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Actors' Fund of America Photographs and Audio-Visual Materials

Call Number



1880-2006, inclusive


Actors' Fund of America
Actors' Fund of America (Role: Donor)


20.5 Linear Feet (25 boxes)

Language of Materials

English .

Historical/Biographical Note

The Actors' Fund of America was founded in 1882 largely through the efforts of Harrison Grey Fiske, the owner of a theater trade publication, the New York Dramatic Mirror. The Fund got off to a rousing start, fueled by Fiske's enthusiasm; by the "instinctive generosity of show people" (Simon, p. 3); and – most important – by the backing of the nineteenth-century theatrical elite, the actor-managers who owned and operated the theaters and from whose ranks the Fund's officers and trustees were drawn. Notable donors and founding members of the Fund included: Albert M. Palmer, Edwin Booth, Joseph Jefferson, Edward Harrigan, and P. T. Barnum. In the founding year, the New York Herald generously donated $10,000. The primary mission of the Actors' Fund was to care for members of the theatrical community when they fell ill and to bury the dead. Its unstated goal was to bring respectability to a profession that was scorned by moralists, and whose members were often refused aid by church-run charities.

As early as 1880, Fiske wrote a series of impassioned editorials criticizing the practice of running theatrical benefits for non-theatrical causes. The benefit performance had been a long-standing theater tradition, though in the late nineteenth-century, proceeds were often filling the pockets of only one individual, usually the lead actor or actress in a particular theater company. Fiske was a crusader for changing the nature of the benefit performance, broadening its purpose to provide assistance to the larger theatrical community. He proposed the establishment of a "Sinking Fund," which would differ in one important respect from other theatrical relief organizations; while the latter were funded by membership dues, effectively shutting out the neediest individuals who could not afford to pay, Fiske's fund would be underwritten by benefit performances – one per theater per year.

In the early years of the Actors' Fund, benefit performances were held annually, generally taking the form of vaudeville style multi-performer revues. Attractively illustrated souvenir programs were produced for each annual Benefit Show. In 1927, a significant breakthrough in fundraising was achieved when the Actors' Fund and the Actors' Equity Association reached an agreement whereby theater companies would put on special performances of productions, sometimes a ninth show during any given week. All proceeds were to benefit the Fund. In addition to annual and special benefit performances for generating revenue, the Actors' Fund also held festive and extremely popular Fairs. The first was held at Madison Square Garden in 1892. Not only was the Fair successful financially, it also brought a new level of respectability to the theatrical profession, as socially prominent individuals flocked to the event. The second Actors' Fund Fair, held fifteen years later in 1907 at the Metropolitan Opera House, was commenced by President Theodore Roosevelt and opened with a speech by Mark Twain.

In the late nineteenth-century, when the Actors' Fund began, actors and actresses often ran away from home to join the theater and cut ties or were estranged from their families. Consequently, if an actor did not gain fame and fortune, and then as now most did not, and death came early or in the midst of a tour, there was often no one to claim the body or make funeral arrangements. Thus the Actors' Fund from its onset considered burial and funeral arrangements as a central and necessary component of its work. The Fund purchased a section of the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn in 1885, a monument was erected through a special fundraising drive, and over 800 theater notables have been laid to rest there. The need was so great that another location was soon required, and another tract was bought at the Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York in 1904. Using funds from the sale of jewelry donated to the Actors' Fund by Miss Georgie Caine, an obelisk monument was established at the Kensico Cemetery in 1940.

Under the leadership of Actors' Fund presidents Albert M. Palmer and Louis Aldrich, the Fund took on the important charge of caring for members of the theatrical community who were past working age. Thanks in part to the proceeds generated by the 1892 Fair and from additional donations from the New York Herald as well as from trustee Al Hayman, the Actors' Fund purchased a beautiful home on Staten Island to serve as a retirement facility for elderly members of the theatrical community. The Actors' Fund Home officially opened its doors in 1902. New York City decided in 1928 to expand a park adjacent to the Actors' Fund Home, and so the Fund acquired the former six-acre country estate of female Wall Street tycoon Hetty Green and relocated the facility to Englewood, New Jersey. By the 1950s, the Home was already in need of expansion and when other homes that provided similar services such as the Percy Williams Home located on Long Island and the Edwin Forrest Home located in Philadelphia closed their doors, the Actors' Fund accommodated growing needs by adding the Percy Williams and Edwin Forrest Wings to its facility. Today the Actors' Fund Home, now called the Lillian Booth Actors' Home, consists of a retirement residency and an Extended Care Facility and provides comfortable assisted living and highly skilled nursing care.

Fundraising and relief work remain the organization's chief activities. In addition to benefit performances, the Fund fills its coffers through bequests and contributions, special fundraising drives, and bazaars and auctions. For their 100th Anniversary in 1982, the Fund hosted a massive gala called the Night of 100 Stars to benefit the Extended Care Facility of the Actors' Fund Home. With a red carpet covering four blocks of Sixth Avenue and television coverage provided to more than 250 countries around the world, the event held at Radio City Music Hall was an extravaganza. Similar fund raising gala shows were held in 1985 and 1990.

Through its myriad services and programs, the Actors' Fund acts as a safety net for all professionals in the performing arts. In addition to offering emergency grants for essentials like food, rent, and medical care, the Fund provides a range of social services to its community, including senior and disability services, mental health and chemical dependency services, youth services, career counseling and housing advocacy. All areas of this relief have been marked by scrupulous concern for discretion and confidentiality for those individuals requiring help.

When the AIDS crisis hit in the mid-1980s, the Actors' Fund took responsibility for providing care for its constituents who were newly diagnosed, for those who were living and working with the disease, and for those who were already ill. In 1988, the Actors' Fund created the AIDS Initiative and helped found Broadway Cares. Today, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS remains the Fund's strongest partner in caring for people with this devastating disease and related health issues.

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is not only a major donor to the AIDS Initiative, it is also one of the largest sources of financial support for some of the Fund's other programs, including the Actors Work Program, the Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic, and the Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative. In 1998, the Actors Work Program, originally founded by the Actors' Equity Association, came under the umbrella of the Actors' Fund; it provides services for the establishment of secondary careers for actors through job and skills training. The Actors' Fund runs the Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic in New York City that offers a range of urgent, primary, and specialty health care services for free to those who need it. To address the particular medical needs of women, the Fund created the Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative to provide guidance and counseling to women who have been diagnosed with a serious medial condition. The Initiative draws financial support in a variety of ways. These include the Actors' Fund's annual Nothing Like a Dame event produced by staff from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS as well as the Entertainment Industry Foundation Revlon Run/Walk for Women.

The administrative structure of the Actors' Fund since its founding has consisted of a President, Treasurer, Secretary, General Manager and Board of Trustees; this structure has remained virtually unchanged to the present. The Fund maintains regional offices in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Annual meetings are held every May.

Under the leadership of President Brian Stokes Mitchell and Executive Direct Joseph P. Benincasa the Actors' Fund has continued and expanded its proud traditions of service to the theater community in the new millennium. In 2004, for example, the New York state legislature passed a pioneering bill that offers health insurance premium payment assistance to workers in the entertainment industry; this measure was the culmination of four years of intensive grassroots organizing and lobbying by the Fund. The Fund's "Looking Ahead" project, based in Los Angeles, was established in 2003 to provide special services to young performers and their families. Beginning in the mid-1990s, the Fund turned its attention to the need for affordable and special needs housing. Since then the organization has acquired and renovated two residential buildings, the Aurora on 57th St. in New York City and the Palm View Residence in southern California, and constructed the Schermerhorn House in Brooklyn (opened in 2008). Between them, they provide more than 400 units of affordable housing, many of them designated for elderly or disabled tenants.


Simon, Louis. A History of the Actors' Fund of America. New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1972.

The Actors Fund. Curtain Call: 125 Amazing Years of the Actors Fund. Virginia Beach, VA: Donning Company Publishers, 2008.


The collection is organized into 11 series based on format. Series I: Photographs is further organized into 5 subseries based on the subject and provenance of the photographs. Series III-V have subseries indicating whether or not they have matching photographs. Files within each photograph series and subseries are arranged alphabetically, then chronologically. Series X and XI are mostly arranged alphabetically, except for events, which are arranged chronologically.


  1. I. Photographs, 1880-2006
  2. II. Electronic Files, 2000-2003.
  3. III. Contact Sheets, 1964-2004.
  4. IV. Negatives, 1892-2001.
  5. V. Color Slides, 1977-1991.
  6. VI. Transparencies, 1982-1985.
  7. VII. Postcards, undated.
  8. VIII. Oversize Photographs and Contact Sheets, 1926-1981.
  9. IX. Scrapbooks, 1919-1992.
  10. X. Videotapes, DVD's, and Film, 1910; 1981-2006.
  11. XI. Audiocassettes, 1986-1995
  12. XII. Artifacts

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of over 5000 print and digital photographs, negatives, contact sheets, color slides, transparencies, postcards, scrapbooks, as well as 60 video items and 31 audiocassettes, documenting the Actors' Fund history from 1880 to 2006. The bulk of the collection dates from the 1960s to the 2000s.

Series I: Photographs (1880-2006), consists of color and black and white photographs documenting events, places, and people associated with the Fund. Some groups of photographs and accompanying documents were entrusted to the Fund by various individuals, families and guilds in the theater profession.

Subseries I-A: Events and Places: The bulk of the photographs document the Fund's fundraising activities and events taking place at the Actors' Fund Home in Englewood, New Jersey. Documented fundraising events include benefit performances of Broadway shows, galas, bazaars, auctions, bread basket campaigns, and special parties and celebrations. Actors' Fund Home events include annual Christmas parties, Edwin Forrest Day celebrations (held on the weekend of Shakespeare's birthday), Founder's Day picnics, celebrity visitors to the Home, and special performances for elderly residents by such touring theater companies as the National Players and the American Theatre Wing. Milestone events in the history of the Home such as the groundbreaking, opening, and dedications of various wings and rooms are also included. Another significant portion of the subseries consists of publicity photographs associated with benefit performances of various theatrical and ballet productions in the 1980s and photographs used or shot for the Annual Report. Award ceremonies such as the presentation of Actors' Fund Medals and Break a Leg Awards are also present. Locations of events are noted when known.

Subseries I-B: People: consists of portrait photographs of Board of Trustees members and presidents who have served the Fund throughout its history. More recent photographs document office staff members' celebrations. Also included in this subseries are actors' headshots and photographs of Fund events that revolve around a specific person.

Subseries I-C: Catholic Actors' Guild (CAG): George W. Moore Materials, consists of loose photographs and clippings from the scrapbook of the Reverend George W. Moore commemorating his 20th anniversary of ordination. The Reverend Moore served as pastor of St. Malachy's Roman Catholic Church at 239 West 49th Street, commonly known as "the actors' chapel" because it welcomed and was frequented by many in the entertainment profession. The scrapbook itself is located in Series IX (Box 14).

Subseries I-D: Rathbone Family: consists of the photographs of Basill Rathbone, a prominent theater and film actor during the first half of the twentieth-century, his wife Ouida Rathbone (nee Bergere), an actress and screenwriter, and their family. Photographs are of a personal nature and include portraits of Basil's parents and Basil and Ouida's wedding photographs. See also scrapbook in Series IX (Box 13).

Subseries I-E: Tremaine Twins (Edna and Evalin Burnett): consists of publicity production shots of early twentieth-century actresses Edna and Evalin Tremaine.

Series II: Electronic Files (2000-2003), consists of CDs and floppy disks containing JPEG format images taken after the year 2000. Most are staff photographs but there are also digital photographs of the Fund's benefit, "Parade of Stars," in 2003, the dedication of the Alzheimer's Wing and holiday party at the Actors' Fund Home, and the AIDS Initiative.

Series III: Contact Sheets (1964-2004), consists of two subseries. Subseries III-A consists of contact sheets that have matching photographs from Series I. Subseries III-B's contact sheets depict similar events described in the above description of Series I, but do not have corresponding photographs from the collection.

Series IV: Negatives (1892-2001), consists of two subseries. Subseries IV-A consists of negatives with corresponding photographs from Series I while subseries IV-B are negatives that do not have corresponding prints.

Series V: Color Slides (1977-1991), consists of 35mm color slides and is divided into two subseries. Color slides in subseries V-A have matching photographs from Series I while color slides from subseries V-B do not.

Series VI: Transparencies (1982-1985), consists of transparencies of varied sizes of images of the Actors' Fund Home and the Fund's gala Night of 100 Stars I and II.

Series VII: Postcards (undated), consists of two postcards, one of the Actors' Fund Home and the other of the Percy Williams Home. Both are undated.

Series VIII: Oversize Photographs and Contact Sheets (1926-1981), consists of photographs and contact sheets that are too large to fit into standard archival folders. Reduced-sized photocopies of the oversize photographs or contact sheets have been filed into folders with corresponding photographs and contact sheets.

Series IX: Scrapbooks (1919-1992), consists of 16 photograph scrapbooks, the bulk of which document the Fund's galas "Night of 100 Stars" I, II, and III, "Parade of Stars," and "Salute to Entertainment." There are also scrapbooks documenting Basil Rathbone's European travels during the 1930s, Edna and Evalin Burnett's private lives in the 1920s, the Reverend George W. Moore's 20th anniversary of ordination, and Actors' National Memorial Day, organized in 1919 to thank the entertainment profession for their efforts in selling war bonds.

Series X: Videotapes, Digital Video Discs (DVDs), and Film (1910; 1981-2006), Includes Interviews with prominent actors, segments of television programs publicizing the Actors' Fund events and personnel, and footage relating to the Actors' Fund Home.

Series XI: Audiocassettes (1986-1995), consists of tapes of meetings, pressconferences events and sound clips of Lillian Gish and Emma Zale.


Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright (or related rights to publicity and privacy) for materials in this collection, created by the Actors' Fund of America was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Identification of item, date; Collection name; Collection number; box number; folder number;
Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by the Actors' Fund of America in several donations between 1985 and 2007. The accession numbers associated with this collection are 1985.020, NPA.2007.001, NPA.2008.005, and NPA.2009.022.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Born-digital materials have not been transferred and may not be available to researchers. Researchers may request access copies. To request that material be transferred, or if you are unsure if material has been transferred, please contact, (212) 998-2630 with the collection name, collection number, and a description of the item(s) requested. A staff member will respond to you with further information.

Audiovisual Access Policies and Procedures

Audiovisual materials have not been preserved and may not be available to researchers. Materials not yet digitized will need to have access copies made before they can be used. To request an access copy, or if you are unsure if an item has been digitized, please contact, (212) 998-2630 with the collection name, collection number, and a description of the item(s) requested. A staff member will respond to you with further information.

Collection processed by

Y. H. Nancy Ng Tam

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-20 16:44:05 -0400.
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Language: English


Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012