"Musser University" Grads
Monograph in Libraries
Ten of Tharon Musser's assistants traveled to Phoenix, Arizona in March to participate in the events surrounding the launch of The Designs of Tharon Musser at the USITT Annual Conference & Stage Expo.
The book, the third in the USITT Designer Monograph series, was written by Delbert Unruh with Marilyn Rennagel and Jeff Davis, and was based in part on extensive interviews with Musser's assistants -- or the Alumni of Musser University as they often called themselves.
At the end of the Conference, the assistants desired to do something that would memorialize Ms. Musser in a more permanent way. The first idea was to purchase the Barrymore's sign. Barrymore's was a bar on West 45th Street across from the John Golden Theatre in New York -- a favorite watering hole of Ms. Musser on Broadway. "Let's go to the bar," was her legendary invitation to the electricians and the assistants at the end of every rehearsal of the Broadway show she was working on at the time.
At Barrymore's they would all sit and joke and, more importantly, discuss what had to be done before the next rehearsal in a relaxed environment. And of course they had a drink -- or two -- or three.
For Ms. Musser it was Cutty Sark Scotch only. Every one of the assistants could recall at least one happy memory there with Ms. Musser. Barrymore's had closed and was slated for demolition. The sign was available for sale on e-bay. Very quickly the assistants raised almost all the money for the purchase of the sign; and then someone asked the obvious question: "What are we going to do with it once we buy it?" No one seemed to have an answer.
Ken Billington offered to store the sign in his warehouse, but the more everyone thought about it, that project just didn't seem worth doing. Then David F. Segal suggested, instead of buying the sign, the assistants buy copies of The Designs Of Tharon Musser and distribute them free of charge to college and university libraries in all 50 states.
This idea attracted even more interest, and contributions were received from a total of 19 assistants and friends of Ms. Musser. Kendall Smith coordinated the project and, with the help of USITT VP-Communication Bobbi Owen, arranged the purchase of monographs as gifts to approximately 250 university libraries. The books carry a bookplate identifying it as a gift from the Alumni of Musser University.
The project was made possible by the generous contributions of Ms. Musser's assistants and friends and is a fitting memorial to one of America's greatest lighting designers.