James T. Powers was a well-known comic actor, songwriter, playwright, and vaudeville entertainer based in New York City. The materials in the collection cover the entirety of his career, from the 1880s to the 1930s, when he retired. There are also items relating to the acting career and family of his wife, Rachel Booth Powers. The materials are arranged into the following series: Correspondence, Financial and Legal Papers, Photographs and Other Images, Print Materials, Rachel Booth Powers Papers, Sheet Music, Volumes, and Other Writings. The collection contains over 260 images, including tintypes, several lithographs, gelatin silver photographs, and albumen prints, dating from approximately 1860 to the early 1940s. The rest of the collection includes scrapbooks, autograph albums, a diary by Rachel Booth Powers, many clippings, drafts of scripts and reminiscences, sheet music, notebooks, and other professional papers. Taken as a whole, the collection provides a rich look at the society and culture of vaudeville theater in New York City during Rachel and James T. Powers' careers.
Most of the collection pertains to James T. ("Jimmy") Powers, spanning his entire career as a comic actor, songwriter, playwright, and vaudeville entertainer from the 1880s to the 1930s, when he retired. There are also materials relating to the acting career and family of his wife, Rachel Booth Powers. The materials are arranged into the following series: Correspondence, Financial and Legal Papers, Photographs and Other Images, Print Materials, Rachel Booth Powers Papers, Sheet Music, Volumes, and Other Writings.
The correspondence, financial, and legal papers chiefly center on professional matters, including contracts and letters of thanks for the Powers' involvement in charity efforts during both world wars. Print materials include scripts of plays, clippings relevant to James and Rachel Powers, autobiographical material, and theater ephemera.
The collection contains a separate series for the writings of Rachel Booth Powers. Included here are several essays she wrote while in school, her teaching certificate, two autograph books dating from 1876 and 1877, and a diary kept in 1897. There is also a scrapbook containing newspaper clippings of poems written by her older sister, Alice Booth. In the Sheet Music series one can find numerous popular pieces dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including songs for which Powers wrote the lyrics.
The Volumes series consists of 24 undated notebooks belonging to James Powers that contain ideas for plays, rough drafts of what seem to be vaudeville skits, lyrics for songs, reminiscences of his career, and other notes. Finally, other writings include loose scripts of plays written by Powers, as well as some prose material. Of note in this series is a script that Powers intended to turn into, in his own words, a "motion picture play."
The Photographs and Other Images series, the largest group in the collection, contains over 260 images, dating from approximately 1860 to the early 1940s, of James Powers, Rachel Booth Powers, their families, and various stage personalities; there are also a few related clippings and theater programs mentioning either Powers or Rachel Booth. Formats include one ambrotype and 21 tintypes, followed by many late 19th and early 20th century albumen prints, lithographs, and early modern gelatin silver prints. The professionally-taken photographs of persons and theater scenes, along with the other collection materials, are particularly rich as a resource for studying vaudeville and Broadway theater culture during the careers of James T. and Rachel Booth Powers.