Text Box: JAZZ autographs


Price: $1800.00



Extraordinary and historical dual autographed reverse blind stamped Helmuth von Stwolinski of Berlin semi-gloss, double-weight 9.5” x 11.75” photograph as Sporting Life and Bess in the famous 1952 touring production of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess”.  The photograph inscribed to the legendary Tin Pan Alley and Film composer Harold Arlen.  Calloway who worked with Arlen at the Cotton Club in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s writes, to My Pal Harold/The Best for/old time sake/Sporting Life/Cab.  Price writes, Sincerely, To Mr. Arlen, Leontyne Price, July 24, 1953.

The theatre director, producer and actor Bob Breen and producer Blevins Davis conceived of an international touring company called The People’s Opera of Porgy and Bess for the 1952-1953 season.  Gershwin’s opera had only been heard on Broadway in four relatively short runs from the World Premiere through 1944.  The New York run was scheduled from March through November at the large Ziegfeld Theatre, as well as a preview run in key smaller American cities, Vienna, Berlin, London and Paris before the New York preview.  The work had a European premiere in Copenhagen in 1943 with white singers in blackface and shut down by the Nazi’s after 22 standing room only performances.  The same white casting occurred in Zurich in 1945, as well as Gothenburg and Stockholm in 1948.  Breen was looking to bring African Americans to sing the roles in Europe and a much bigger tour in Europe after the 305 performances in New York City, the longest run to date, including, Athens, Belgrade, Brussels, Cairo, Prague, Rome, Venice and Zurich, with a South Moscow, St. Petersburg, South Africa and throughout Latin America in the 1955 through 1956 season. 

Gershwin wrote the role of Sporting Life for Cab Calloway, however due to contractual obligations with the Cotton Club was unable to perform the role.  Calloway last appeared on Broadway in 1929.   Breen knew Calloway for years via various government stage projects he had headed.  Calloway’s (1907-1994) post World War II career was a disaster, his band broke up in 1947 over his gambling and fraudulent bookkeeping. With the exception of a few celebrity appearances for those who remembered him, he was either at the track, or at times in jail.  Knowing that Calloway if he was able would be the ultimate Sporting Life Breen made it his mission to convince the “has been” that his participation would help resurrect his career and he finally won Calloway’s wife over, which led to Calloway’s agreement.  “It Ain’t Necessarily So” in addition to “Minnie the Moocher” became the singer-bandleader’s calling card and he performed it often adding his brand of scat to the song.  He sung it in public until nearly his death, including on the Ed Sullivan Show.  The older he got, the more scat he added, including what can only be described as Jewish cantorial coloratura the older he got.

Leontyne Price (1927 -    ) graduated from Juilliard Opera Workshop in 1952.  Virgil Thomson heard her sing Mistress Quickly in “Falstaff” at a Juilliard production and signed her to perform as St. Cecilia in the Broadway premiere of his opera “Four Saints in Three Acts” for 15 performances beginning April 16, 1952.  There was also a Parisian tour to follow and Breen also having heard her in the same Juilliard run of “Falstaff” performances signed her for Bess in the new “Porgy and Bess” production.  She arrived home from Paris and after a nominal number of rehearsals flew to Dallas for the premiere of the Breen production June 9, 1952.  The stellar cast which also included William Warfield were the new musical sensation in the US and Europe with rave reviews everywhere the opera was performed and help cement Price’s reputation which led to her eventual contract with the Metropolitan Opera as Leonora in “Il Trovatore” in January, 1961.

The Berlin performances in September, 1952 were truly historical, some seven years after the end of World War II.  A live recording was made in incredible sound, led by the original conductor of the opera, Alexander Smallens and the RIAS Licht Orchester.  The recording is widely available today.

The photographer, Helmuth von Stwolinski (1901 -    ) at the time of “Porgy and Bess” was one of Berlin’s most important photographer’s in the fashion and industrial field.  In 1938 he has been a cameraman for Riefenstahl's “Olympia Part I, Festival of Nations” where he operated 7 cameras simultaneously which led to his own invention of a system which allowed for lighting for multiple cameras at a single shoot combining both natural and artificial lighting.  He received a United States patent for the device in 1963 after the German patent in 1958.

Harold Arlen was introduced to Bob Breen in 1952 by Cab Calloway. The two would become friends for the rest of Arlen’s life.  Breen was interested in meeting Arlen for two reasons, first to create a shorter musical adaptation from the opera, “Porgy and Bess”.  Arlen a close friend and colleague of both Gershwin’s agreed that certainly Act II of the opera could be substantially revised and shortened.  However, due to Arlen’s work with Truman Capote on their musical, “House of Flowers” it never came to pass.  That said, Breen wanted Ira Gershwin to attend the St. Petersburg premiere of “Porgy and Bess” and Gershwin had become somewhat agoraphobic.  Breen knew Arlen was friendly with Gershwin and they were working together on the 1954 remake of “A Star if Born”.  Arlen agreed and convinced Gershwin to attend the performance if he came as well.  For good measure, Truman Capote and Arlen’s wife, Anya also came along for the trip!

A truly historical photograph a the time with an incredible association!  Calloway in the role of his life that resurrected his career, Price at the start of her career and dedicated to Arlen. Finally by a most interesting photographer at the time of the German Premiere.

Phone: 212-860-5541