terry helgesen portrait

From the THS Archives

In honor of American Archives Month I will be highlighting collections from the Archive throughout the month. The purpose is to spread the word about the Archives and the types of collections to be found in the Archives. The American Theatre Architecture Archive exists in support of THS’s mission to document theatre architecture history and to make it available to the public. It includes negatives, slides, news clippings, photos, programs, blueprints, books and magazines on over 15,000 theatre buildings of every type and allied subjects. THS is funded, in part, by user fees paid for accessing the collections. All on-site research is by PRIOR appointment. Please call at least 7 days in advance to schedule an appointment.

–Kathy McLeister, MLIS

THS Archive Director

The Terry Helgesen Collection contains 26 oversize scrapbooks, some correspondence, several draft chapters of a book on theatres, and an oil painting of Terry. The scrapbooks consist of photographs and drawings of theatres collected by THS member Terry Helgesen with his descriptions of the theatres and other information such as number of seats, architect, opening and closing dates, renovation and demolition dates, and notable facts. The books have photographs and clippings covering the entire country, with emphasis on vaudeville and presentation houses. The collection (as organized by Terry Helgesen) is organized in three different ways; by architect/designer (Books 1-12), location (Books 13-25), and by type of theatre (Book 26).

Terry Helgesen (1914-1995) was a pianist who played on stage in the waning days of presentation houses (a short stage show followed by a movie) as well as in nightclubs. Terry was also a THS Founding member and the 1979 Member of the Year. He was born in Seattle, WA but his family moved to Santa Barbara, CA when he was still very young. He was tutored in piano by Roger Clerbois and Joseph Hoffman, among others. Terry entered vaudeville (variety entertainment with a mixture of comedy, song and dance) in a “tyke” act called “Terry and Ty” with Terry playing a miniature piano and Ty doing a quick-step. Though Terry started as part of an act, he later changed to accompaniment and played on the Orpheum, Fanchon & Marco and Publix circuits. During his travels he sought out newspapers and photographers who had images of theatres which he purchased and assembled into scrapbooks. Terry retired to Hollywood, but still entertained guests by playing the piano given to him by Cole Porter. He died in Vista, CA on July 30, 1995. His scrapbooks were donated to Theatre Historical Society after his death.

A Finding Aid for the collection is now available on theTHS website. (A finding aid is a document containing detailed information about a specific collection of papers or records within an archive. They are used by researchers to determine whether information within a collection is relevant to their research.)

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