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James Hargis Connelly

Time Period: 
Kansas City; Chicago


Born in Wisconsin, photographer and playwright, James Hargis Connelly, felt his wanderlust at an early age. He arrived in Kansas City in 1916 and announced to Orval Hixon that he wanted to go into partnership with him because the young photographer had the best advertising in the city. Hixon and Connelly worked together for a little over a year, with Connelly absorbing a great deal of Hixon's artistry. It was Connelly's theatrical connections that brought the studio its initial contact with the world of performers.

America's entry into World War I moved Connelly to enlist, securing a berth as a photographer in the signal Corps. After the War, Hixon bought out Connelly's share of the business. Connelly moved to Chicago and commenced a twenty-year career as an entertainment photographer. By 1922, he was placing entertainer portraits regularly in the pages of the Chicago Tribune. When radio exploded into popularity in the late 1920s, Connelly became the chief producer of photographic publicity for Chicago’s powerful broadcast stations. Connelly was unusual among members of his craft for always copyrighting his work and insisting on notice of that fact being given in his credit line.

During the late 1930s, Connelly became fascinated in the recovery of American folk lore and folk song that was part of the cultural program of the political left. In December 1940, he organized a theatrical group that specialized in "mountain folk lore plays." Its first offering was Lulu Vollmer's "Sun-up," a drama of the Carolina hills with Connelly directing. Once bitten by the theatrical bug, Connelly was infected. He created a 75-seat theater in the Kimball Building, began writing his own plays, collaborating with Anthony Kerr in another piece of Caroliniana, "Rat Holler" and having his amateur troupe perform unusual fare, such as the old melodrama "East Lynne" in 1941 and Synge's "Riders to the Sea" in 1942. By 1942 his troupe had acquired the name "The Showboat Players" and gained a reputation for experimenting with anachronistic acting styles associated with 19th-century theatre. This tendency reached a culmination in winter 1943 withl a full-blown revival of the stage version of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" - including the famous apotheosis scene with Eva literally winging to heaven. Connelly’s own playwriting in the neo-melodramatic mold continued apace with his 1943 collaboration with Elizabeth Lynch, "Circus." In summer 1943, he trod the board for the first times playing a huckstering "opry house proprietor" in "East Lynne."

After the end of World War II, Connelly’s troupe disbanded and he assuaged his theatrical yearnings by acting with the Uptown Players. His photography throughout the 1940s languished. David S. Shields/ALS


Despite learning the greater part of his art from an adventurous experimentalist in imagery, Orval Hixon, Connelly cultivated a straight style of portraiture. A specialist in female headshots, usually presented with a focal point a little above the sitter's brow line, half-length portraits and full-figure likenesses were relatively rare in his oeuvre. A masterful retoucher, all of his heads are free of blemishes, well-disposed in the pictorial field, and lit to give a richly toned three-dimensional relief.