Collection consists of vaudeville and burlesque materials including original scripts for comedic bits, blackouts, scenes, skits and sketches, joke files, promotional materials, photographs, business records, and press clippings dating from the 19th century to the late 20th century.
Scope and Contents:
Collection provides a comprehensive overview of vaudeville and burlesque performance material rather than documenting individual acts or performers. The materials were collected by Henry "Buddy" Arnold Graf Jr. and primarily include original scripts for comedic skits and sketches not only written by Graf but by other performers and writers.
The collection documents the career of Henry "Buddy" Graf, an actor, producer, director, and business manager. Graf wrote a sizeable amount of his own material but also pulled from the collected scripts of other vaudeville and burlesque comics. Graf and his company performed mostly in Florida and the mid-west and had a long term performing relationship with Bearcreek Farms in Indiana. Graf's material is a window into the non-professional world of theater (non-union) in the late 20th century.
The scripts in this collection collected by Graf and George Cahill were created and performed by early vaudeville and burlesque actors, writers, and booking agents including Gus Flaig, Billy Foster, Leo Stevens, and Izzy Hirst, and others. The scripts date from 1844 with the bulk of scripts being written and performed from the 1910s through the 1940s. The material was performed in venues across the United States.
Graf also collected a sizeable amount of scripts by vaudeville actor and booking agent Jess Mack dating from the 1940s-1980s. Many of the scripts were written on whatever material was available, such as hotel stationery, scraps of paper, or in notebooks, documenting the creative and constantly changing nature of the life of a travelling vaudevillian and changes in performance from venue to venue, year to year.
Each foldered script may include plot synopses, written dialogue, cues for movement, alternate versions, lists of props, copies of song sheets, and musical scores. Many are bound in hand-stitched volumes. The format of the volumes varies because they were the personal copies of different actors and agents. Some volumes are indexed by title while others are indexed by topic.
Additional material includes joke files, promotional materials, photographs, and press clippings. The collection is arranged into thirty-two series; each series is keyed to the collector of the scripts and materials in that series. These collectors may have also been the writers, actors, or producers of the scripts in their series.
"This is a collection of approximately twenty-four (24) cubic feet of vaudeville materials. About 90% of it consists of original scripts for a wide variety of comedic skits and sketches. Additional material includes joke files, promotional materials, photographs, and press clippings. The scripts were created by early (1910s-1940s) vaudeville actors and booking agents such as Gus Flaig, Billy Foster, Leo Stevens, and Izzy Hirst; additional scripts were added by vaudeville actor and booking agent Jess Mack (1940s-1980s). Like more "respectable" plays -- and despite their relatively short length -- vaudeville skits and sketches had titles, like "The Presentation Scene," which were very familiar to performers and theatergoers alike. Most of the scripts in this collection have been bound into hand-made volumes. These are rare, ephemeral items, reflecting the creative and constantly-changing nature of the performances – many scripts were written on whatever material was available, such as hotel stationery, and some volumes are hand-stitched together. Each script includes all of its elements -- plot synopses, written dialogue, cues for movement, alternate versions, lists of props, copies of song sheets and musical scores, and so on. The format of the volumes varies because these were the personal copies of a number of different actors and agents. Some volumes are indexed by title, for example, and some are indexed by topic, such as "animals," "flirtation," "golf," and so on. Non-script material includes joke books, "A Complete List of Scenes and Black-outs," and an unknown amount of photos, clippings, and promotional materials.
Collection is arranged into thirty-two series:
Series 1: Henry "Buddy" Graf, 1844-2000, undated
Series 2: Arliss, Jules, undated
Series 3: Berry, Bert, undated
Series 4: Binder, F.F. (Fred "Falls"), undated
Series 5: Bronson, Milt, undated
Series 6: Brown, Ernie (Toby), undated
Series 7: Burke, Herbie, undated
Series 8: Clas, Irvin V., undated
Series 9: Clexx, Harry (Henry Thomas), undated
Series 10: Cook, Johnny (John S.) and Bohn, Charles ("Peanuts"), 1936-07
Series 11: Dew, I., undated
Series 12: Flaig, Gus and Beall, Howard, undated
Series 13: Flaig, Gus, 1921-1954, undated
Series 14: Foster, Billy, 1929, undated
Series 15: Hagen, Billy, undated
Series 16: Hayes, Jack, undated
Series 17: Hill, G.B., undated
Series 18: Hill, Joe, undated
Series 19: Hirst, Isadore, 1927-1928, undated
Series 20: Kane, Johnny, undated
Series 21: Kaplan, Eddie, undated
Series 22: Leason, Jess, undated
Series 23: Lewis, Freddie, undated
Series 24: Mack, Jess, 1937-1969, undated
Series 25: Plant, Vic, 1921-1925, undated
Series 26: Romig, Jack, undated
Series 27: Sherman, Robert, undated
Series 28: Stanley, Joe B., undated
Series 29: Taylor, Bob, undated
Series 30: Van, Earl, undated
Series 31: Wilton, Joe, 1920, undated
Series 32: Unattributed, 1945-1952, undated
Biographical / Historical:
Henry Arnold "Buddy" Graf was born 1929 August 30 in Chicago, Illinois at the Norwegian-American Hospital to Henry A. Graf and Evelyn Warner. His father was an electrician at the time of Graf's birth but Graf claimed he grew up in the theatre. As a child in vaudeville he played with the children of some of the vaudeville families such as Donald O'Connor and Sammy David, Jr. He received formal schooling up to the tenth grade.
Graf served in the United States Air Force from January 1949 to October 1952. He was stationed at Sheppard AFB, Texas and then later at Chanute AFB, Illinois. He served as a "Basic Airman" with a mechanic and engineering specialty, and recived a Good Conduct Medal. The most significant assignment during his enlistment was with the 9th Periodic Maintenance Squadron. He was discharged at Travis AFB, California in 1952.
In later life he became a comic, writer, and producer, his style being primarily burlesque with a touch of vaudeville.
Graf met his wife, Carol, in St. Louis, Missouri. A program biography from the 1980s states, "Buddy started his career in show business when he was seven years old. His father put his name on the callboard and he was in business running errands for the acts that appeared at the Stratford Theatre in Chicago, Illinois. Buddy's father was the stage manager, Bob Hope was the Master of Ceremonies. His playmates were Donald O'Conner and Sammy David, Jr. They became friends while they and their families were playing at the Stratford. As time went on Buddy gained experience from the management side of show business as well as the technical and artistic side, the latter as a scene comic. Buddy soon became involved with the rebirth of vaudeville with his own creation, "Giggles Galore". The show ran for five years and did over 2000 performances. He was with Will B. Able's 'Baggy Pants and Company', and performed with 'The Best of Burlesque'. In 1990, he completed a six year run at the Goodtimes Theatre at Bearcreek Farms in Indiana, where he starred in 22 new productions and over 2500 performances. Buddy's wife Carol is the buisness manager for Monkey Biz Productions, and she is the technical director for the show. Buddy and Carol invite you to let your hair down, forget your problems, and let's have some fun the old fashioned way . . . with 'Monkey Business'.
Graf suffered a heart attack on stage but survived after being fitted with a pacemaker, leading him to dub himself the "Bionic Comic." Graf died on 2000 August 20 and was buried in Valhalla Cemetery, St. Louis County, Missouri. Carol died 2013 May 20 and is buried beside her husband in Valhalla. Their shared gravemarker reads, "And in my final moment, may I hear You whisper: 'When you made My people smile, you made Me smile.'"
Materials at the Archives Center, National Museum of American History
George E. "Mello" and Neva Satterlee McNally Vaudeville Collection, NMAH.AC.0760
Billings-Merriam Family Vaudeville Scrapbooks, NMAH.AC.0079
Ed Hayes and His Banjo Girls Records, NMAH.AC.1333
Thomas Currier Vaudeville Collection, NMAH.AC.1120
W. Oscar Sullivan Papers, NMAH.AC.0072
Sam DeVincent Collection of Illustrated American Sheet Music, Series 4, NMAH.AC.0300
Groucho Marx Collection, NMAH.AC.0260
Donald J. Stubblebine Collection of Theater and Motion Picture Music and Ephemera, NMAH.AC.1211
Bobby Short Papers, NMAH.AC.0946
Warshaw Collection of Business Americana Subject Categories: James Madison, NMAH.AC.0060
Duncan P. Schiedt Photograph Collection, NMAH.AC.1323
Enoch Steen Collection, NMAH.AC.0206
Warshaw Collection of Business Americana Subject Categories: Theater, NMAH.AC.0060
Harpo Marx Papers, NMAH.AC.1290
St. Felix Sisters' Scrapbook, NMAH.AC.0294
Materials at Other Repositories
University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Special Collections and Archives, Gaming Studies, collection focusing primarily on gambling and casinos and includes material related to entertainment and vaudeville
University of Arizona Libraries, Special Collections, American Vaudeville Museum Collection
University of California, Santa Barbara Library, Milt Larsen Variety Theater Collection
University of Pittsburgh, Hillman Library, Curtis Theatre Collection includes about hundred skits and bits from comics, including Billy Foster, some of whose scripts are in the Graf collection.
The collection was donated by George N. Cahill to the Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution in 2019.
Collection is open for research.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.