STARS OF THE STAGE of yesteryear: Clara Kellogg, John Gilbert, Maggie Mitchell, Mrs. Kean. And how could we forget the Norwegian violinist Ole Borneman Bill, the diva Enrichetta Bosisio, not to mention Teresa Carreno, the child-prodigy pianist from Venezuela?
Easy. Some might have slipped from our cultural memory entirely had they not had the foresight to stop in at Mathew Brady's New York studio, conveniently located in the theater district. And so they were immortalized, and their faces appear in "Stage Portraits: Photographs by Mathew Brady from the Frederick Hill Meserve Collection," at the Portrait Gallery.
In the late 1860s, Brady produced what America's theater audiences were clamoring to collect: souvenir photos of the stars. Charlotte Crabtree was one of them, better known simply as "Lotta." (And one might well ask, Lotta what?) When she posed for Brady, she was a pistol, saucy and bored. Lotta was one of the most outrageous actresses in America -- smoking cigarettes and even showing her legs on stage. Naturally she was also one of the highest paid.
And here is P.T. Barnum, starmaker, starbreaker, leering at a young actress through a stage window. Not only did the great impresario found the greatest show on earth, he ran an "American Museum" on lower Broadway, from 1842 'til the museum burned down 30 years later. Along with side shows, natural history exhibits and curiosities such as Tom Thumb, there were plays and variety acts.
Barnum knew what people wanted, so in 1863 he brought Pauline Cushman to New York. The pretty actress had charmed information out of Confederate officers in Tennessee. Captured and sentenced to death, she was rescued by Union sympathizers and lived totell her tale on the American Museum stage. She was made an honorary major of federal cavalry. And so among Brady's photographs here, she's the one in the Union uniform.
STAGE PORTRAITS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MATHEW BRADY FROM THE FREDERICK HILL MESERVE COLLECTION -- At the National Portrait Gallery, indefinitely.