AMERICAN PLAY COMPANY / CENTURY PLAY COMPANY.
THE BUSINESS OF SHOW: ARCHIVE OF MATERIAL FROM MAJOR 20TH CENTURY THEATRICAL AGENCIES.
Bonhams is pleased to present the extensive archives of the New York theatrical agency, American Play Company / Century Play Company, including correspondence, contracts, company records, and theatrical scripts covering the first two quarters of the 20th century.
The roots of the American Play Company go 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 of the young actors playing the lead.
From there Marbury 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, W. Somerset Maugham, J.M. Barrie, Arthur Wing Pinero, Rachel Crothers, G.M. Cohan, 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 Froman) 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 whose roots are much murkier than APC's. Century Play Company was founded at the beginning of the 20th century, and may have had been a subsidiary of the Schubert organization until that company, feeling governmental anti-trust pressure, spun the agency off as its own entity. It was run by two men, James Thatcher and Thomas F. Kane, who, agency files reveal, executed agreements with authors sometimes on behalf of Century Play Company, and sometimes 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. Abend argued, and the Supreme Court agreed, that widows and heirs of deceased authors should recoup royalties after the death of the original author and once the copyright was renewed by the heirs.
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:
Contracts: between agency and authors, also contracts relating to overseas production rights, film and television rights, and publishing.
Correspondence: between agents and authors, producers, publishers, and others.
Company records: files and albums containing information regarding income from licensing and royalties.
Scripts: approx 90 boxes containing nearly 1000 theatrical scripts, most typed manuscripts, some representing early working drafts of popular 20th century dramas, others representing scripts used in regional or stock productions of the period. Present are scripts by 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 LINDSEY AND RUSSELL CROUSE, FREDERICK LONSDALE, CHARLES 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 SEGALL (including early drafts of "Heaven Can Wait" and original drafts of several unproduced plays), PRESTON STURGES, TENNESSEE WILLIAMS (including an early draft of "The Glass Menagerie" with original screen device note still intact), and many more.
Detailed listings of contracts, correspondence, and scripts are available upon request.