Urban Archeologist: Who was Victor Cromwell?

Like bumping into an old friend...

This past Sunday I stopped by the Elephant’s Trunk flea market. Early in the afternoon as dealers were packing up I stumbled across a large wooden box of old papers. On the first envelope and each of the various papers beneath was the same name — Victor Cromwell. The name seemed familiar, and I like a good coincidence, but did I know the owner of these papers sitting in the middle of a field? I shouldn’t have been surprised at the answer. This is Urban Archeology — when you start digging into the past you begin to see how everything is connected in some way.

I first heard the name “Victor Cromwell” 20 years ago from long-time community producer Dolly Curtis. As a prolific interviewer she has met and talked with more people in Fairfield County than I could ever know. Her program, “Dolly Curtis Interviews,” has been a staple of local programming for years and it would never have happened if it weren’t for a retired CBS cameraman, Victor Cromwell. He came to Dolly and suggested combining her gift for interviewing with his passion for shooting and editing. Their partnership lasted for more than 100 episodes of the series.

Several years later I met Victor at a meeting regarding community television. Though he seemed withered and weary, he was actually tenacious and outspoken about the medium and the craft of local television production. That he had been a retired CBS cameraman fascinated me for the opportunity he had to see the golden age of television from the inside. Unfortunately, I never got to talk with him about it.

Years after that, in the basement of a Newtown estate sale, I found copies of the trade publication “The SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers) Journal.” These are steeped in the jargon of the men and women who built, maintained, adjusted, operated, and questioned the technologies that made the broadcast and entertainment industry run. Flipping through one of those journals from the 1950s I found, in a list of current members, Victor Cromwell, CBS cameraman.

Sadly, in 2009, Victor Hugo Cromwell passed away at the age of 92. He had stopped assisting Dolly Curtis due his declining health and it was through her that I had heard the news. What pained me most was that he had been a voracious collector of film and TV memorabilia as well as an avid photographer and the collection in his Norwalk home was too large and disorganized for his relatives to save. An estate cleaning service came through and collected what they could before the home was demolished. I must have winced the same way Obi-Wan Kenobi did when the Empire destroyed Alderaan, “…as if a million pieces of ephemera suddenly cried out, and were suddenly silenced…”

The box I purchased Sunday contained a collection of papers Victor had saved over the years — from school assignments to ‘30s era home design, photo equipment catalogs from the ‘40s, and hundreds of theatre programs from New Haven to Broadway during ‘50s and ‘60s. As you can see from the images above, Victor collected it all. After speaking with friends, and his brother in researching this story, I feel like I know him a little… better late than never.

More from Victor’s collection: See if you can figure out what medicine was called “BC” and why it came with a dose of Shirley Temple.

 Greg Van Antwerp is a Brookfield resident and blogger, who can be found on the weekends in search of a good “dig” or a good story. You can read more about his adventures by visiting his blog.


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