Buster Brown was originally a comic strip character created in 1902 by cartoonist Richard F. Outcault. Buster quickly became a popular culture icon with his blond pageboy haircut and what became known as a “Buster Brown suit,” typically comprised of short pants, a broad white collar and cuffs, a large bow tie, and shoes with straps. His dog Tige is often credited as being the first talking animal in the comics and as such was a groundbreaking character in this medium and an important influence later on with the advent of talking animated cartoons.
The original Broadway production of Buster Brown at the Majestic Theatre was from January to April 1905. Master Gabriel, born Gabriel Weigel (1882-1929), played Buster Brown, and reprised the role in the national touring production that followed the Broadway run. He also starred in the Broadway shows Little Nemo (1908), Racketty-Packetty House (1912-13) and Letty Pepper (1922). George Ali (1866-1947) played Buster’s dog Tige in the 1905 Broadway production of Buster Brown. He had a long career in burlesque, musical revues and comedies on Broadway from 1899 to 1935.
After Outcault started the comic strip in 1902, he quickly recognized the character’s marketing potential. By 1904, he had licensed the rights to the Brown Shoe Company to advertise their children’s shoes, an arrangement that continued for decades. In addition to print illustrations for Buster Brown shoes, the character was often portrayed by dwarf adult actors, who made promotional appearances at theaters and stores across the country, generally accompanied by an actual dog.
Cabinet cards are photographs mounted on card stock, generally around 4.5 by 6.5 inches, and were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The cards were typically imprinted with the name of the photography studio. Pairs of cabinet cards such as the offered pair that show a narrative sequence are very rare, as are photographs of Master Gabriel as Buster Brown with Tige. After an extensive online search, we have identified four extant related photos: The University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections Division has a photograph by White of Master Gabriel as Buster Brown with the rest of the cast of the travelling production on the stage of the Grand Opera House of Seattle in March 1908. Professor David S. Shields has two production stills in his collection of theatrical photographs showing Master Gabriel with Tige: one, taken by Hall and one taken by White. In the latter, Tige wears the same costume as in the offered pair of photos. The Wikipedia article on Buster Brown reproduces a studio photograph with Master Gabriel and Tige that appeared in a 1905 issue of Men’s Wear Semi-monthly.
White’s Photo Studio was a theatrical and portrait photography studio on Broadway in New York City. The founder, entrepreneur Luther S. White (1857-1936) employed a series of photographers to make the actual photographs, including Edward Thayer Monroe, Ralph Shaklee and George Lucas. Between 1905 and 1925, White’s was Broadway’s leading studio for the photography of theatrical productions, documenting performers in its studios and productions on site in the theaters. The studio also advertised its portraiture services to the public in periodicals such as Hints magazine, where it promoted its sepia finish cabinet photos and “life size” prints. Lucas, the firm’s leading stage photographer, and Monroe eventually left to form their own business. The White Studio archive was obtained by the Theater Collection of the New York Public Library, but many of the earliest glass plates were donated to the War Department during World War I for recycling.
Full publication information on mounts: “White, 1261 Broadway, New York.”
Title on mount under the main photograph on a separate piece of paper handwritten in ink in the period and adhered with glue: “Buster and Tige.”
Condition: Photograph and mounts very good with the usual overall toning, handling, light soiling, abrasions and stray marks. Greater wear to edges of mounts.
“Buster Brown.” Wikipedia. 10 January 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buster_Brown (6 August 2015).
“George Ali.” Internet Broadway Database. http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=29598 (6 August 2015).
Hints: The Entertainment Magazine. February 1908, No. 2. Online at Google Books: https://books.google.com/books?id=gPZKAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA106& (6 August 2015).
“Master Gabriel.” Internet Broadway Database. http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=41596 (6 August 2015).
“Master Gabriel.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2268908/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm (6 August 2015).
Shields, David. “Re: White Studios Buster Brown Photos.” E-mail. 6 August 2015.
Shields, David. “Studios, White.” Broadway Photographs, University of South Carolina. http://broadway.cas.sc.edu/content/studios-white (6 August 2015).