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The Joy of Processing: a peek into the Bernard Green Collection

Mar 8, 2011 12:30 PM | 0 comments


Composer, writer, and fan of mothers everywhere, Bernard Green (bottom, with telephone) and associate. 


In our Brooklynology articles, we often draw from several sources to flesh out each story about Brooklyn history, including our prints collection, our ephemera files, reference books, and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographs and clippings.  These are the same materials that we are most often serving to the researching public that visits the Brooklyn Collection.  A feedback loop begins to emerge -- a researcher requests Eagle photographs, for example, which leads us to browse through the photographs, which leads us to find something new and unexpected, which leads us to write a blog entry about the exciting find, which publicizes the photograph collection and leads more researchers to request Eagle photographs, which starts the whole wonderful process of discovery over again. 

A crucial step in setting off this chain reaction is, of course, to make our materials findable in the first place.  You can't search through a collection if you don't know the collection exists.  That's why we've uploaded so many of our images to the catalog, and why we create digital exhibitions like the Sheet Music Collection and the Fulton Street Trade Card Collection.  That is also why I find it absolutely thrilling to process collections in our archives -- something that would otherwise sit inconspicuously, and most likely forgotten, on a shelf is given new life when we create and share a finding aid that unlocks its heretofore unknown treasures.

Why am I getting so worked up about this?  We're currently preparing several of our finding aids to post on our website to fulfill that crucial step of findability I mentioned earlier.  One of these finding aids is for the Bernard Green Collection -- a donation to the Brooklyn Public Library that fits neatly into one document box.  






That austere monolith of the archive -- the document box.







Despite its demure exterior, the Bernard Green Collection provides a fascinating view of the entertainment industry of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s through the scope of one hard-working, ambitious, talented person.  Bernard Green, born in New York in 1908 and known to most friends and associates as "Bernie", was a composer, conductor, and arranger for film, radio and television.  His better-known credits include the televsion shows "Mr. Peepers" and "Caesar's Hour".  He also recorded albums, wrote columns for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, The New York Times, and the International Musician, worked to promote fellow musicians like Les Brown, and wrote comedy scripts.  He was, in short, a real show-biz guy.

The bulk of the collection is made up of letters Green received from colleagues and friends through his career.  These in many ways track the ascent of Green's star -- the correspondence collection begins humbly in 1934 with three graciously worded rejection letters from Daily Mirror columnist and radio personality Walter Winchell and ends impressively in 1972 with a friendly, handwritten letter from the king of television himself, Ed Sullivan.  In the 40 years between those bookends, we find letters from record companies discussing upcoming projects with the colorful patois of the 1940s -- "That fellow out in Hollywood is a whiz" -- alongside personal notes from Army pals, with even more colorful vocabulary -- "There's no question about the fact that a good day's work puts hair on one's poop."



Green at the piano, left, in an undated photograph.








Excerpt from the title page from a comedy script co-written with Eli Lloyd Hoffman, "Ale, Ale, the Gang's All Here."  Come see the collection in person to read the whole thing!

In 1972, near the end of his life, Green began preparations for a book project.  His hope was to publish an amusing collection of anecdotes from celebrities, politicians, and other notable personages about, of all things, their mothers.  Green reached out to the likes of entertainers Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra; politicians Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and then-president Richard Nixon; astronauts John Glenn and Alan Shepard; Elia Kazan, Darryl Zanuck, Jonas Salk, Rex Reed, a veritable cavalcade of stars -- all of whom responded (in varying degrees of friendliness).  It is evident, in reading these, that Green's connections opened some doors for him, if only briefly, and if only to be slammed shut.  Author Herman Wouk, for example, started his brief note with, "Any friend of Alan Meltzer's deserves a prompt reply from me," before politely declining to share stories of his mother. 

At least he got a personal reply from Wouk.  Many of the people Green contacted passed along the duty of replying to a secretary or assistant, including Zsa Zsa Gabor, whose public relations handler kindly explained that Miss Gabor was in the process of writing her own memoir, and so was saving up any stories about her mother.  Ditto for evangelist Billy Graham. 


Letterheads of the Bernard Green Collection.

Those who did comply with Green's request sent along tales of their mothers that tended to reflect back upon the celebrity's own status and style.  It should come as no surprise that comedian Rodney Dangerfield "got no respect, even from his mother."

Strikingly absent, of course, are any anecdotes of Green's own mother.  I can't help but imagine that Green's interest in other families' matriarchs had something to do with the maternal figure in his life.  There must be a hilarious anecdote there that he never quite got around to telling.  The collection provides just one clue to Green's mother -- a tattered letter written by Green himself.  It's stuck into the first page of a scrapbook he pasted together in 1932.  The pages hold clippings of what appears to be one of Green's early successes -- his column in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, called "Penned Portraits".  Prefacing these clippings is this note, which you can just barely make out...

"Dedicated to my dear mother, who has always been my inspiration and whose consolation enabled me to carry on when the going seemed roughest. However it seems a shame to offer her so little as this in return.  But, she never asked for too much.  I hope to do much better and real soon."

Bernard Green died in 1975 at his home in Westport, Connecticut, at the age of 66.  His papers were donated to the library by his daughter-in-law, Janice Greenberg.  The finding aids for this and other collections will be available soon, at the Brooklyn Collection website.

How photos get from the archives to the web site by Micah Vandegrift

Mar 3, 2011 10:29 AM | 1 comment


The Brooklyn Collection is a goldmine of resources for teaching and learning the history of our borough. As you probably know, we have extensive collections of documents, ephemera and photographs that are housed here at the Central Library and made available for research. What you may not know is that there are ongoing efforts to digitize our materials in order to make them more widely accessible through our website and across the internet. So how does it all happen?  

Previous digitization projects--using LSTA funds to digitize 18,000 photographs, or the IMLS project to scan the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (1841-1902) from microfilm--were mostly outsourced. Now, thanks to Project CHART, another IMLS-funded initiative aiming to train the next generation of digital librarians, we are conducting systematic in-house  scanning. 

The entrance to the morgue

Some of our materials--Brooklyn Daily Eagle clippings, non-Brooklyn-related Eagle photographs, yearbooks and other archival collections--are stored in a part of the basement of Brooklyn Public Library known as "the Morgue" because it contains the clipping files and photographs of the old Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper, which went out of business in 1955. (The new "Eagle" inherited the name but is a different entity.) Thanks to Project CHART funds we have installed a "Digital Lab" in the Morgue, and that is where the magic happens.  

Pratt CHART intern Barbara Jean Majewski gives some Eagle photographs the white glove treatment. 

Practically, "the magic" means your author and two interns from Pratt Institute spend about 20 hours per week scanning photographs on a high quality scanner, adjusting the file size and resolution and attaching the newly digitized photo to a record in our catalog. If you're interested in some of the technical details, check out this fancy diagram showing our project workflow:

Efforts to digitize (scan) historic materials are getting a lot of attention these days, and for good reason. Creating digital copies of important documents and photos and finding creative ways to store and archive them could be one way that we preserve some of the amazing materials that time and the elements might otherwise erode. In fact, the Library of Congress has an entire website devoted to ideas and suggestions for folks to become armchair archivists by scanning and preserving their own photos and ephemera! Do you have old letters from your grandparents when they were courting? Photos of your dad from the war? We encourage you to preserve your cultural heritage not only for your own family but because it's a part of a larger story. Check out our Flickr page (comment and add tags!), and keep an eye on Brooklynology for more about digital archiving!   

The Duke

Mar 1, 2011 3:12 PM | 1 comment

The Yankees had Mickey Mantle, the Giants had Willie Mays, and dem Bums had the Duke. From 1947 to 1957 New York City experienced a golden age of baseball, and the play of these three centerfielders made for some of the headiest rivalries the sport has ever seen. For ten out of those eleven years, at least one New York team made the World Series, with the Yankees and Dodgers meeting six times. On each of those Dodgers teams, Duke Snider was as valuable as his cross-river counterparts, usually leading the club in base hits, runs, home runs, and RBIs.

On Sunday February 27th, this titan of Ebbets Field -- Edwin Donald "Duke" Snider -- died at the age of 84 in Escondido, California.

Though he didn't have his first full season with the Dodgers until 1949, Snider saw sporadic action with the club beginning in 1947. His first major-league appearance came on April 15th of that year, a game most people remember for the first-time appearance of another Dodger -- Jackie Robinson. But being overshadowed by the great number 42 didn't dampen the rookie's spirits, in fact he probably enjoyed watching Robinson take the field more than anyone else in the stadium.

In his autobiography published in 1988, The Duke of Flatbush, Snider recalls first seeing Robinson playing football, baseball, and competing in a track meet all on the same day: "I have another early memory of Jackie Robinson. I was in the eighth grade when he was playing football for Pasadena, the big rival of our own school, Compton Junior College. I was in the stands when he took a kickoff, reversed his field three times, and returned it for a touchdown. It was as dazzling a piece of broken-field running as you could ever hope to see, by the same guy I had seen play a baseball game and compete in a track meet on the same afternoon. No wonder he was my boyhood idol."

Snider is seated front row left; Robinson is standing, second row center.

In addition to playing with his boyhood idol, Snider was also able to walk to Ebbets Field for games and practices, something unheard of today. In The Duke of Flatbush, Snider recalls: "Times were simpler in 1947. I rented a room in the private home of Peg and Ben Chase on Bedford Avenue in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, two and a half blocks from Ebbets Field. I used to walk to and from the ball park with my roommate, our third-string catcher, Gil Hodges."

This kind of average-guy, folksiness was the hallmark of the era in which Snider played baseball. The New York Times ran a great article spotlighting this way of life the day after Snider died. And Snider himself, in his autobiography, took special care at the beginning of his book to mention eight of his Bay Ridge neighbors, all of whom he credits with being particularly important in his life and the life of his family.

Indeed, times certainly have changed, but we have a number of photos in our collection of the Duke which capture him in his own golden and bygone era.

Here he is, at 23 years old, reporting for the first day of spring training in 1950.

And here we see him clowning around with catcher Roy Campanella and pitcher Preacher Roe.

This photo appeared in the Eagle on September 19, 1953 with the caption: "The Aloha Kids -- New kind of teamwork is displayed as Dodger band provides music for curve-throwing dancer Loma Duke at last night's victory celebration at Hotel Lexington. Musicians, left to right, are Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Carl Erskine and Carl Furillo."

Curve-throwing dancers aside, the Duke was also a family man, as the many photos in our collection -- recently highlighted by Ivy -- can attest. Here Snider poses with his wife, high school sweetheart Beverly Null, and their daughter Pam.

From horsing around in the locker room... contemplating a tough loss -- the days of the Duke live on at the Brooklyn Collection.