Marjorie Himmelstern was a grand neice of prominent playwrite, producer, and theatre owner David Belasco, who was born in San Francisco in 1853 to Humphrey (1830-1911) and Reyna (b. 1830) Belasco, emigrants from London, England. Humphrey and Reyna had 10 children, including Frederic (Frederick), Walter, Edward, George, and Sarah. David Belasco started his theatrical career as a child actor, but he switched to stage managing and producing as a young man. He built and managed two theatres in New York City, the Stuyvesant and the Belasco, and he promoted the careers of several accomplished actors, including David Warfield. He rose to success at the turn of the century, a period in which theatre management practices were tending towards combination, organization, and efficiency. Belasco challenged the attempt by a partnership of six producers, which was known as the Theatrical Syndicate, to exert national control over theatrical production and exhibition. A flamboyant man, Belasco was also a prolific playwright. Among his most well-known works is "The Golden Girl of the West," which was adapted as an opera by Puccini. David Belasco married and had two daughters, Reyna Victoria and Augusta. In 1894, Frederic Belasco, David's brother, formed the Alcazar Stock Company in San Francisco with M.E. Mayer. Belasco and Mayer, with the help of several Belasco brothers, produced and staged plays each week for a theatre-hungry public. In time, the Company had 30 actors on its staff. In 1907, the brothers-in-law Belasco and Mayer built a new theatre at Sutter and Steiner streets to showcase their productions. Within four years, the partners had outgrown that venue and relocated "uptown" to the new 1,400-seat Alcazar Theatre on O'Farrell, between Powell and Mason.
The collection consists mainly of materials relating to David Belasco and his family collected by Belasco's grand niece Marjorie Himmelstern. There are also materials relating to the Bender family, who were maternal relations of Ms. Himmelstern. Included are 1907 and 1911 programs from the New Alcazar Theatre; newspaper clippings about David Belasco and the New Alcazar Theatre; a program from a 1921 dinner honoring David Belasco given by the Society of Arts and Sciences at the Biltmore Hotel in New York City; and two volumes of issues of the New Alcazar Messenger (a weekly publication of the New Alcazar Theatre) from 1907 through 1910. Photographs in the collection include: a photograph of Reyna Belasco (1892); a seemingly earlier, undated photograph of Humphrey and Reyna Belasco; photographs of Noah Bender, the donor's maternal grandfather (1926); David Belasco's publicity stills; and a photograph from a Bender family photo album of a woman cooking on a stove outside, apparently as a result of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake (labeled "Mrs. Hahn, 1906"). Oversize items consist of the following: pages from a David Belasco scrapbook, which include a series of 12 photographs (1909) of Belasco (apparently in his home) taken by the Byron Company, the great New York photography studio that specialized in photographing Broadway theatrical productions; a photograph of David Belasco's daughter Reina; a photograph of David Belasco's daughter Augusta; a photograph of Humphrey and David Belasco; a caricature of the New Alcazar Theatre staff; and newspaper clippings.