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January 18, 2021

Actors’ Fund Fair, New York, 1917

Founded in 1882, the Actors’ Fund bankrolled everything from burial plots to elder-care accommodations for destitute theater professionals. In 1917, the group organized the 10-day Actors’ Fund Fair at New York’s Grand Central Palace to help finance those efforts. The event included stage actresses dressed as nurses who stood next to machine guns and demonstrated how to roll bandages. In addition to exhibits selling hot dogs and Native American crafts, there was a makeshift studio filming movies with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Fatty Arbuckle, all of which helped the fair raise $80,000.

The Actors’ Fair was a charity fundraiser that netted about $80,000 during its 10-day run in May, 1917, at the Grand Central Palace on Lexington between 46th and 47th. (Library of Congress)

Built in 1911, the Grand Central Palace was a 13-story office building with three floors of public exhibition and entertainment halls and meeting rooms. It also housed the main New York induction center for American military recruits during World War I. The formidably guarded Army-Navy Tea Room was located in a partitioned section of the main exhibition hall's balcony.

According to the NY Times, 7,000 attended the first night’s festivities, which were opened by Woodrow Wilson pressing a telegraph key from the White House. Louise Homer sang the National Anthem from the balcony, accompanied by the 22nd Regiment Band from Governor’s Island and the Marine Corps Band from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The Fair included booths of goods donated by more than 500 merchants, and hawked to the crowds by popular New York stage celebrities.


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