Alternate Extent Statement: The bulk of the collection is made up of 147 oversized scrapbooks (each about 16"Hx12"W and averaging over 250 pages). Photographs in Box 4.
Access: This collection is open for research.
Please read The University of Iowa Libraries' statement on Property Rights, Copyright Law, and Permissions to Use Unpublished Materials.
Please see Historical Note above.
Keith/Albee Collection, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa.
||University of Iowa Special Collections
||Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
The history of this collection is not entirely recorded. It is said to have been discovered in the basement of The RKO Albee Theatre, Westminster Street, Providence, Rhode Island in the 1970s when this theater was being demolished. Richard Rand, a fire underwriter, found the records, took an interest in and acquired title to them either from the theater owners or the company tearing down the building. He moved them to a nearby warehouse. Some years later, Robert C. Allen, then a graduate student in The University of Iowa Speech and Dramatic Arts Department researching his dissertation on the relationship between vaudeville and film 1896-1915, learned of the records from a friend, sought out Rand while visiting Boston, and examined the records. Allen recalls that Rand planned to offer them piecemeal at auction but agreed to consider an offer from a library. On his return to Iowa City, Allen brought the collection to the attention of Frank Hanlin, then head of collection development in the Libraries. Hanlin, in turn, arranged to acquire the records in 1976. Acquisition records for purchased materials are generally destroyed after ten years, and that seems to have been the case here; we are not presently able to locate documentation for the purchase. Researchers owe Rand a generous round of thanks for preserving the records, however, and Allen and Hanlin a similar round for bringing them into the Libraries. We in turn thank Fred McLennan and Robert Allen for the information in this note.
Benjamin Franklin Keith and Edward Franklin Albee became partners in the late 1880s to promote "polite" vaudeville. They lavishly remodeled several theaters on the east coast and began producing a brand of "high class" vaudeville. Crude remarks and risque costumes were censored from performances, and they even attempted to prohibit rude behavior by audiences. Keith was the financial head of the circuit, while Albee was the general manager and owner of several theaters. In 1906, Keith and Albee established the United Booking Office. Every act that sought employment at any of the member theaters had to work through this central office, which in turn charged a five percent commission per act. Thus Keith and Albee expanded their power base. In the 1920s the Keith/Albee circuit merged with a western chain of vaudeville theaters to form the Keith-Albee-Orpheum Circuit. In 1928, $4,500,000 worth of stock was sold to Joseph P. Kennedy's Radio Corporation of America (RCA) establishing the Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO). After this merger, motion pictures became the primary form of entertainment, while vaudeville survived only as an accompaniment to the feature film.
The Keith/Albee collection primarily reports vaudeville programming in Rhode Island between 1894 and 1935, but it includes unique resources for studying vaudeville throughout the east coast and Ohio with a series of Managers' Reports spanning 1902-1923. The Keith/Albee circuit, as represented in these Reports, involves theaters in Providence, Pawtucket, and Woonsocket, Rhode Island; Boston and Webster, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Cleveland, Ohio. Theaters in Detroit, Washington, D.C., and New York City also appear with some regularity. The records of Keith/Albee chronicle the expansion of their circuit, changes in its leadership, and the eventual decline of vaudeville. Items dating as late as 1952 are as diverse as usher's manuals to building permits, air raid precautions to price schedules, and cash books to correspondence. The bulk of the collection is made up of 147 oversized scrapbooks (each about 16"Hx12"W and averaging over 250 pages).
Series I: These volumes contain weekly reports on the bills playing at theatres on the Keith/Albee circuit, arranged chronologically, September 1902- April 1923. Volumes 1-24. Information in the following list is arranged: volume #; starting Month/Day/Year; ending M/D/Y; number of pages. The number of report sheets/fragments is roughly twice the number of pages as most reports have two or more sheets. The books contain a total of 6056 pages.
Series II-III: These volumes contain an assortment of publicity materials regarding theater programing: advertising, newspaper articles, programs, etc. Most pieces include the date and newspaper name. Vaudeville, stock company, and motion pictures are represented, arranged chronologically by location and theatre. The number of pages per volume averages 250, although some books contain as many as 300 pages; there are 29,216 pages total. Series II is the longest series, 64 volumes, is for a theater in Providence, Rhode Island, which opened in 1894 as Keith's Opera House; renamed several times, the clipping book series for the RKO Albee Theatre, it last name, ends in 1941. Information under theater name is arranged: volume #; starting Month/Day/Year; ending M/D/Y.
Series IV: These scrapbooks contain clippings similar to the previous books but are not theatre specific.
Series VII: Subject Files, 1935-1952, bulk 1940-1948, mainly correspondence and records of George E. French, Manager of the RKO Allbee Theatre in Providence, RI, in a period when only film programs were offered. Testa, Richard Louis, Jr. Movie Exhibition Practices and Procedures During the Hollywood Studio Era in Providence, RI. (University of Maryland, PhD Dissertation, 1993), 372 pages. Testa made extensive use of the film-related materials in the collection.