James T. Powers papers, 1860s-1945 and undated
Using These Materials
- Collection is open for research.
- Powers, James T., 1862-1943
- 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.
8.0 Linear Feet
12 boxes; 1 oversize folder
Approximately 1290 items
Approximately 1290 Items
- Material in English
- Collection ID:
- Scope and Content:
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.
- Biographical / Historical:
James Thomas Powers (1862-1943) was an actor, playwright, musician, and vaudeville entertainer, renowned for his comedic abilities and expressions as well as for his trademark red hair. His wife, Rachel Booth Powers (1862-1955), was also a famous actress and comedian in her own right. The Powers lived most of their lives in and near New York City and, as a result, most of their performances took place on Broadway. Some of the plays in which James T. Powers performed include: A Runaway Girl, San Toy, A Princess of Kensington, Havana, The Rivals, and The Geisha. In addition to living at the Ansonia Hotel in New York City, and in Richfield Springs, N.Y., the Powers also owned a vacation home on Cape Cod that is depicted in several photographs in this collection.
Chronology Date Event 1862 Born as James Thomas McGovern in New York; raised on West 12th Street in New York City 1862 Birth of Rachel Booth; raised in Rochester, New York 1883 After performing in several small productions, James T. Powers moved to London 1885 Powers returned to New York and met Rachel Booth while in the Boston production of Charles Hoyt's A Tin Soldier 1892 James Powers and Rachel Booth married 1894 James Powers appeared in The New Boy, one of his earliest performances on Broadway 1899 Joined "The Players" and began to regularly visit club's rooms in Gramercy Park 1901 Appeared in and wrote additional lyrics for The Messenger Boy 1909 Appeared in and revised Havana, one of his most famous roles 1920 Rachel Booth Powers retired from the stage 1935 James Powers appeared in Seven Keys to Baldpate then retired from the stage 1935-1939 Wrote and published autobiography entitled Twinkle Little Star: Sparkling Memories of Seventy Years 1943 Feb. 11 James Powers passed away 1955 July 23 Rachel Booth Powers passed away
- Acquisition Information:
- The James T. Powers papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a purchase in 1976.
- Processing information:
Processed by Josh Hager, March 2010; additional materials processed and encoded by Paula Jeannet, May 2017.
Accession(s) described in this collection guide: 4-30-76
- Physical Location:
- For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
- Rules or Conventions:
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Related Material:
James T. and Rachel Booth Powers Collection -1948, undated [Search for "Rachel Both Powers"] — The New York Historical Society
Historic American Sheet Music [Web site with access to thousands of titles and digitized images of popular American sheet music held at Duke] — Duke University. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
- Separated Material:
James T. Powers' autobiography, Twinkle Little Star: Sparkling Memories of Seventy Years was transferred to the Perkins Library general collections.
Click on terms below to find related finding aids on this site. For other related materials in the Duke University Libraries, search for these terms in the Catalog.
Actors -- United States -- Biography
Actors -- United States -- Portraits
Actresses -- United States -- Diaries
Composers -- United States -- Biography
Comedians -- United States
Dramatists, American -- Biography
Performing Arts -- United States -- History
Popular culture -- New York (State) -- New York
Popular music -- United States -- 1901-1910
Popular music -- United States -- 1911-1920
Popular music -- United States -- 1921-1930
Theater -- New York (State) -- New York -- History
Vaudeville -- History
Vaudeville -- New York (State) -- New York -- History
Women entertainers -- United States
Gelatin silver prints
Powers, James T., 1862-1943
Powers, James T., 1892-
Powers, Rachel Booth, 1862-1955
Broadway (New York, N.Y.) -- History
New York (N.Y.) -- Social life and customs
Using These Materials
Collection is open for research.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
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- PREFERRED CITATION:
[Identification of item], James T. Powers Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University