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Showbiz legacy left to Shelburne Falls man

  • Maybelle Gilman Corey (birthdate unknown), who died in 1966, was a stage actress and great beauty around the beginning of the 20th century. <br/>

    Maybelle Gilman Corey (birthdate unknown), who died in 1966, was a stage actress and great beauty around the beginning of the 20th century.

  • Clara Bloodgood (1870-1907) was a socialite and later a successful Broadway stage actress.<br/>

    Clara Bloodgood (1870-1907) was a socialite and later a successful Broadway stage actress.

  • Ethel Barrymore (1895-1957) was a renowned New York stage actress and Broadway performer. She was also the great-aunt of actress Drew Barrymore.<br/>

    Ethel Barrymore (1895-1957) was a renowned New York stage actress and Broadway performer. She was also the great-aunt of actress Drew Barrymore.

  • Laurette Taylor (1883-1946) was both a stage actress and a silent film star.<br/>

    Laurette Taylor (1883-1946) was both a stage actress and a silent film star.

  • Dame Marie Tempest (1864-1942) was an English singer and actress known as “the queen of her profession” in her heyday.<br/>

    Dame Marie Tempest (1864-1942) was an English singer and actress known as “the queen of her profession” in her heyday.

  • Gertrude W. Hoffman (1871-1968) was a German-born American character actress who grew up in Cambridge and began her Hollywood film career in 1933.<br/>

    Gertrude W. Hoffman (1871-1968) was a German-born American character actress who grew up in Cambridge and began her Hollywood film career in 1933.

  • Maybelle Gilman Corey (birthdate unknown), who died in 1966, was a stage actress and great beauty around the beginning of the 20th century. <br/>
  • Clara Bloodgood (1870-1907) was a socialite and later a successful Broadway stage actress.<br/>
  • Ethel Barrymore (1895-1957) was a renowned New York stage actress and Broadway performer. She was also the great-aunt of actress Drew Barrymore.<br/>
  • Laurette Taylor (1883-1946) was both a stage actress and a silent film star.<br/>
  • Dame Marie Tempest (1864-1942) was an English singer and actress known as “the queen of her profession” in her heyday.<br/>
  • Gertrude W. Hoffman (1871-1968) was a German-born American character actress who grew up in Cambridge and began her Hollywood film career in 1933.<br/>

“Francis P. Sagerson is a figure unique in environs of the playhouse ... Actor, manager, advance man, he serves Thespis in a triple capacity, but the fourth wall of his structure of usefulness is advice. ... Sagerson himself does not know whence comes the light by which he guides the steps of the uncertain. ‘Something in me tells me to say something and I obey it,’ he says.”

So reads a 1916 Cambridge Tribune Theatre Magazine article. “A Seer of the Stage,” about Francis P. Sagerson, an actor/manager “endowed with the strange gift of prophecy,” according to the article. Sagerson was friends with some of the most famous actresses of the day — and he had the autographed photos to prove it.

But to John Bos of Shelburne Falls, then a young publicity director for the Pittsburgh Playhouse back in 1961, Sagerson was a stranger.

“One day an old man introduced himself to me,” recalled Bos recently. “He lived in Johnstown, Pa., and he told me he had spent his life in the theater. We talked for a long time, and it was clear he had worked for, and with, a number of very important actresses back in his time.”

Sometime after their conversation, Bos received a package with a half-dozen antique photographs of stage stars Ethel Barrymore, Clara Bloodgood, Laurette Taylor and others.

Sagerson died about two years after that meeting with Bos. Sagerson was born on March 3, 1880, so he must have been about 83 years old when he died in 1963.

Bos, who is now 77, said he packed away the photos with his “other theater stuff and forgot about it until now.”

“Having gained a better sense of history since the early ’60s, I am interested in selling them if they have any value,” said Bos.

“Why Francis Sagerson sought me out in 1961 remains a mystery to me, except that perhaps he wanted to pass on his theater legacy to a younger version of himself. I wish I had appreciated him more back then.”

Bos would go on to meet plenty of famous people in his own career. Like Sagerson, Bos started out as an actor who went on to become a press agent for movies and for several theater groups, including the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., the Baltimore Center Stage, and the Theatre of the Living Arts, where he became the producing director in 1970. The famous people Bos worked with at these theaters included comedian Milton Berle, musician Errol Garner, actors Morgan Freeman, Danny DeVito, Sally Kirkland, Saturday Night Live’s Jane Alexander and many others.

“Many were young actors who would go on to become famous,” said Bos.

In the late 1970s, Bos was deputy director for the New York State Council on the Arts, in charge of a $15 million budget for performing arts organizations.

“My boss was Kitty Carlisle Hart, who was spectacular.”

Carlisle Hart’s career as a singer and film actress began in the 1930s, and included appearances in Marx Brothers comedies and as a panelist in the long-time TV show “To Tell the Truth.”

For Bos’ 50th birthday, Hart gave him a framed, autographed illustration in which she is pictured dancing with her movie co-star Bing Crosby.

“She really was a great lady,” said Bos.

In 1980, Bos became director of performance programing for National Public Radio, which was then producing its own performing arts shows.

“I had a jazz department, folk and opera department,” said Bos. “I got a Peabody Award, and re-introduced radio drama to NPR.”

Bos said he got the rights to do a radio version of “Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back.”

“What an exciting time,” says Bos. “I brought BBC programs like ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.’ It was a radio first.”

But funds for radio programming dried up with federal government spending cuts in the mid-1980s, said Bos. “Now NPR is a distributor of programming,” he said.

Bos moved to Ashfield in 1991, where he started RURAL Renaissance.

After moving to western Massachusetts, Bos also served as executive director for the Mohawk Trail Concerts’ 25th season, and founded Eventide, a volunteer group of singers who perform at the bedsides of the critically ill.

Bos has been researching who Sagerson and the actresses were in their heyday. He’s also contacted Christy’s in New York, to see if they are interested in the collection. He was told Christy’s had sent the images to a specialist for consideration.

“I believe they’re authentic,” he said of the autographs. “These were New York studio photographers.”

Ethel Barrymore (1895-1957) was a renowned New York stage actress and Broadway performer. She was also the great-aunt of actress Drew Barrymore.

Maybelle Gilman Corey (birthdate unknown), who died in 1966, was a stage actress and great beauty around the beginning of the 20th century. She was a top musical comedy star who gave up her career when she married into a wealthy family.

Clara Bloodgood (1870-1907) was considered a “socialite” whose acting career began after her husband lost his wealth and health and died in 1897, leaving her with money trouble that led to her career as a successful Broadway stage actress.

Laurette Taylor (1883-1946) was both a stage actress and a silent film star.

Gertrude W. Hoffman (1871-1968) was a German-born American character actress who grew up in Cambridge and began her Hollywood film career in 1933.

Dame Marie Tempest (1864-1942) was an English singer and actress known as “the queen of her profession” in her heyday.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
dbronc@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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