Fern Helscher was the publicist and booking agent for Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers in the 1930s, promoting and arranging the company’s performances and tours in the United States and Europe. With the establishment of Jacob’s Pillow as an educational and performance venue, Helscher served as the business manager, and publicist for the theater. Her close relationship with Ted Shawn was the basis for her possession of an extraordinary array of documents and photographs that evidence Mr. Shawn’s artistic career, as well as her own professional acumen and efforts. Her collection consists of personal papers, client documents and photographs, travel related materials, papers and photographs of Ted Shawn and Jacob’s Pillow, and personal and dance photographs.
Biographical/historical: Fern Helscher was born in 1901, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. W.P. Helscher of Robstown, Texas. She graduated from Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas, in 1917, and first met Ted Shawn in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1928. In 1933 she began work as the press agent and booking manager for Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers. It was Helscher's efforts that made possible the now legendary 1,000 one-night performances of Shawn's company. Her close working relationship with Shawn extended into the 1940s when she assumed the position of business manager for Jacob's Pillow in Lee, Massachusetts. In 1948 Helscher organized and accompanied businessman Edward T. Clark during his tour of the Middle East and Asia as he endeavored to promote the World Government concept to foreign dignitaries after the tragedy of World War II. In the 1940s and 1950s Helscher promoted many dance artists, including José Limon, and Barton Mumaw. During the 1960s she traveled extensively, and in 1974 Helscher died on a return flight to New York City after a tour of Indian Ocean islands and West African countries.
Content: The Fern Helscher Papers are comprised of materials that document her life from 1933 to 1971. Her professional career as a publicist and business manager in the 1930s and 1940s was important because of her vital contribution to the phenomena that was Ted Shawn, whose related documents and photographs comprise a substantial portion of the collection.
The Personal materials are comprised primarily of correspondence, 1935-1969, and diaries, 1933-1968. There are articles, brochures and magazines that were of interest to Helscher, and a small set of poignant handwritten notes, the beginnings of an autobiography. She was well traveled, and materials regarding her tours visiting three continents are present. The Edward T. Clark folders in the Client Series, and the World Government folder in the Travel series, both contain materials related to Helscher's role as Representative to Clark on their World Tour for World Government in 1948.
The Clients series includes not only well known artists, such as José Limon, but others that were members of the Jacob's Pillow faculty including Mme. Argentinita, La Meri, and Joseph H. Pilates. From 1938-1947 Helscher represented Barton Mumaw, lead dancer of Ted Shawn's company and Shawn's devoted lover. His folders include a handwritten biographical outline and an autographed program from his Carnegie Chamber Music Hall debut in 1941. Other popular dance artists that were represented by Helscher are Grace and Kurt Graff, Gladys and Reginald Laubin, and Arthur Mahoney and Thalia Mara. Helscher was also the publicist for her former classmate, noted war correspondent and anti-communist, H.R. Knickerbocker, whose photographs include him with such notables as General and Madame Chiang Kai Shek, Ekaterina Djugashvili - the mother of Joseph Stalin taken in 1930, and Emperor Haille Selassie.