Green Book, Don Shirley, and Henry Booth: Because There’s Always a Cranbrook Connection

It was the morning after New Year’s Day. No sooner had I reached my office and turned on my computer than I saw that I had just missed a call from long-time Cranbrook friend and Kingswood graduate, Jeanne Graham. Always eager to speak with Jeanne, I immediately returned her call. Jeanne, who had not even taken time to leave me a message, already was in the processing of dialing the Center’s archivists. She had a question and was eager for an answer.

Like Jeanne, one of the movies that I saw over the holidays (one of the best, I might add) was Green Book. Masterly cast with Mahershala Ali as the legendary African-American classical and jazz pianist Don Shirley and Viggo Mortensen as the Italian-American bouncer-cum-driver and bodyguard “Tony Lip” Vallelonga, the film tells the story of a road trip (a concert tour) through the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s and the unlikely friendship that develops along the way. While I was watching the movie, Cranbrook was the furthest thing from mind; while Jeanne was watching the movie, she could not get Cranbrook out of her mind. “Was it my imagination or did I attend a concert by Don Shirley in Kingswood Auditorium while I was a student at Cranbrook in the 1950s?” Jeanne asked.

Admittedly stumped, I did what any good director would do—I consulted my knowledgeable staff. Within minutes, tantalizing facts were speeding their way to me from Associate Archivist Laura MacNewman: articles in the Clarion and the Crane, Kingswood’s and Cranbrook’s student newspapers; a concert announcement in the Birmingham Eccentric; links to nineteen Kingswood negatives; and references to thirteen letters sent between Shirley and his agents and Henry Scripps Booth, the youngest son of Cranbrook’s founders. Finally, Laura calmly announced that she had found black and white photographs of Shirley swimming and riding a bike at Henry’s and his wife Carolyn’s home near Cranbrook, Thornlea. I, meanwhile, yelled out in excitement!

Who knew? Well actually, there are a few people that did know. Before I could even begin to sift through the materials in Cranbrook Archives, I received a call from Carolyn Scripps, Henry and Carolyn Booth’s granddaughter. Carolyn also had seen Green Book and wanted to make sure that I knew about the story of her progressive grandfather and Shirley.

Scene One. Shirley did, in fact, perform in Kingswood Auditorium on Wednesday, March 2, 1955 (and yes, it was while Jeanne Graham was a student). Shirley, who was twenty-seven years old at the time, was accompanied by bassist Richard Davis. They performed nine songs that evening, many of which the two musicians recorded on Shirley’s 1955 album Tonal Expressions, including one of my favorites, “No Two People Have Ever Been So in Love.” What does a rendition by Shirley of a popular song like “No Two People” sound like? In the words of Henry Booth: “While the concert was labeled ‘Jazz,’ the music was a subtle rendering of the contemporary, having a classical quality which should appeal to the devotees of classical music—that is if they will condescend to listen.” Five days after this classically inspired, popular jazz concert, Henry wrote his first letter to Shirley (at least the first one that survives in Cranbrook Archives). With regards from his wife Carolyn and their daughter Melinda (Carolyn Scripps’s aunt), Henry invited the pianist to consider a second performance at Cranbrook sponsored by the nascent Cranbrook Music Guild.

The Clarion, March 11, 1955. Collection of Cranbrook Archives.

Scene Two. While it took numerous letters from Henry to both Shirley and his agent—and some convincing of the Music Guild members who Henry described to Shirley as not very “’Jazz’ minded”—the pianist and bassist returned to Cranbrook in December. Thanks to clippings from the Birmingham Eccentric and the Crane, we know the concert took place on Saturday, December 3, 1955, and, like the first concert, it took place at Kingswood. And thanks to a page in the Thornlea Guest Book, now in the collection of Jeffrey Booth (Henry and Carolyn’s grandson), we also know that Henry and Carolyn hosted an Afterglow for the musicians that evening in their home on Cranbrook Road.

Thornlea Guest Book, Detail of Guest List for December 3, 1955. Collection of Jeffrey Booth.

Scene Three. Henry Booth was a documentarian. Included in the Henry Scripps Booth and Carolyn Farr Booth Papers, which are preserved—and accessible—in the Cranbrook Archives, are a series of photo albums that chronicle and illustrate Henry’s and Carolyn’s lives. The 1956 album includes seven black and white photographs of Shirley. While they were processed in July, another entry in the Thornlea Guest Book more precisely places both Shirley and Richard Davis at Cranbrook on June 20, 1956. Three of the photographs were taken by Henry at a night club, presumably Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit where the Don Shirley Duo performed no less than twelve times that June. One shows Shirley on stage, while the other two show Carolyn and Melinda Booth in the audience, including a photograph of Carolyn and Shirley sitting together at a table. The other four show Shirley relaxing at Thornlea—sitting in a wicker chair, swimming in the pool, riding a bike in the courtyard, and posing with the Booth’s youngest child, Melinda’s sister Martha (Carolyn Scripps’s mother). Henry, ever the Cranbrook publicist, dutifully followed up the visit by sending to Shirley “a selection of Cranbrook catalogs and booklets.”

Scene Four. There is where it gets interesting. While Green Book has Shirley and Tony Vallelonga departing from Shirley’s Carnegie Hall apartment and beginning their 1962 concert tour with a stop in Pittsburgh before immediately heading south, the actual route also brought them to Detroit. During the road trip, Vallelonga wrote letters to his wife Dolores. In an excerpt from one of the letters, published on Cinemabuzz.com, Vallelonga wrote:

Dr. Shirley decided to stop off in Detroit for a day to visit some people he knows, you remember I told you he knows people wherever he goes and he knows all big people (millionaires). We went over some guy’s house, I’m sorry I meant a mansion, it was really a castle. His name was Henry Booth, he lives in a place called Mich Hills, it’s like Riverdale Yonkers, but the place makes Riverdale look like the Bowery. Dolores, I never saw such beautiful and fabulous homes in all my life.

I’m guessing this visit to “Mich Hills” took place in April 1962. In a letter dated April 25, Henry wrote to Shirley, referencing a visit that took place “a week or so ago.” Eager for another concert at Cranbrook, Henry proposes that the Music Guild bring the Don Shirley Trio to Cranbrook that summer for a week of concerts in the Greek Theatre. But he also references “Carol’s original idea” (Henry referred to Carolyn as Carol): she wanted Shirley to be their guest at Thornlea on August 11, which would have been Henry’s sixty-fifth birthday. In his letter Henry was emphatic: “This is a definite date — put it down please!” In the only letter in the Archives from Shirley to Booth, Shirley references their telephone conversation and offers a very business-like reply to the concert requests: “Although our usual contract fee for an evening concert by the Trio is $2500.00, we would be delighted, for various reasons, to play at Cranbrook during the evening of 12 August 1962 for a special all-inclusive fee of $1250.00.” Alas, even the comprehensive records of Cranbrook Archives contain no evidence that the summer concerts or birthday party guest appearance transpired.

Letter from Don Shirley to Henry Booth, Summer 1962. Collection of Cranbrook Archives, Henry Scripps Booth and Carolyn Farr Booth Papers (Box 40: Folder 9).

Final Scene. In April 1986, as Henry Booth approached his eighty-ninth birthday (he would live to be ninety), Henry reached out to Shirley one more time. Reminiscing about the first concerts in Kingswood Auditorium, one of which Jeanne Graham attended, Henry wrote hopefully about one more concert:

I hope a concert by you can be arranged for next fall or winter, although a summer concert in Cranbrook’s Greek Theatre would be a fine location except for having a good, well-tuned piano at your disposal rather than rain or a shower! Will you put me in touch with your agent? Please do! Meanwhile a big hug for Don Shirley.

The trail in the Archives ends with Shirley sending Henry a flyer of his upcoming concert in Carnegie Hall (where Shirley still lived in an apartment). At the very bottom the pianist simply drew an arrow pointing to the contact for his agent noting, “It’s all here.”

It is, indeed, all preserved here in the Cranbrook Archives. Because there will always be a Cranbrook connection that needs to be researched and a Cranbrook story that needs to be shared.

Gregory WittkoppDirector
Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

 

Brighty of Thornlea House

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Peter Jepsen, Brighty, cast bronze. 1966. Collection of Thornlea House, Cranbrook. Courtesy of Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research.

In the foyer of Thornlea, the home of Henry Scripps and Carolyn Farr Booth, sits this statue of a burro, Brighty, by Peter Jepsen. He was a gift from their son, Stephen, commemorating a movie project he spearheaded.

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Dust jacket of Brighty of the Grand Canyon. 1953 (first edition). Courtesy of Michigan eLibrary (MelCat).

In 1953, Newbery Award winner Marguerite Henry (1902-1999) published the novel Brighty of the Grand Canyon. It tells the story of a real burro named Brighty who lived in the Grand Canyon from 1890-1922. Brighty spent summers carrying water up the canyon to the North Rim. He was rewarded for his work with pancakes. Brighty became popular with visitors, and is said to have accompanied Teddy Roosevelt on one of his three visits to the Grand Canyon.

In 1963, Betty Booth bought a copy of Brighty of the Grand Canyon for her three boys, Douglas, Charlie, and Woody, to read on vacation. Betty was the wife of Stephen Farr Booth, who was a television producer at the time. Stephen read the book and loved it so much he decided to make it into a movie of the same name. The movie premiered in Detroit in 1967.

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Movie poster for Brighty of the Grand Canyon. 1967. Courtesy WikiCommons.

To promote the movie, Stephen had sculptor Peter Jepsen create a life-sized, 600-pound statue of Brighty to be placed in the Grand Canyon’s South Rim’s Visitor Center (it was later moved to the North Rim’s Grand Canyon Lodge, where it resides today and where visitors rub his nose for good luck). Stephen also had 100 small-scale versions of the sculpture made and distributed to various people who worked on the movie. Stephen also gave one to his parents, who placed Brighty right inside the door of their home Thornlea.

We don’t encourage visitors to rub Brighty’s nose for good luck, but he is a fun and memorable addition to welcome guests to Thornlea.

– Leslie S. Mio, Associate Registrar

Note: The book, movie, and statue have kept the legend of Brighty alive. Brighty even has his own Facebook page.

Indiana Jones and the Search for the Pergola Picture: My Senior May Experience

Growing up so close to the Henry Ford Museum, or watching my family’s favorite go-to movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, I knew that I was interested in history from an early age. Yet, I never stopped to think about Cranbrook’s own fascinating and world-renowned past. To me, this community was just “home”, and the only history I thought of was of my family’s connection with the school. Nevertheless, for my Senior May project, I wanted to learn more about the inter-workings of the educational community as a whole. With this in mind, I chose to intern at the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research and the Archives for my last senior assignment.

Elizabeth Fairman, CKU ’17

The purpose of Cranbrook’s Senior May project is to give soon-to-be Upper School graduates a taste of a “real world” job for the month of May in their field of interest.  Initially, I assumed I would be either in Art Museum storage moving art pieces or doing research on the computer every day, but I could not have been more wrong.

Over the course of my three weeks, I had behind-the-scenes tours of Cranbrook’s many historic landmarks, firsthand looks at restorations, handling and moving donated art pieces, and countless hours of both digital and primary source research. I met many people who are tasked with adding to and preserving this living historical landmark, no small task given the expansive campus. My perspective of the community, initially as the place of my education and a source of livelihood for my family, was altered, and I began to see it as an operational historical site.

In short, I had a very full, albeit whirlwind experience of almost everything that being an archivist or registrar entails.

Organizing original Kingswood School silverware in Heaven.

My favorite experiences were the tours of campus. Although I have attended this school for 14 years, very rarely did my classes study the history of Cranbrook or take field trips to different buildings on campus besides Cranbrook Institute of Science. In fact, I had only visited Saarinen House and Thornlea once before Senior May, just three weeks before I am set to graduate. My supervisor, Mrs. Mio, added another element of the visits, a look at them through the eyes of a registrar who is tasked with upkeep and restoration of historic sites. Through tasks such as cataloging Booth dinner plates at Cranbrook House, identifying historic bookbinding tools used at the Academy of Art, and even checking mouse traps at Thornlea, I developed a deeper appreciation for the amount of work it takes to showcase the history of this community, as well as a chance to see rooms or storage out of the public’s eye.

Clothing collection at Cranbrook House storage.

Another aspect I enjoyed was the research itself, like searching through “the stacks”, where many of the important archival files are kept. It is a place where you can find both important and unexpected things. For instance, one afternoon while searching for photos and records of the Cranbrook House Pergola for Ms. Edwards, I came across security reports from the 1960’s detailing the dangers of “hippie types” on campus. I was also able to piece together more of the history of Cranbrook firsthand through organizing and filing other primary sources created by prominent figures in the Community’s past.

Elizabeth Fairman, CKU ’17

Editor’s Note: Elizabeth Fairman is a “lifer” at Cranbrook, having attended school here since Kindergarten. In addition to that, her father Andy is the upper school baseball coach and physical education teacher at Brookside School. Both of Elizabeth’s grandmothers (Sue Tower and Marilyn Sutton) taught school at Brookside for many years. We thank Elizabeth for her exemplary work ethic and positive attitude and wish her the best of luck in her new adventure at Bates College in Maine.

Putting on a Holiday Scene

Every year, the Center for Collections and Research decorates George G. Booth’s Office for the Cranbrook House & Gardens Auxiliary’s Holiday Splendor event. This year, we were inspired by the Booth children and grandchildren.

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Some of the Booth grandchildren put on a play at George and Ellen Booth’s 50th wedding anniversary, 1937. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

All children enjoy playing “dress-up” – whether in a costume or in the clothes of a family member. For George and Ellen Booth’s family, especially their youngest children Florence (“Smike”) and Henry (“Thistle”), any occasion was an excuse to dress-up – a family picnic, a visit from family or friends, the arrival of a new boat for Glastonbury Lake.

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Marjorie Booth wearing her grandmother Ellen Scripps Booth’s wedding dress, on the occasion of George and Ellen’s 50th wedding anniversary, 1937. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives

For this year’s holiday installation, we imagined the Booth grandchildren playing dress-up with clothes from their grandparent’s closet—their grandmother’s dresses and hats, costumes from performances at the Greek Theater, and other items stored in the vast closets here at Cranbrook House. Perhaps they’re putting on a play, as they did for their grandparents’ anniversary in 1937, or maybe they’re simply celebrating and having fun, as Smike and Thistle were so fond of doing in their youth.

Accompanying the five outfits, the Center decorated a small tree and the mantle with iridescent, green, and silver ornaments, drawing out the colors of Florence Booth’s green dress and a beautiful Rene Lalique (1860-1945) glass vase (before 1930) we’ve set out on the desk. In the center of the mantle we’ve displayed Henry Scripps Booth and Carolyn Farr Booth’s Nativity (mid-20th century), sculpted by Clivia Calder Morrison (1909-2010). A Michigan native, Calder Morrison studied at the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts with Samuel Cashwan and later at the Art Students League in New York, and this small crèche featuring the three Magi with gifts, Mary holding Jesus, and Joseph was kept in the oratory at Thornlea. Oh, and the Santa bag and hat on display were part of Henry’s costume he donned for Christmas parties here at the House!

Our display will be up through the New Year.  If you are in Cranbrook House for the Center’s piano/violin concert & book launch, Carl Milles’s Muse: Ludwig van Beethoven on December 11, or a Holiday Tea, Luncheon, or just for a meeting, please stop by and visit.

-Kevin Adkisson, Center Collections Fellow; Leslie S. Mio, Assistant Registrar

Can You Say Lobster Roll?

It feels as though summer is winding down and this week is the final session of Cranbrook Art Museum Summer Camp. We enjoyed a visit from students earlier in the week who were part of the “Costumes and Characters” session. While pulling materials to show the students, we came across this photo of Ralph Russell Calder (1894-1969), an architect and friend of Henry Scripps Booth. He is in a lobster costume made by Loja Saarinen for a “May Party” in 1926.

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From the Henry Scripps and Carolyn Farr Booth Papers, Cranbrook Archives.

Calder, born in 1894, was a veteran of World War I and an accomplished musician. He graduated in 1923 from the University of Michigan College of Architecture (he and Henry were classmates). In 1924, he studied in England, France, and Italy as the winner of the George G. Booth Traveling Fellowship in Architecture.

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A card from Ralph Calder & Associates, Inc. with a 1924 sketch by Ralph Calder during his travels in Europe on the Booth Traveling Fellowship.

In 1925, Calder worked for several months as part of U of M’s Near East Research Expedition in Tunisia. The research and objects obtained from this expedition are the basis of the collection at the Francis W. Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at U of M. Calder joined the Cranbrook Architectural Office in 1926 and remained there until staff was reduced due to the economic depression. In 1937, he joined the firm of William G. Malcomson and Maurice E. Hammond where he stayed until 1945, when he started his own firm, Ralph Calder and Associates, in Detroit.

Calder worked on the following buildings on the Cranbrook campus: the main academic building (Hoey Hall) at Cranbrook School, Thornlea, and Thornlea Studio. In addition, he was the architect for buildings at Michigan State University, Michigan Technological University, Hope College, Northern Michigan University, Hillsdale College, Wayne State University, Ferris State University, Western Michigan University, and Lake Superior State University. He enjoyed music as a hobby and was the organist and choirmaster for St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Detroit in the 1940s.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Object in Focus: Gone but Not Forgotten

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Grave of Buddy. Photo taken by Cheri Gay.

Taking a stroll one day on the grounds of the Thornlea Studio (where Cranbrook Archives was previously housed) I was startled to come across small tombstones, almost buried in the grass. What were these, I wondered? Seeing the names, I immediately understood: Buddy, Homer, Perky, Heinie, Fellow, Ricky, Zorah—a pet cemetery, which had seen better days.

Thornlea Studio was the artistic lair of Henry Scripps Booth, who designed and placed the building across the wide expanse of lawn from his home Thornlea. The family actually lived in the studio in 1949 when “… our daughter Melinda was a student at Kingswood. She was embarrassed by our living in “such a big house” and prevailed on her mother to close the house and move across the lawn to the Studio.”

The Henry Scripps Booth and Carolyn Farr Booth Papers document six dogs, almost all black and tan German shepherds. Receipts from Sheldon Granite Co. in Detroit reveal they made the monuments for Heinie, Perky and the lyrically named, Homer the Wanderer. A 1961 notebook paper receipt identifies Albert Leipold, of Birmingham, as the stone carver for Fellow’s monument for $40.

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Henry Scripps Booth with Mike, 1912. Cranbrook Archives.

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Buddy at Thornlea, 1929. Cranbrook Archives.

When Henry was growing up, the Booth family had beagles, Prince and Mike, and a great Dane, Ginger. Mike, according to Henry, “ … loved having a fuss made over him, one time going so far as being pushed around in a doll carriage while wearing a canvas hat.” Oh to have a photograph of that! When Henry had his own family, black and tan German shepherds predominated.

Henry’s photo albums, called Pleasures of Life, include 17 different dogs, though not all are his. His hand-written captions under the photographs always give the dog’s name followed by (dog) in case there’s any doubt, for example, in a photo of Cynthia and Curlytail, who is who.

Though the grounds and building of the Thornlea Studio are maintained, unfortunately that care doesn’t extend to Henry Booth’s lovingly buried companions. It’s a project waiting to happen.

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Thornlea Studio pet cemetery. Photo by Cheri Gay.

–Cheri Gay, Archivist

Photo Friday: A Splash of Color

Kingswood School Rose Lounge. Cranbrook Archives

Kingswood School Rose Lounge, The Cranbrook Hand-Colored Lantern Slide Collection. Cranbrook Archives

As the weather here at Cranbrook is more than a little dreary, today’s photo provides a look into a bright and cozy atmosphere perfect for reading, relaxing and being inside. Taken around 1932, it shows a group of students gathered in the lounge of the Kingswood School dormitory (originally known as Reception Room III) listening to two of their peers play the piano. The photograph comes from Cranbrook Archives’ Hand-Colored Lantern Slide Collection. The photographs in this collection were originally black-and-white and were painted with watercolor years later, and not by the original photographer. This jump in time explains the vibrant color choices in the photograph as the painter was not present when the image was originally captured.

The Cranbrook Hand-Colored Lantern Slide Collection contains over 30 images of Cranbrook institutions taken primarily during the 1920s and 1930s. Several of the original black and white images were taken by architectural photographers for inclusion in publications.

Today’s photo was taken by George W. Hance, Cranbrook’s first paid staff photographer (1931-1932). Hance had been commissioned by George Booth as early as 1916 to photograph his art collection and later photographed Cranbrook’s campus and grounds including Kingswood, Cranbrook House (home to George and Ellen Booth) and Thornlea (home to Henry Scripps Booth). Explore more photographs like these on our digital image database or in person at the Archives!

Stefanie Dlugosz, Collections Fellow, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

 

 

Five Things in Four Years: A Cranbrook Goodbye*

I’m not a hugely sentimental person, but I am a nostalgic one (I swear, there’s a difference). As I leave Cranbrook after four years here to embark on the next phase of my career, I can’t help but think about all the different places on campus I will miss. Here are my top five:

Cranbrook House, 1925.  Cranbrook Archives.

Cranbrook House, 1925. Cranbrook Archives.

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