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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Thr 675

George Brinton Beal papers, circus collection, and other theatrical collections


Personal papers of and materials collected by American critic, editor, lecturer, and writer George Brinton Beal. Especially concerns the circus, rodeo, theater, and other forms of popular entertainment.


  • Creation: 1831-1969
  • Creation: 1831-1969

Language of Materials

Collection materials are primarily in English, with a few in German, Danish, and French.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material.

This collection is not housed at the Houghton Library but is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. Retrieval requires advance notice. Readers should check with Houghton Public Services staff to determine what material is offsite and retrieval policies and times.


13 linear feet (31 boxes and 28 oversize folders)
13 linear feet (31 boxes and 28 oversize folders)

The circus portion of this collection, by far the largest group, includes: advertising material, book jackets, circus programs, circus route books and cards, clippings, contracts, correspondence, drawings, film stills, galley proofs, interviews, blank letterheads, licenses, manuscripts, negatives, photographs, photographic postcards, playbills, posters, press passes and tickets, printer's plates, programs, radio show transcripts, souvenir programs, visiting cards, and other materials. Since the collection was organized by subject, there is a bit of overlap in topics. All general or unidentified items are at end of each grouping.

The great majority of the collected circus material is from the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Combined Shows from the 1930s, but many, many other circuses and shows are represented, and some earlier and later time periods. Circuses include: Adam Forepaugh & Sells Bros. Circus, Al G. Barnes and Sells-Floto Combined Circus, Barnett Bros. Circus, Barnum and Bailey, Bertram W. Mills Circus at Olympia, Billy Rose’s Jumbo, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Company Circus, Cirkus Schumann, Cole Bros. Circus, Downie Bro’s. Circus, Federal Theatre Project (Boston, Mass.). Federal Theatre of Massachusetts Circus, The Great Moscow Circus, Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, Hamid-Morton Indoor Circus, Lewis Bros. Big 3 Ring Circus, Otis Turner’s Big Shows, Consolidated Pagel’s New Circus, Rentz Brothers, Ringling Brothers, Robbins Bros. Circus, Russell Bros. Circus, Schubert Indoor Circus, Sparks World Famous Shows, Tayleure’s Great American Circus, Tom Mix Circus, Walter L. Main Circus, and others. Circus stars, circus animals, backstage cast and most other circus subjects are represented with photographs, clippings, a few manuscripts, and extensive writings by Beal.

Beal's collected rodeo materials include: letters to Beal, blank letterheads, leaflets and pamphlets, rosters (lists) of contestants, manuscripts, newsletters, photographic postcards, photographs, playbills, press passes, programs, tickets, and other material. Materials concern both male and female rodeo stars and many are from rodeos held at the Boston Garden and Suffolk Downs in the 1930s. Includes the following shows and stars: 101 Ranch Real Wild West Show, George A. Hamids Annual World's Championship Rodeo, Texas Rangers Rodeo, Tim McCoy Wild West Circus, Tom Mix Circus, Colonel W. T. Johnson's Annual World Championship Rodeos, Texas Convict Rodeo, Foghorn Clancy, Milt Hinkle, Colonel William T. Johnson, Tad Lucas, Lucyle Roberts, Claire Belcher Thompson, and many others.

Beal collected in other theatrical areas and also included here are collections of: theatrical photographs; scripts for stage plays; and theatrical programs, playbills, and pamphlets. There are a great many snapshots of famous stage actors and actresses, photographed primarily in Boston and New York City, many signed and inscribed by those depicted.

Beal's personal papers include his correspondence, compositions, advertising materials and photographs for the publication of his 1938 book, Through the back door of the circus. Also included in his personal papers are: correspondence with others such as circus and rodeo stars and friends and colleagues; his literary compositions; portrait photographs and drawings of Beal; and collected miscellany from his life. Photographs of Beal with others and his writings for the Boston Sunday Post are scattered throughout the collection, sorted under various subjects.

Biographical / Historical

George Brinton Beal (born 1888 in Lawrence, Massachusetts) was an editor with the Boston Post daily newspaper, a drama critic for the Emerson Quarterly and Boston Post, instructor at Emerson College in dramatic criticism, a writer, artist, photographer, lecturer, movie maker, and an authority on the circus and collector of circus, rodeo, and other theatrical materials.

Beal often traveled with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey Combined Circus, gathering data for his writing and lectures, and taking photographs and motion pictures. In 1938 he published Through the back door of the circus with George Brinton Beal (Springfield, Mass.: McLoughlin Bros. Inc.). Along with the publication of this book, Beal delivered lectures about the circus, accompanied with his motion pictures.


Arranged into the following series:

  1. I. Beal collection of circus photographs and other material
  2. ___A. Aerial acts and stars
  3. ___B. Animals: other
  4. ___C. Backstage views: miscellaneous circus people and non-performers
  5. ___D. Cats: cat acts and trainers
  6. ___E. Circus passes and tickets
  7. ___F. Circuses and shows: general photographs and clippings
  8. ___G. Clowns
  9. ___H. Elephants: elephant acts and trainers
  10. ___I. Film stills from circus and jungle movies and shows
  11. ___J. Horses: baggage stock
  12. ___K. Horses: equestrian acts and trainers
  13. ___L. Owners and executives
  14. ___M. Physical circus: parades, views, wagons, etc...
  15. ___N. Press agents
  16. ___O. Side show acts and entertainers
  17. ___P. Small circus acts
  18. II. Beal collection of printed circus material
  19. III. Beal collection of photographs (non-circus and non-rodeo)
  20. IV. Beal collection of rodeo and wild west show materials
  21. ___A. Rodeo manuscripts and ephemera
  22. ___B. Rodeo photographs
  23. ___C. Rodeo programs and other printed materials
  24. V. Beal collection of scripts for stage plays
  25. VI. Beal collection of theatrical programs, playbills, and pamphlets (non-circus and non-rodeo)
  26. VII. George Brinton Beal personal papers
  27. ___A. Papers concerning the publishing of Through the back door of the circus
  28. ______1. Correspondence concerning book
  29. ______2. Compositions concerning book
  30. ______3. Advertising materials for the book
  31. VIII. Oversized photographs, playbills, and newspaper clippings
  32. ___B. Correspondence
  33. ___C. Compositions and miscellaneous manuscripts
  34. ___D. Photographs and drawings of George Brinton Beal
  35. ___E. Miscellany concerning George Brinton Beal

Physical Location

Harvard Depository, pfd (P1.C2.04.17 [Folders 1-18]), ppf (P1.C2.04.18 [Folders 19-28])

Immediate Source of Acquisition

No accession number. Bequest of George Brinton Beal; received: 1957. Some materials added at later dates and from other sources.

Various old text references to the Beal Circus Collection suggested that Beal's circus movies would be part of Harvard's Beal holdings, but as of the date of full cataloging of this collection (June 2011), no movies have been located, and none were listed in the first paper finding aid made at time of receipt of the bequest.

Related Materials

Also held by the Harvard Theatre Collection:

  1. George Brinton Beal Circus Diary (MS Thr 681).
  2. Through the back door of the circus with George Brinton Beal (TS 557.2).

Separated Materials

Former box 19 included The White Tops, a publication of the Circus Fans Association of America, December 1936- December 1955. Now cataloged as: Harvard Theatre Collection HTC-LC GV1800 .W47x

Books and photographs were also given by Beal to the Harvard Theatre Collection beginning in 1935 and a bookplate for his Harvard College Library collection was established in 1944.

Most of Beal's photographs are included in this collection, though a few were distributed and cataloged throughout the Harvard Theater Collection's various series.

Printed copies of The Billboard magazine were transferred for cataloging to the Houghton Dept. of Printed Books, as was a copy of Warrior the untamed. The story of an imaginative press agent by Will Irwin.

General note

This collection is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. See access restrictions below for additional information.

Processing Information

Processed by: Bonnie B. Salt

The Beal collection was organized and described (with a paper finding aid) after receipt in the repository in 1957. In 2011 the collection was fully cataloged and the arrangement somewhat altered. The box numbers of the former arrangement have been tracked in the items below. See the curatorial file for a paper copy of the original finding aid.

The oversized materials were processed and added as Series VIII by Betts Coup, 2018 July.



Processing Information

This finding aid was revised in 2022-2024 to address potentially harmful descriptive language. During that revision, multiple titles were edited to remove harmful language and improve description of native Ubangi people represented in these materials. For more information on reparative archival description at Harvard, see Harvard Library’s Statement on Harmful Language in Archival Description.

Beal, George Brinton. George Brinton Beal papers, circus collection, and other theatrical collections, 1831-1969: Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, archives, and more. Houghton Library's collections represent the scope of human experience from ancient Egypt to twenty-first century Cambridge. With strengths primarily in North American and European history, literature, and culture, collections range in media from printed books and handwritten manuscripts to maps, drawings and paintings, prints, posters, photographs, film and audio recordings, and digital media, as well as costumes, theater props, and a wide range of other objects. Houghton Library has historically focused on collecting the written record of European and Eurocentric North American culture, yet it holds a large and diverse number of primary sources valuable for research on the languages, culture and history of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Houghton Library’s Reading Room is free and open to all who wish to use the library’s collections.

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