Ralph ChessÚ papers, 1935-1975

Ralph ChessÚ C0224


Published by George Mason University Libraries

Contact Information:

Fenwick Library (2FL)

George Mason University

Fairfax, Virginia 22030-4444

USA

Phone: (703) 993-2220

Fax: (703) 993-8911

Email: speccoll@gmu.edu

URL: http://sca.gmu.edu

Descriptive Summary

Repository George Mason University. Libraries. Special Collections & Archives
Creator ChessÚ, Ralph
Title Ralph ChessÚ papers
Date 1935-1975
Physical Characteristics 1.25 linear feet (1.5 boxes, 1 flat box)
Abstract The ChessÚ papers contain materials such as photographs, watercolor set and costume design sketches, playscripts, and programs relating to Federal Theatre Project marionette productions in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Some of these plays are Child of God, Crock of Gold, The Emperor Jones, Hansel and Gretel, Marionette Varieties, Rip Van Winkle, The Tempest, and Twelfth Night. The papers also include magazine articles from the 1970s that highlight ChessÚ's mural painting at the Coit Tower in San Francisco.
Collection Number C0224
Language English

Biographical Information

Ralph ChessÚ was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on January 6, 1900. He attended schools in New Orleans and Chicago including the Chicago Art Institute, but was primarily a self-taught painter. In 1924 he traveled to San Francisco where he met the puppeteer Blanding Sloan. It was after this meeting that ChessÚ began working as a puppeteer. In 1929 he opened his first puppet theatre, The Marionette Guild on Merchant Street. In 1934 ChessÚ was selected, with a mural design titled "Playground," as one of 26 artists by the Works Progress Administration to paint a wall fresco inside of Coit Tower. During this same year The Marionette Guild had to close due to lack of funds.

ChessÚ joined the Federal Theatre project in 1936 as Director of the Puppetry Unit. There he oversaw a crew of 17 people. Their first production was The Crock of Gold in 1936. Other early productions included The Mikado, Alice in Wonderland, A Marionette Variety Show, and Emperor Jones.

The Federal Theatre Project was a division of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which provided employment for large numbers of artists, writers, and performers during the Great Depression (1929-1939). The Federal Theatre began in 1935 and, until its end in 1939, flourished as the first and only federally sponsored and subsidized theater program in the United States. Directed by Hallie Flanagan (1880-1969), it was a way for theatrical professionals to gain employment during the Depression. Jobs were provided for many people, including actors, playwrights, scene designers, scene builders, seamstresses, lighting experts, ushers, box-office men, and stagehands.

In 1937 ChessÚ moved to Los Angeles to take over as State Director for California. This was a larger unit employing 50 people. He remained in Los Angeles until 1939 though was still in communication with activities in San Francisco. In Los Angeles productions included Rip Van Winkle, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and a Variety Show. On June 30th 1939 the puppetry unit received notice that the Federal Theatre Project had been terminated. Also in 1939 ChessÚ brought marionettes to the World's Fair held in San Francisco.

After work finished with the FTP ChessÚ moved his family back to San Francisco and had a long and successful career that included various jobs. At different points in his life ChessÚ made a living by teaching puppetry for adult education classes at San Francisco State College, producing a children's television program called The Wonderful World of Brother Buzz, making puppets for TV, theatre, and opera, and acting in plays and films. In 1984 he moved to Ashland, Oregon where he was an avid painter up until his death in 1991. He died of heart failure.

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Scope and Content

The ChessÚ papers contain materials such as photographs, watercolor set and costume design sketches, playscripts, and programs relating to Federal Theatre Project marionette productions in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Some of these plays are Child of God, Crock of Gold, The Emperor Jones, Hansel and Gretel, Marionette Varieties, Rip Van Winkle, The Tempest, and Twelfth Night. The papers also include magazine articles from the 1970s that highlight ChessÚ's mural painting at the Coit Tower in San Francisco.

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Arrangement

Organized alphabetically by title. Oversize materials are separated physically but integrated intellectually in this finding aid.

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Restrictions

Access Restrictions

Collection is open to research.

Use Restrictions

There are no restrictions.

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Related Material

The Works Progress Administration oral histories collection, the Federal Theatre Project collection, the Federal Theatre Project photograph collection, as well as numerous other personal papers.

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Index Terms

Persons:

ChessÚ, Ralph.

Corporate Names:

Federal Theatre Project (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Federal Theatre Project (San Francisco, Calif.)
Federal Theatre Project (U.S.)

Subjects:

New Deal, 1933-1939.
Puppet theater.
Theater--United States.

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Administrative Information

Alternative Form Available

Digitized photographs from this collection can be found in the Federal Theatre Project collection.

Preferred Citation note

Ralph ChessÚ papers, Collection #C0224, Special Collections and Archives, George Mason University Libraries.

Acquisition Information

Donated to Special Collections and Archives by Ralph ChessÚ on July 8, 1977; July 24, 1980; May 18, 1981.

Processing Information

Processed and EAD completed by Greta Kuriger Suiter in September 2012.

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Contents List

Ralph ChessÚ papers 1935-1975
Box Folder
1 1 Child of God costume designs, 1936
8 items
2 Child of God playscript, 1936
3 Child of God set designs, 1936
4 items
Box Folder
3 2 City of San Francisco magazine, February 4, 1976
Includes article with section about ChessÚ "The WPA and the great Coit Tower controversy: The artists look back".
Box Folder
1 4 Crock of Gold photographs, 1936
8 photographs
Crock of Gold March 1936
Crock of Gold, 1936-03
Crock of Gold March 1936
Crock of Gold, 1936-03
Box Folder
1 5 Crock of Gold playscript, 1936
photocopy
Box Folder
3 7 Crock of Gold set design, 1936
5 items
Box Folder
1 6 The Cue volume I number II, August 1936
Includes interview with Ralph ChessÚ.
7 The Emperor Jones playbill, circa 1937
Box Folder
3 1 The Emperor Jones photograph, 1937
Box Folder
1 8 The Emperor Jones set design, circa 1937
3 items
9 The Farmer's wife playbill, circa 1936-1939
10 The Federal Show Parade volume I number II, May 10, 1938
photocopy
11 Hamlet costume design; Hansel and Gretel set design, 1926; circa 1936-1939
Four items, Hamlet costume design is photocopy, set designs are watercolors
12 Help Yourself playbill, April 1937
13 Hula group marionettes photograph, 1938
Hula group marionettes photograph, 1938
14 It Can't Happen Here newspaper clipping, October 19, 1936
15 Los Angeles marionette theatre photographs, 1938
Four photographs - two of traveling stage with curtain drawn; two of audience.
16 Marionette band photograph, circa 1936-1939
17 Marionette crew of San Francisco, 1936
2 photographs
18 Marionette personnel, circa 1936-1939
Box Folder
3 8 Marionette stage design, circa 1936-1939
Box Folder
1 19 Marionette Varieties San Francisco production, July 1936; 1938
27 photographs
Marionette Varieties San Francisco production, 1936-07; 1938
20 The Marriage Proposal, July 1936
2 photographs
Box Folder
3 3 The murals in Coit Tower, December 14, 1975
article in San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle
Box Folder
1 21 Penguin Island costume design, 1937
12 items
22 A puppeteer's guide, circa 1935-1939
23 R. U. R. costume designs, 1936
8 items
24 R. U. R. script for marionettes, 1936
Box Folder
3 5 R. U. R. set designs, 1936
3 items
Box Folder
1 25 Rip Van Winkle Los Angeles marionette production, 1936
4 photographs
26 San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle: Conversation with a puppeteer, April 28, 1974
27 Schedule of productions, 1937
28 Sherlock Holmes, 1937
Photocopy of script; photographs of marionette performance.
29 Snow White script, circa 1937
30 The Tempest, undated
Color slides of set and costume design sketches for The Tempest.
31 The Tempest costume designs, 1935; 1937
17 items
Box Folder
3 4 The Tempest set designs, 1935
3 items
Box Folder
2 1 They walked with beauty: Gauguin, Cezanne, Van Gogh, August 1-September 5, 1938
4 radioscripts
2 Twelfth Night San Francisco marionette production, 1938
4 photographs
Box Folder
3 9 Twelfth Night costume design, 1937
6 Twelfth Night set design, circa 1937-1938
Box Folder
2 3 World's Fair, 1939
Two photographs of ChessÚ demonstrating how marionettes work to two women.
U-matic recording of marionette Macbeth act I, performed at California Academy of Sciences, December 30, 1979
U-matic recording of marionette Macbeth act II, performed at California Academy of Sciences, December 30, 1979
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