From the Vault: Theatrical Treasures Live Again

Rare movie and theater items from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s go on exhibit at the Hamon Arts Library.

Hidden Treasures from the McCord-Renshaw Collection

By Nancy George
SMU News

Hidden Treasures from the McCord-Renshaw Collection
The exhibit includes this photo of Sherlock Holmes performed at the Garrick Theatre in 1899. See a slide show camera of items in the exhibit.

Crammed with materials ranging from 1943 “Cabin in the Sky” set drawings by director Vincente Minnelli to a program from the first performance of Oscar Wilde’s 1892 play Lady Windermere’s Fan, the McCord Theatre Museum at SMU closed in 1990 after 57 years of collecting.

Now items from the collection are on view again at the new Hamon Arts Library exhibit, “Hidden Treasures from the McCord/Renshaw Collection.” The exhibit at the Mildred Hawn Gallery in SMU’s Owen Arts Center opens Feb. 18 and runs through July 1, 2011.

Edyth Renshaw, the museum’s curator, collected artifacts both weird and wonderful from around the world, says exhibit curator Emily Grubbs.

When the stage manager of the 1951 Academy Awards locked the theatre after the ceremony, he found the discarded envelopes and winners’ names for Best Actor on the podium. He passed them on to theatre impresario Clark Davis. Davis knew exactly who would want them – Edyth Renshaw.

Renshaw directed SMU’s student theatre program for 42 years while collecting performing arts materials – such as the typewritten cards naming Humphrey Bogart and Vivien Leigh 1951 Academy Award winners.

After the museum closed, more than 300 boxes of artifacts remained in storage for 20 years due to lack of space and staff. In 2006, Grubbs, then a Hamon Arts Library student worker, began organizing the never-inventoried museum, discovering rare treasures ranging from 8th-century Japanese gigaku masks to a sultry Christmas card featuring Mae West.

Many of the items in the Mary McCord/Edyth Renshaw Collection on the Performing Arts can be seen in an online digital collection.

Among the items in the exhibit:

  • 1951 Academy Award presentation envelopes for Best Actress and Best Actor – Vivien Leigh and Humphrey Bogart
  • Mae West Christmas card featuring West lounging on Santa’s lap
  • Photographs of long-gone ornate Dallas theatres such as the segregated Harlem Theatre (1920), Palace Theatre (1936) and Cycle Park Theatre (1907)
  • Comedienne Joan Blondell’s false eyelashes (1952)
  • 1869 costume design sketchbook featuring color drawings
  • Snapshot of Aaron Spelling as SMU student actor

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