Charles Dickens and Show Biz

[Playbill] Theatre Royal, Portsmouth. September 14–16, 1871.

Announcing a performance of Little Nelly. This “Celebrated Version”

of Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop was produced by G. Murray;

after the initial performances in Portsmouth, Little Nelly opened in

London at the Surrey on November 23, 1872. 

Charles Dickens loved the theater, and the theater loved him. A life-long passion for the stage drove Dickens to write, produce, direct, and act in theatricals; to include his children and their friends in home-theater performances; and to mount benefit performances in support of worthy causes and indigent friends. Dickens, a champion of social reform and a harsh critic of greed and ignorance, used public reading tours to entertain and spread his message. His passionate performances attracted thousands of admirers, raised huge sums of money, and delighted readers and theatergoers across Britain and America.

Charles Dickens and Show Biz opens Monday, October 2, in the Peterson Gallery and Munger Rotunda on the second floor of the Bing Wing of Green Library. The exhibit is one of the first to explore the many inventive connections between Dickens and the entertainment industry, which embraced his work as a virtually limitless source of theatrical material. Visitors will see how the performing arts have creatively interpreted Dickens’s most enduring themes: the misery of neglected and abused children; the unfairness that creeps into judicial systems and the cruelty of punishments not suited to their crimes; the sinister after-effects of prosperity and rank; and the hope of redemption and spiritual rebirth for those who come to reform their ways.

Colorful theater playbills, a dramatic part of the show, feature Dickens as actor, producer, and stage director. One, with classic Dickensian humor, advertises two-year-old Edward Dickens’s first stage appearance (in the Dickens home theater and with other family members in the cast) as Mr. Plornishmaroontigoonter in a festive holiday play. Another playbill, foreshadowing a deep emotional crisis, announces a performance of The Frozen Deep in Manchester, England. There, Dickens performed with the young actress Ellen Ternan. The relationship between the two, begun in 1857 when Dickens was forty-five and Ternan was eighteen, developed into a notorious liaison that led to the tragic breakup of Dickens’s marriage, and an outpouring of nasty publicity.

Theater and film fans will enjoy diverse and colorful movie memorabilia, advertising (in Dickensian roles) some of entertainment’s greatest Hollywood and Broadway stars: W. C. Fields, Lon Chaney, George C. Scott, Sally Field, Patrick Stewart, Alfre Woodard, and Mickey Mouse. Comic strip enthusiasts will see early appearances, in comic form, of Dickens characters from Oliver Twist. Music lovers will find examples of sheet music inspired by Dickens stories and characters, and several 33rpm audio recordings that derive from Dickens.

The exhibit contains rare first and early editions of dramatic works by Dickens and his contemporaries, and original letters written by friends and associates who had a hand in shaping Dickens’s theatrical career.

In conjunction with the exhibit, the Stanford University Libraries announces the publication of the exhibition catalogue, Charles Dickens and Show Biz. The catalogue includes the full exhibition text and is generously illustrated, with some images in color. The per-copy cost is $23.00 plus tax and shipping. To purchase by mail: print, fill out, and send the order form located at, along with your check or money order. Inquiries: All proceeds from sales benefit Stanford University Libraries Special Collections.

Charles Dickens and Show Biz, which is free and open to the public, will be on display from October 2, 2006 through January 28, 2007.


PLEASE NOTE: For further information about the exhibition, please contact Becky Fischbach at 650-725-1020 or via e-mail at

LOCATION: Peterson Gallery, Green Library Bing Wing, Second Floor Stanford University, Stanford, CA

NOTE: first-time visitors must register at the east entrance portal to gain access to the library. Green Library's east wing entrance faces Meyer Library. For a map of campus and transportation information, go to

HOURS: Exhibit cases are illuminated Monday-Friday from 10 am to 6 pm; Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm, and Sunday 1 to 6 pm. The gallery is accessible whenever Green Library is open and hours vary with the academic schedule. For library hours, call 650-723-0931.

Images available upon request.


[Postcard] Micawber. London: G. D. & D., no date [circa early 1900s].

Bransby Williams appears in his role as Wilkins Micawber in David



[Sheet Music] Grant Stewart and Manuel Klein.Boys Will Be Boys

New York: M. Witmark & Sons, 1902. 

This song is from Mr. Pickwick, A Musical Comedy in Two Acts

It was produced by the DeWolf Hopper Opera Co. in 1903.