bit of reading at Wikipedia, following the biographical tracks of one actor or another, when I came across the entry for Frances Farmer (1913-1970). Best known today as a casualty of Hollywood whose sad story has attracted scrutiny (and misrepresentation), in 1938 she was one of the loveliest new faces on Broadway. There I found a variant of the Julie Haydon quartet, with all the members identified, and a visit to the Wikimedia Commons page for the Wikipedia image offers this caption from a June 1938 issue of Stage magazine:
“Because the season brought us these four young actresses, each in her own way radiant and unforgettable. Because Our Town brought us Martha Scott, fresh and bursting with the hope of youth. Because The Sea Gull brought us Uta Hagen, stately, eloquent, with a deep fire. Because Golden Boy brought us Frances Farmer, cool, lovely, thoughtfully resigned to an imperfect life. Because Shadow and Substance brought us Julie Haydon, wrapped in the pale majestic glow of faith that passes all understanding. Because the four of them proved again that nothing, not even beauty, can take the place of sincerity and simplicity in acting.”
Across the page from the Scott/Hagen/Farmer/Haydon image is another variant of my Group Theatre image, where the subjects have shifted slightly. There, too, in the front row at left are Leif Erickson (William Wycliffe Anderson, 1911-1986) and his wife (from 1936 until 1942) Frances Farmer. Wikimedia Commons helpfully identifies the rest: Roman Bohnen (1901-1949); Luther Adler (1903-1984); Ruth Nelson (1905-1992); Sanford Meisner (1905-1997); Phoebe Brand (1907-2004); Eleanor Lynn (1916-1996); Irwin Shaw (Irwin Gilbert Shamforoff, 1913-1984); Elia Kazan (Ilyas Kazancıoğlu, 1909-2003); Harold Clurman (1901-1980), one of the Group Theatre’s three founders (with Cheryl Crawford and Lee Strasberg); and Phoebe Brand’s future husband, Morris Carnovsky (1897-1992). (Kazan’s testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in April 1952 ended Carnovsky’s career as a Hollywood actor; the fallout from those events still lingers.)
I think that is Lucky 13 in terms of identifications, and it is interesting to see how many connections (personal as well as professional) link the people in these images. They cannot have imagined, more than eighty years ago, the fates that awaited Frances Farmer, or Irwin Shaw, or Elia Kazan and Morris Carnovsky. The Group Theatre is still the Group Theatre, not yet fractured by divorce, or success, or politics.
 Julie Haydon originated the role of Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie (1945-46).
 Martha Scott made her Broadway debut in Our Town (1938).
 Leif Erickson appeared, notably, in both the Broadway (1953-55) and film productions of Tea and Sympathy (1956).
 Harold Clurman was married to Stella Adler 1943-60.