I get to see a lot of really cool things as part of my job. Whether it’s a hastily scribbled annotation, a heartfelt letter, or a detailed daily dairy, sifting through the personal and business papers of major performing arts figures often yields more than a few gems. Discovery is part of the regular workday for an archivist, and it’s our job to make sure valuable nuggets of information can be found by anyone else prospecting in them there hills. Every once in a while, though, I come across something that makes even a seasoned digger like me go, “Wait…what?” Today, fellow miner, I bring you one such strange jewel.
It began like any other day. I was processing the Brill Family Collection of Programs, which document the theatrical offerings attended by Richard S. Brill and his parents, Maurice and Rhona Brill. Maurice Brill was one three brothers who started a men’s clothing chain in New York City in the early decades of the 20th century. The family name endures on the Brill Building, in the 1960s a home to songwriters and music producers located at 1619 Broadway; one of the Brill Brothers’ stores was located on the street level. The Brill family were theatergoers, and the programs and fliers in the collection document what they saw in the 1920s and 1930s.
While organizing and documenting these approximately 150 items, I came across an odd program cover featuring the ornate initials “RG.” Curious as to what theatrical venue or production this could refer to, I opened the program to see a listing for a show titled The Perfect Day and featuring “a carefully selected cast headed by YOU.”
“Huh?” I snorted, and turned the page. Sure enough, the complete cast list identified the character of “Patron” as played by “You.” The remaining characters in the cast consisted of other patrons played by “Themselves” and several restaurant workers including a maître d’, a chef, and a series of waiters described according to physical or personality traits such as bald, plump, timid, blond, etc. I am somewhat embarrassed to say, fellow prospector, that it took me all the way to the bottom of the page to realize that I was not looking at newly discovered evidence of experimental theater, but in fact was holding a fully articulated advertisement for a restaurant, The Richmond Grill.
While advertisements within a theatrical program are commonplace, I had never uncovered a completely separate ad that so entirely mimicked the layout and contents of a program. It has a complete synopsis of scenes outlined as the courses of a meal and features a “Who’s Who in the Cast” providing biographical notes on the chef, greeter, producer, and even me–or rather, “You.” Apparently, You are “a distinctive type.” Musical entertainment is provided by “The Beach Boys” (not those Beach Boys), and they along with the “The Greeter” are the only individuals in the cast listed with last names.
To provide a dash of dramatic conflict, the Richmond Grill has assigned the role of “villain” to Prohibition, that period in United States history between 1920 and 1933 when the production and sale of alcoholic beverages was banned. The entire program is designed to highlight and celebrate the end of Prohibition with a short essay on personal liberty on the inside cover and an extensive biographical note for “The Villain.” A flier inserted in the program announced the return engagement of “America’s favorite personal liberty” with the passing of the Twenty-first Amendment which ended Prohibition. The Twenty-first Amendment was fully ratified on December 5, 1933; the program likely dates from late in 1933 or early in 1934.
I wasn’t able to dig up much about the fate of the Richmond Grill or identity of its manager, John. Who were the Beach Boys? Did a waiter named Nino ever actually work there, and how did he feel about being described as timid? According to current maps, a public plaza is now found at the restaurant’s address, 70 West 46th Street, New York, NY. Yet, given the prevalence of advertisement in every aspect of the 21st century’s entertainment offerings, it is an unusual bit of evidence from a particular time in the country’s history. Further excavation could unearth more questions. The cut of this strange gem can also inspire, for who among us wouldn’t want to imagine The Perfect Day, starring You?