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Charles Dickens and Show Biz Exhibit

Opens October 2 in Green Library Bing Wing

An exhibit examining the nineteenth-century author Charles Dickens and his connections to theater and film will open Oct. 2 in the Peterson Gallery on the second floor of the Bing Wing of Green Library.

Charles Dickens and Show Biz uses rare editions of dramatic works by Dickens and his contemporaries, letters, vintage playbills, movie memorabilia, and theater costumes to highlight the author as a playwright, actor and theatrical producer, as well as to illustrate the many ways in which Dickens’s work has been interpreted in performance.

According to Bruce Crawford, a bibliophile and friend of the libraries who, together with his father, Ralph J. Crawford, Jr., is guest curator for the exhibit and from whose personal collection the exhibit’s artifacts are drawn, “Dickens loved the theater and the theater loved him. The exhibit is among the first to explore the many inventive connections between Dickens and the entertainment industry, which embraced his work as a virtually limitless source of theatrical material.”

A life-long passion for the stage drove Dickens to write, produce, direct, and act; to include his children and their friends in theater performances at home and to mount benefit performances in support of worthy causes and indigent friends, Crawford said.

Dickens also campaigned for social reform, and the exhibit looks at how his enduring themes – the mistreatment of children and of the poor, the sinister indifference of the prosperous, and the hope for redemption for those who change their ways – have been translated in a variety of productions.

Among the items to be exhibited is a January 8, 1855 playbill advertising a family holiday play performed in Dickens’s home, with the author’s two-year-old son Edward Dickens appearing as “Mr. Plornishmaroontigoonter.” Another playbill, announcing an August 24, 1857 performance in The Frozen Deep by Dickens and the young actress Ellen Ternan, foreshadows an emotional crisis for Dickens, Crawford said. A relationship between the two developed into a notorious liaison that led to the breakup of Dickens's marriage to Catherine Hogarth and an outpouring of nasty publicity.

Charles Dickens and Show Biz also will display images of a diverse group of stage and film actors performing in Dickensian roles, including W. C. Fields, Lon Chaney, George C. Scott, Sally Field, Patrick Stewart, Alfre Woodard, and Mickey Mouse. An audio station in the exhibit will allow visitors to listen to Dickens-inspired recordings, including readings and musical selections.

Exhibit cases in the Peterson Gallery are illuminated Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m. The exhibit will be on display through Jan. 28, 2007.

An exhibition catalogue, Charles Dickens and Show Biz, written by Ralph and Bruce Crawford, has been produced in conjunction with the exhibit. Catalog-ordering information is available at, by sending e-mail to, or by calling (650) 736-7604. All proceeds from sales of the catalogue will benefit the Libraries’ Special Collections.

Last modified: September 14, 2006
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