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Friday, March 2, 2012

Fresh Hamm: Orson Welles at BAM, 1934

The young Welles
1934 was quite a year. While the Great Depression was in full swing, the first Soap Box Derby took place in Dayton, OH; George Oppen published his first book of poetry, Discrete Series, and then quit writing for the next 25 years; John Dillinger made his last bank robberies before being shot by police outside of the Biograph Theater in Chicago; Ralph Nader, Jane Goodall, Pat Boone, Giorgio Armani, and Joan Didion were born; Adolf Hitler became Germany’s Führer; and FDR signed into existence the centerpiece of the New Deal, the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

But that’s not all. Here in our little corner of New York, Orson Welles appeared as Octavius Moulton-Barrett in The Barretts of Wimpole Street, a period piece about the courtship between British Romantic poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett. The 19-year-old Welles had been in New York for a couple of years, and was already making a name for himself. Just under two years later, he would direct the piece that catapulted him to fame: the so-called “Voodoo Macbeth” at the Lafayette Theater in Harlem, created under the New Deal’s Federal Theatre Project.

Surprisingly, we at the BAM Hamm Archives weren’t aware of this Welles-BAM connection. In a happy accident we stumbled across the vintage program for The Barretts of Wimpole Street—on eBay, of all places! We snatched up the program and it is now a proud part of our collection. We add yet another amazing arti/fact to the ever-unfolding history of the Brooklyn Academy of Music.   

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