Eight playbills for different theater shows are laid out on a wooden table.

Recently, I took a turn away from my standard digital work to do something I haven’t done since I was a teeny weeny undergraduate student about….ten years ago (hey, 30s are the new 20s)—PROCESSING!

And I got a great collection to jump into.  The materials belonged to a late GMU professor, Dr. Martin Cohen (d. 2019). Cohen had a passion for history and taught it at George Mason for over 35 years, but his other passion was the arts! During his life, Cohen saw hundreds—and I mean hundreds—of plays, musicals, and films and his collection contains playbills and programs and posters highlighting his love of performance.

Dr. Martin B. Cohen sits at a desk with a large computer, a typewriter, and several bookcases behind him.
Dr. Martin B. Cohen.

Here’s an overview of what the collection includes:

Playbills—Cohen must have had busy weekends, because his collection had so many playbills that it took me several days to go through them all!  Some of the performances he saw include well-known classics, like Twelve Angry Men and Cabaret.  Others are more obscure, like Waiting for Lefty and My Name is Alice.  And they don’t just include plays!  Cohen’s performance programs include artists like Alison Krauss and Shirley Maclaine, as well as local musical groups like the City of Fairfax Band.  I’ve got to imagine that he saw just about everything—good, bad, or in between!  And yet all of them were worth remembering.

Eight playbills for different theater shows are laid out on a wooden table.
A sample of some of Dr. Cohen’s playbills.

Posters—Cohen’s love of performance obviously had to include film.  He was the ultimate fan of old Hollywood, and his collection contains over a hundred posters advertising old films like The Music Man and The Ten Commandments.  Bible and historical stories were major fodder in the early heyday of the silver screen, so the posters include movies like David and Bathsheba, Alexander the Great, and Cleopatra.  Going through them is a great exploration of how film has changed over time.

A gray archival box lying on a table. A poster for the film "Don Juan" is laying in the upper lefthand corner. Inside the box is a large pile of film posters, the top of which shows a poster for the film "Alexander the Great."
They loved their epics.
A large cardboard box with cardboard storage tubes of different sizes and colors upright in it. The box is sitting on a carpeted floor by some metal shelves which hold original rolled items.
Oh yeah, there are posters in these tubes too.

Artifacts—Rounding out Cohen’s collection are a variety of his other collectibles, including vintage comic books and sheet music of Broadway standards.  But, let me tell you, there are a ton of gems in here.  Did you know that there were games focused on Disney characters, like Donald Duck and Pinocchio? Well, there are, and Cohen collected them.

A framed board game themed after Walt Disney's Pinocchio. The board game is laid out in the frame, with wooden game pieces and cards are also laid out.
I ain’t lying!

Do you remember those old classic Viewmasters? Cohen did, because he had one of the very first Viewmaster Stereoscopes with reels of U.S. landmarks and National Parks.

A vintage Viewmaster with a pile of reels next to it. Two reels are displayed that appear to showcase landscapes.
This is the grownup version of the one I had as a kid.

Probably the most unique thing this box contains is an “Auto-Magic Picture Gun”—that is, a projector that looks like a gun you can “shoot” at a wall. Oh, the things people come up with!

An Auto-Magic Picture Gun on display, showing the gun-shaped projector, as well as what appears to be additional reels to load into it.
Wow, folks

The Cohen collection is a treasure trove if you’re a fan of film, theatre, music, or just interesting people! The fully processed collection is now open for research in SCRC! Check it out!

Follow SCRC on Social Media and look out for future posts on our FacebookInstagram, and Twitter accounts.  To search the collections held at Special Collections Research Center, go to our website and browse the finding aids by subject or title. You may also e-mail us at speccoll@gmu.edu or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have questions.

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