"The Unwritten History": Alexander Gumby's African America

Gumby's Culture > Porgy


Scrapbook 109:
p. [59]

As mentioned earlier, Gumby's abiding love of theater led him early to collect memorabilia related to actors and performers. Indeed, his scrapbooks devoted to one Broadway star, Frances White, were noteworthy enough to merit a temporary installation at the Hammerstein Theater's Roof Garden. He also proudly noted that his theater scrapbooks as a whole were well enough known to garner an article in a 1930 issue of Theater Guild Magazine. Yet occasionally, Gumby recognized in certain productions an element that went beyond the interest of his fellow theater enthusiasts to achieve a broader cultural significance. Porgy was one of those productions.

This is in part because Porgy was not simply a stage production. Based on Dubose Heyward's best-selling 1925 novel of the same name, the 1927 play by Dubose and Dorothy Heyward that is documented on this page was one of the highlights of the 1920s American stage with an opening run of 367 consecutive performances on Broadway in 1927-28. This was followed by extensive touring of the original cast in both the US and Europe. A story that revolves around poor African Americans living near the wharf in Charleston, South Carolina, the play also served as a showcase for some of the most famous African-American actors of the age, including Leigh Whipper, Frank Wilson, and Rose McClendon. In addition to the widespread popularity of both book and play (Gumby even includes a photograph of a baseball team with "Porgy" emblazoned across their uniform jerseys), the story of Porgy served as the basis for George Gershwin's later opera, Porgy and Bess, which featured lyrics written by Dubose Heyward in collaboration with Ira Gershwin. While Porgy and Bess initially proved less popular than either the book or play, it did serve to further entrench Heyward's characters in the popular imagination.


Rare Book & Manuscript Library / Butler Library, 6th Fl. East / 535 West 114th St. / New York, NY 10027 / (212) 854-5153 / rbml@libraries.cul.columia.edu