A Writer and His Image

By Rebecca Costello

This portrait, a prime example of Yousuf Karsh’s masterful lighting techniques, was taken in Karsh’s Ottawa studio during Shaw’s 1933 visit to Canada.  (©Yousuf Karsh - karsh.org)

While George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950) may be best known as a prolific Irish playwright, novelist, and music critic, there are other aspects of the man with which fans of his literary works may not be familiar: photographer, cartoonist, socialist, provacateur, and, one might say, egotist.
    H.G. Wells once joked that a person could travel to the most remote island in the Pacific Ocean, and, within three-quarters of an hour, could come upon a photograph of Shaw. Not surprising, for Shaw never once refused to have his photograph taken, according to Dan Laurence, editor of Shaw’s letters. He estimated that there were “tens of thousands” of Shaw photographs in existence. Shaw was the only person ever to win both the Nobel Prize in literature and an Oscar, for Pygmalion — upon which the musical My Fair Lady is based. He was also one of the founders of London School of Economics, as well as a charter member of the peaceful middle-class socialist Fabian Society.
    An upcoming exhibition at Colgate, A Writer and His Image, reveals much about both the well-known and the lesser-known Shaw. Curated by Carl Peterson, head of special collections and university archivist, the exhibition is drawn from Colgate’s significant holdings of Shaw items, given by alumnus Richard S. Weiner ’68.
    Weiner first fell in love with Shaw while on Colgate’s French Study Group. Upon graduation, he began collecting Shaw letters, books, and artifacts. “I was intrigued by his philosophy. He made me laugh,” Weiner told the Scene in 1998. “The very first thing I bought was a small photograph signed on the back. I thought it was very exciting that this original photo had passed through Shaw’s hands.”
    Over the years, Weiner amassed more than 1,500 letters, manuscripts and proof copies, virtually every book Shaw published, as well as playbills, photographs — his own, as well as portraits by several of the most famous photographers of his day — cartoons, paintings, drawings, caricatures, and other renditions of Shaw, ephemera such as his gardening gloves, and even a few items with a Colgate connection. Beginning in the 1980s, Weiner, who owned and operated the rare book store Escargot Books in Brielle, N.J., began donating his collection to Colgate in installments. He died in 2002.
    The images presented here are just a few of those included in the exhibition, which will open October 15 at Case Library and Geyer Center for Information Technology.

An avid photographer, Shaw recorded the photographs he made while visiting Italy in 1904 in his tiny, precise script in his Wellcome’s Photographic Exposure Record and Diary.

Alvin Langdon Coburn’s photogravure of Shaw appeared in the April 1908 issue of Alfred Stieglitz’s well-known photographic journal Camera Work. (©George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film)

Eduard Steichen’s four-color halftone portrait of Shaw appeared in the same Camera Work issue as the Coburn (above). (Permission of Joanna T. Steichen)

Colgate Connections

This 1929 photo, taken at a London hotel, depicts Shaw with Colgate’s academic dean at the time, William Crawshaw (pictured to the right of Shaw), and several students. Crawshaw, who was the acting dean of “The Floating University,” which sailed around the world with students from various colleges, describes the meeting in his memoir, My Colgate Years (1937).

Sir Robert Ho Tung (right), the Hong Kong industrialist and philanthropist, and grandfather of Colgate alumnus and benefactor Robert H.N. Ho ’56, inspired, in part, Shaw’s play Buoyant Billions. L.F.H. Beard took this photograph on July 4, 1949, just before Shaw’s 93rd birthday, and 16 months before his death, on the back porch of his home, Shaw’s Corner. Sir Robert was repaying an earlier visit by Shaw to Hong Kong. He also brought the colorful Chinese robe that Shaw is wearing, which later became part of the permanent display at Shaw’s Corner.

Shaw liked to divide his time between London and his country house at Ayot St. Lawrence (Shaw’s Corner). Wartime rationing made this impossible; hence, he announced his confinement in London with a caricature of himself, circa 1941.

George Bernard Shaw plays produced at Colgate

November 1951   Androcles and the Lion, Russell Speirs, director
April 1954   Candida, Russell Speirs, director
November 1960   The Shewing Up of Blanco Posnet, Russell Speirs, director
November 1961   The Devil’s Disciple, Russell Speirs, director
October 1964    Arms and the Man, Russell Speirs, director
July 1975    Candida, Jerome Kilty, director (Colgate Summer Theater)
July 1977    Heartbreak House, Atlee Sproul, director (Colgate Summer Theater)
July 1979    Major Barbara, Euan Smith, director (Colgate Summer Theater)
March 1991    Misalliance, Jerome Kilty, director
February 1992    Candida, Dean Keppler, director

Left: This mixed-media drawing of Shaw, with cloth and wood by someone named O.P., was autographed by Shaw with a touching note in 1948.

Thanks to exhibition curator Carl Peterson for his contributions to this article and to Warren Wheeler for his photographic assistance.

The exhibition of George Bernard Shaw items, A Writer and His Image, will be on view at Case Library and Geyer Center for Information Technology from Oct. 15 until Dec. 1, 2009. For information, call
315-228-7305. For information on other arts events, visit www.colgate.edu/arts