Actors' role books
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
This collection provides a glimpse into the culturally significant world of late nineteenth century American theater. The collection seems to have been composed primarily by Philip Augustus Anderson (1845-1919), an actor who lived first in Philadelphia and then New Jersey. Anderson was married twice (to Annie Jennings in 1869 and Matilda Haines Hagard in 1889) and had eight children.
Charlotte Crabtree (1847-1924), more popularly known as Miss Lotta, is mentioned several times in this collection and probably toured with Anderson. A 1909 issue of The Green Book Magazine claims that "dear little Lotta, in spite of her unromantic name of Crabtree, charmed McVicker audiences in the '70's and '80's. She possessed a shrewd mamma, and it is due to her management of Lotta's earnings that the erstwhile soubrette is now ending her days in plenty and peace." Indeed, Miss Lotta was considered one of the greatest stars of the day, and died with a fortune of $4,000,000. Other actors whose role books are in this collection include Laura Keene, John Lester Wallack, Annie Lewis, John Edward McCullough, Lucille Western and Joseph Proctor. Laura Keene was present at the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and Lucille Western's sister was at one point the girlfriend of John Wilkes Booth.
Sources: Lotta Crabtree (1847-1924) San Francisco History. Accessed December 14, 2015
Lotta's Rival, The Green Book Magazine vol. 2 (1909). Accessed December 14, 2015
Philip Augustus Anderson, Ancestry.com. Accessed December 14, 2015,
This collection contains nearly sixty actors' role books, which provide the relevant cues, lines and stage directions for one character in a play. The earliest role book in the collection was probably copied on September 9th, 1870 and the latest date of transcription is October 4th, 1878, although there are many undated role books in the collection that could have been completed outside of this timeframe. Almost all of the role books are handwritten, and many are signed by Philip Augustus Anderson ("P. Aug. Anderson" or "Pialphalpha"), a performer who was active in several large cities in the North East of the United States. Other role books were copied by, or on behalf of, about seven celebrated actors of the day.
Almost all of the role books include notes and annotations such as phonetic pronunciations of non-English words (found in "Victor Delpius"), two sketches of faces in profile (found in "Adelanta" and "Jacob McCloskey"), lists of props and costumes with their prices (found in "Leveret"), definitions of unusual words (found in "Norfolk"), notes on costume design (found in "The Softy"), and historical information relevant to the play (found in "King Creon" and "Marcus Crassus"). Additionally, most of the role books include symbols like small circles with dots, dashes and crosses to indicate stage directions (for more information, see: Langhans, Edward A., Eighteenth Century British and Irish Promptbooks: A Descriptive Bibliography. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987.) A great many of the role books include the signature of their transcriber, a date, and the city in which they were copied (most commonly Boston but also Baltimore, Albany and Philadelphia). Some books have the name or address of the theater in which the play was performed, as well as information about other performances that ran simultaneously. The only typewritten book is stamped "H. A. Richardson, Type Writer. 24 West 9th St. N.Y." and has a piece of stationary paper from Merrimac House, a hotel and theater in Lowell, Massachusetts, tucked into it.
The role books are arranged alphabetically by character name. The first folder in the collection contains a piece of pasteboard with "A Catalogue of Written Parts" written on it, and an inventory of some of the role books. There is an untitled page of notes (lines in French with their English translations underneath) and an untitled role book at the end of the collection.
- Proctor, Joseph
- McCullough, John
- Annie Lewis
- Wallack, Lester
- Keene, Laura
- Western, Lucille
- Crabtree, Lotta
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Rive Cadwallader
- Finding Aid Date
- 2015 December 21
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.