From the very first time I saw this shot of Harry and Juliet it was always one of my favorites. For reasons unknown to me at the time it struck me differently than the others. It somehow felt more resonant and personal despite the fact that I knew very little about it.
Most photographs capture a moment in time. They are utilitarian. But on the rare occasion when everything is just so... the light is perfect, the photographer on his game, the composition organic and all the planets are perfectly aligned; a photograph can be so much more. It can be a narrative. It can be a novel. It can jostle your imagination and tell you a story. This photo was like that for me. It made my mind race to look at it and always made me smile. I created stories based on what I knew about it. But I wanted the true story, the details, the context. How do I make that happen?
I created my own "punch list" of questions that helped me gather information and develop clues to learn more about it. My list included questions about the photo itself (the actual piece of paper): Where did I find it? What was it next to? What else was near it? Was there anything written on the back? And questions about the photographs content. Who is it of? Are there other people in it? Is there anything I recognize or that stands out (Location, objects, subject matter)? Does it remind me of other photos? Is anything unusual or out of the ordinary happening? Who might have taken it? When was it taken? Where are they? What are they wearing?
Here are some interesting clues and deductions I made from my list of questions.
1.There was nothing written on the photograph but I found it in a box of family photos not with Harry or Juliet's photo collections, press books or scrap books even though it was definitely stage related.
2.They were both in full costume in the picture which meant they were performing together. This was very unusual. Harry wrote some of Juliet's material but they were both solo performers. I hadn't remembered ever reading or hearing of them working together in the same show or even on the same billing.
3.The costumes they are wearing were not from their Vaudeville routines. They were more like theater or movie costumes. He wore what looked like an Old Military costume (maybe Cavalry) and she looked like a mannequin of a Gypsy Princess.
5.I had seen enough photographs of my Grandfather to tell he was in his early 20s here. He was born in 1892 so that would put this picture somewhere between 1913-1917 (he went into the Navy during WWI in 1918.)
6.From the shadows you can tell that it was taken outside but there are no distinguishing landmarks or way of telling where it might be.
7.There were some interesting props and wardrobe pieces. He had a sword and wore riding boots and she had a long bead necklace and wore an unusually shaped tiara on her head.
Was this enough to figure it out? I went to the internet and started to search. Juliet had changed her name a few times and I wasn't exactly sure when she had changed it or how to search "Miss Juliet" or "Juliet?" so I thought a good place to start would be to search Harry Delf on the IBDB, the Internet Broadway Data Base, a fairly comprehensive collection of Theater and the people connected to the Theater through history. This search yielded 14 item but only 3 of them fell in the years from 1913-1917 so this was a starting point. I recognized all the different titles. The first 2 were from 1914 and the third from 1916. The third was The Cohan Revue of 1916. I clicked on it. I remembered seeing material from this show when putting together the archive. I remembered that Juliet had played a leading role but I had never known my Grandfather was in the show as well. On the site I learned Harry played a character named Billie Holliday. I looked down the cast and sure enough listed as Miss Juliet there she was. http://www.ibdb.com/production.php?id=8268. The George M Cohan Revue was one of the biggest Theater Productions of that year. It played at the Astor Theater in NYC. I went back to my archive and found what I had from the show.
I found a few different Program/Playbills and a bunch of newspaper articles about the show. I knew I was on the right trail. I started leafing through the program and found this and I instantly knew that I had nailed it.
Look at it next to the photo from above. Juliet is on the left side in the front. Her headpiece and the long string of beads were the important clues that this was the show where the photo was taken.The dress sealed it.