Theatrical casting agents, producers, and writers, brothers Chamberlain and Lyman Brown were born in Hartford, Connecticut to Delorious T. Chamberlain and George McDuffee Brown. Chamberlain Brown was born April 1, 1892; Lyman Chamberlain Brown was born July 7, 1897. Their father operated Brown Thompson & Company, a department store in Hartford, and also ran for governor of Connecticut. Both the Brown and Chamberlain families could claim a distinguished New England lineage. The Brown family is descended from two U.S. presidents: John Adams and John Quincy Adams. The Chamberlain family could claim Civil and Mexican War generals, including the maternal grandfather of the Brown Brothers, General Samuel Emery Chamberlain.
The brothers had two sisters who died: Frances, who was older than Chamberlain, and Anna, who was younger than Lyman. The family spent winters either in Florida or Pasadena, California, and summers mostly at Annisquam, Massachusetts. Always inseparable, the Brown Brothers began their lifelong fascination with the theater in their childhood, with Lyman, as the younger, following Chamberlain’s strong-willed lead. According to an unpublished, incomplete autobiographical manuscript (in the collection) entitled The Brown Brothers, Chamberlain began collecting posters as a young child and snuck away with Lyman to a performance at Parsons Theatre in Hartford, only to be collected by their mother, upon notification by Mrs. Parsons. Whenever a star was playing in Hartford, the brothers would put his or her poster in their window.
At the age of eleven, Chamberlain Brown was enrolled at the Cloyne School in Newport, Rhode Island and Lyman soon followed. The Brown Brothers also attended the Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, although the dates are unknown. The brothers were separated when Chamberlain attended St. Andrew’s and Lyman was enrolled at the Pomfret School in Pomfret, Connecticut.
Chamberlain’s collecting habit escalated to autographs, photographs, and programs. He also subscribed to many theatrical periodicals such as the Theatre Magazine, and The New York Dramatic Mirror, thus forming the basis of his extensive collection. Many of these autographs of late 18th and early 19th century performers and much of their ephemera can be found in this collection. The brothers also attended many New York performances when visiting their aunt Emma Brown Lyman (Aunt Kittie) and her husband Jack every Christmas. These performances were documented in the Theatre Record diaries kept by the Brown Brothers in their early teens. (A few of these volumes are in this collection; see also the Chamberlain and Lyman Brown Theater Diaries - *T-Mss 2002-010.) The Castle Square Opera Company in Boston became a favorite place for the Brown Brothers to visit after Lyman’s dental appointments.
While summering in Annisquam, Chamberlain Brown produced his first plays at the Village Hall: The Social Stew (1909) and The Chorus Boy (1910). Chamberlain attended Harvard University, but dropped out when he acquired Donald Meek’s stock company in Lowell, Massachusetts (probably purchased for him by his father, George M. Brown) which Chamberlain then owned and managed. He also acted with several companies in Boston and Lowell, including the Harvard Stock Company, and the Castle Square. As well, Chamberlain Brown appeared with Margaret Anglin in Hippolytus at the Tremont Theatre in Boston (1911). He also produced and performed with the Brown-Horton Stock Company sometime around 1911.
By 1913, Chamberlain Brown had come to New York and performed in The Yellow Jacket at the Fulton Theatre, as well as in vaudeville. In 1914, he was listed as press representative for Brown, Sullivan and Brown at Aeolian Hall, with Lyman as the Boston representative. The Brown-Peacock Exchange (business and publicity representatives) was also listed at Aeolian Hall from August 1913 to January 1914. By March 1914, the company had become the Chamberlain Brown Exchange. Lyman Brown would work with Chamberlain in the summers, finally also dropping out of school to join his brother in the business. Their first office was at Aeolian Hall; they then moved to the Fitzgerald Building (West 43rd Street and Broadway), then 156 West 45th Street, and finally, 145 West 45th Street. Their only known New York City residences included 853 Seventh Avenue from approximately 1929 to 1932 and the Hotel Belvedere from 1950 to 1952.
Chamberlain Brown claimed to have discovered Clark Gable, Helen Hayes, Alfred Lunt, Rudolph Valentino, Leslie Howard, Jeannette MacDonald, Jack Haley, Don Ameche, Preston Foster, Robert Walker, Glenda Farrell, Carlotta Monterey, Conrad Nagel, Tallulah Bankhead, Helen Menken, Harry K. Morton, Nita Naldi and many others. The Brown agency represented such theater notables as John Carradine, Mrs. Leslie Carter, Lon Chaney, Jr., Ruth Chatterton, Constance Collier, Glenda Farrell, Dorothy Gish, Hal Holbrook, Miriam Hopkins, Otto Kruger, Fritzi Scheff, Spencer Tracy, and Tom Ewell (once an agency employee) among others.
The agency correspondence files are extensive and range from the famous to the would-be, aspiring performer. Some of their most famous correspondents include Tallulah Bankhead, Ralph Bellamy, Sidney Blackmer, Yul Brynner, John Carradine, Charles Coburn, George M. Cohan, Joan Crawford, George Cukor, Glenda Farrell, Jack Haley, Otto Kruger, Claire Boothe Luce, Bela Lugosi, Guthrie McClintic, Helen Menken, Alla Nazimova, Clifford Odets, Ronald Reagan, Gloria Swanson, Laurette Taylor, Spencer Tracy, Sophie Tucker, Rudy Vallee, Peggy Wood, Fay Wray, and Ed Wynn.
Chamberlain Brown also corresponded with soldiers and sailors during and after World War II, as well as with a number of prisoners, some of whom he knew before their incarceration. Lyman, the ever-dependable brother, ran the agency’s bread and butter trade: stock productions. He also managed at least two of their own stock companies in Westchester and Atlantic City.
In addition to their agency activity, the Brown Brothers began their numerous and financially disastrous attempts at producing. Kept by Pierre Gendron, starring Minnie Dupree at the Comedy Theatre in 1926, was Chamberlain Brown’s initial Broadway production. Brown then presented Frances Starr in Immoral Isabella? by Lawton Campbell at the Bijou Theatre in 1927. (In his autobiographical manuscript, Brown claims that Clifford Odets appeared in the cast as an extra, but this is unverified.) In 1928, Brown produced two plays on Broadway: Elmer Harris’s play The Great Necker with Blanche Ring at the Ambassador Theatre and A Lady for a Night by Hutcheson Boyd at the Forty-Ninth Street Theatre. Also in 1928, under the aegis of the Chamberlain Brown Cosmopolitan Artists, at the Cosmopolitan Theatre, he presented (“at popular prices”) Mrs. Dane’s Defense, with Violet Heming, Sherlock Holmes with Gene Raymond and Fritzi Scheff, and Within the Law with Violet Heming and Claudette Colbert.
The Brown Brothers’ first stock company in the metropolitan area was at the Greenwich Theatre in Connecticut. Under the auspices of the Chamberlain Brown Players (also known as the L. Chamberlain Brown Players), between 1929 and 1930 they presented over thirty plays such as As You Like It starring Preston Foster and Lyle Talbot, and Parade starring Spencer Tracy. Brilliants, written by Lyman Brown using the pseudonym Basil Bruce Trevino, was also scheduled for performance there. Other stars who appeared at Greenwich included Don Ameche, Glenda Farrell, Mayo Methot, Georgette Cohan, Jessie Royce Landis, and Henry Daniell.
In 1931 and 1932, the Chamberlain Brown Players played overlapping seasons at the Riviera Theatre in New York City and at the Westchester Theatre in Mt. Vernon, New York. Productions included Private Lives with Peggy Wood at the Riviera and at the Westchester Theatre. Also at the Westchester Theatre, Ruth Gordon starred in A Church Mouse and Alice Brady starred in Dishonored Lady and Ladies of the Jury . Glenda Farrell and Cesar Romero appeared in Strictly Dishonorable . Other stars who performed at the Westchester included Fritzi Scheff, Sydney Greenstreet, Otto Kruger, Florence Reed, Mrs. Leslie Carter, Georgie Drew Mendum, and Pauline Lord.
The Chamberlain Brown Players also played a summer season at the Apollo Theatre in Atlantic City in 1933. Productions included stock staples of the era such as A Church Mouse, Dangerous Corner, Dinner at Eight, The Shanghai Gesture, The Vinegar Tree, and When Ladies Meet . Lyman Brown appears to have run the company diligently, but by this time, the financial problems that would chronically plague the brothers had begun to predominate. However, they attempted another summer season in Atlantic City at the Earle Theatre in 1934, but it was short-lived. Idle Tongues, a play by Chamberlain Brown, was presented at the Cedarhurst Playhouse on Long Island in 1934, after several other production attempts. In 1936, the Chamberlain Brown Players attempted another summer season including plays such as Blind Alley, The Distaff Side, Night of January 16th, and Remember the Day at the Bronxville Auditorium, but were forced to cancel one play, Love on the Dole .
Perhaps Chamberlain Brown’s most controversial Broadway play was Chamberlain Brown’s Scrap Book that opened at the Ambassador Theatre in 1932. He classified it as a “vaudeville,” thus permitting more than eight performances a week. However, Actors’ Equity Association ruled the show a revue and demanded its members give immediate notice. A week later, the ruling was overturned, but Chamberlain Brown’s victory was short-lived, since the musicians refused to work without being paid first, causing the production to close. (This incident is documented in correspondence with Actors’ Equity Association.) His stock production of A Church Mouse ran at the Mansfield Theatre in June and July of 1933.
The Brown Brothers also presented Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn (venue unknown, 1930), as well as a vaudeville act with Fritzi Scheff in Chicago (1930). In the late 1930s and 1940s, Chamberlain Brown’s production attempts included performances by his acting students at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1938, contests, a dance marathon, and staged benefits, including performances of Taken from Life, a play reportedly by Chamberlain Brown and Arthur Chalmers, a New York City policeman convicted of murder. Scheduled productions sometimes did not open, such as Dangerous Corner and Outward Bound at the Astor Theatre in East Hartford, Connecticut in 1949.
Beginning in 1926, Chamberlain Brown hosted radio programs discussing the theater or presenting talent on various stations such as WINS, WMCA, and WOR. By 1948, he was paying WGYN for his radio segment without Lyman’s knowledge. Chamberlain also embarked upon a number of professional activities that dovetailed with the agency business, including founding membership clubs such as the Talent of the Hour Club (ca. 1940) and the Theatre Record Club ( ca.1940 ). Much to Lyman Brown’s consternation, Chamberlain Brown also initiated several unsuccessful publications such as Chamberlain Brown’s Dramatic Mirror (1934-1935), Paint and Powder (1936-1937) and Theatre Record (1938-1953). Chamberlain Brown also undertook giving lectures, but without great success.
Perhaps because of an inability to evolve professionally with the changing times, or Chamberlain Brown’s lifestyle, the Brown agency floundered, despite family financial support for the brothers. Chamberlain declared bankruptcy in 1934 and was the defendant in numerous lawsuits for collection of funds spanning several decades.
Chamberlain Brown died suddenly on November 12, 1955 in New York City at the age of sixty-three. Lyman Brown died in New York City on March 31, 1961 also at the age of sixty-three.
From the guide to the Chamberlain and Lyman Brown papers, 1849-1961, (The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.)
|creatorOf||Chamberlain and Lyman Brown papers, 1849-1961||The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.|
|associatedWith||Actors' Equity Association||corporateBody|
|associatedWith||Barrymore, Ethel, 1879-1959||person|
|associatedWith||Carter, Leslie, Mrs., 1862-1937||person|
|associatedWith||Chamberlain, Samuel E. (Samuel Emery), 1829-1908||person|
|associatedWith||Cohan, George M. (George Michael), 1878-1942||person|
|associatedWith||Cukor, George, 1899-1983||person|
|associatedWith||Gable, Clark, 1901-1960||person|
|associatedWith||Horton, Edward Everett||person|
|associatedWith||Luce, Clare Boothe, 1903-1987||person|
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|associatedWith||Shawn, Ted, 1891-1972||person|
|associatedWith||Shubert, Lee, 1873? -1953||person|
|associatedWith||Stanwyck, Barbara, 1907-1990||person|
|associatedWith||St. Denis, Ruth, 1880-1968||person|
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