the Beauty and the Cast

In 1942, famous Herald Traveler photographer Leslie Jones chose a truly extraordinary location in Boston for a photo shooting with the burlesque dancer Susan Shaw also known as Miss Shaw and Sweet Susan.

Although it was an unusual place to set a photo shoot of this type, the cast gallery of Pietro and Emilio Caproni was famous both in Boston and throughout the mid west for the evocative collection, atmosphere and beauty of the casts of Classical Greek, roman, renaissance and American modern. Famous personalities from politics, art and entertainment, over the years, had visited the gallery and among these also the actress Eleonora Duse. Leader on the plaster casts market in America for over a hundred years, the historic firm in 1942 had already started its inexorable decline. With no more large commissions as in the past decades from school institutions and public buildings, the saturated market, the great cheap competition and not least the death of Pietro Caproni in 1928, the return of Emilio to Italy in 1932, the business had led to a series of changes owned changes until the definitive stop in the late 1950s. Of the rich collection and quality of the casts as was in the past, only the name remains which echoes in the modern years but it is only a legacy of the past. Neither the rich collection, nor the quality of the casts could never come back. 

Leslie Ronald Jones was an extraordinary photographer who in almost 40 years of employment at the Herald Traveler has captured all kinds of subjects, events and people describing with photographs the America of those years, each image by Jones represent a story, without spend other words. He attended the Boston sports club, clubhouse and nightclub too, so he was able to describe these worlds, environments and people using his shots.  In the series of photos captured in the cast gallery, the burlesue dancer Miss Shaw is portrayed in an ironic way, while she talks and plays with the historical and impressive casts using lightness and joy. The sensuality of her body and the eroticism of her shows on  stage are blurred here, as used without vulgarity or too explicit. The final  destination of the photos is not known and even if they were commissioned by Miss Shaw or by the publisher.

An image shows a man in craftsman’s clothes, he is Leonello ‘Leo’ Toschi, Italian master mold maker who studied casting in Museum of Naples and was the ‘foreman’ for over 50 years at the historical workshop. At the time of the shooting, Leo was the current president of the business. It is interesting to note that the gallery is a bit shabby, many casts are missing, foreshortening you can see some tampered walls, these are all signs of the hard and difficult years of the firm which would cease to exist within a few years.