Musical Theater Museum Struggles To Preserve Archives
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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
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But as Alex Schmidt reports, many of these Broadway artifacts are deteriorating and could be lost forever.
ALEX SCHMIDT: From the outside, the hulking duplex with chipping white paint does not look like the home of The Institute of the American Musical.
MILES KREUGER: Hello. Did you ring the bell?
SCHMIDT: Miles Kreuger, the founder of the Institute, lives here with his dog Jenny. Kreuger was obsessed with musicals as a young child and worked in and around Broadway in the '50s. He became friends with theater legends, and they just started giving him things.
KREUGER: I remember Zero Mostel gave me his whole playbill collection and followed it with a big juicy kiss on the lips. He was quite something.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SCHMIDT: Miles Kreuger's collecting odyssey began when he lived in a New York an apartment with his mother and grandmother.
KREUGER: The doorbell rang, and it was Lincoln Storage bringing me box after box after box of recordings filled with Richard Rogers' treasures. And that's when I had to take my first apartment.
SCHMIDT: Over the years, he amassed this library that includes scripts, films, LPs and chunks of actual theaters. Possibly the most valuable thing in Kreuger's collection came from one of the earliest movie pirates, a Florida native named Ray Knight.
KREUGER: 1931, and his mother gave him a birthday party and said: You've been a good boy and here's your present, a 16mm, silent home movie camera and a round-trip ticket to New York. Go film the sights of New York.
SCHMIDT: So, Miles Kreuger says, Knight gets to New York, films the sights, and then he spends $1 on a ticket to The New Amsterdam Theater.
KREUGER: And he picks up his camera and shoots the only known footage in the world of Fred and Adele Astaire. The show was "The Band Wagon." He thought: Mama's going to like this. So I'm going to shoot another one.
SCHMIDT: The footage is snippets, and it's silent. But Miles Kreuger showed me some. He says you can hear it just by watching.
KREUGER: And there is Ethel Merman singing "Some People Ain't Me." And she puts the picture into her purse.
ETHEL MERMAN: (Singing) But some people ain't me.
SCHMIDT: Look at Merman. It's the greatest performance I ever saw by a woman in musical theater. Without Ray Knight, all of this would be lost.
SCHMIDT: Perhaps it may still be lost. Kreuger hasn't been able to raise the funds to preserve the rapidly deteriorating footage or properly care for the rest of the archive.
LORAS SCHISSEL: It's unparalleled. It's one of the finest collections of its kind anywhere in the world.
SCHMIDT: Loras Schissel is senior music specialist at the Library of Congress. He's been out to view the institute, and calls Kreuger a walking encyclopedia of the American musical.
SCHISSEL: If I had my druthers, and I had a zillion dollars, I'd buy up Miles's collection, give it to the Library of Congress, and then I would pay Miles to just move to Washington here and sit in the Library of Congress and just answer questions.
SCHMIDT: Have you thought about what will happen to the collection if you don't achieve that goal?
KREUGER: No, I can't even think about that. No. It's not even an acceptable concept.
SCHMIDT: For NPR News, I'm Alex Schmidt in Los Angeles.
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