I've always been fascinated by collecting and collections of all types so when I ran across mention of Roland Young's penguin collection I was intrigued and wanted to know more. I first saw mention of Young's collecting mania in a TIME Magazine article early into the research for my recent Elissa Landi post, but now that I've reactivated my NewspaperArchive.com subscription it should be no surprise that I'm going to use it to hunt info on the most obscure factoids that strike my fancy!
Before I even get to good ole Cosmo Topper's most famed collection I also ran across info about another area Young collected in which seemed worth mention: antique canes. The prize of Young's cane collection was the one owned by John Wilkes Booth at the time of Lincoln's assassination, while other mentioned sticks were the one carried on stage by actor Otis Skinner in Honor of the Family and a very unusual "one which includes the sheathing of a violin, equipped with a collapsible bridge and a bow" (Roland Young Is Ace Cane Collector). The violin cane originated from Saxony, circa 1760.
But it is penguins which color so much of the black & white coverage of Roland Young throughout his career. Following are some quotes clipped from articles I found and arranged chronologically which give a good idea to the size and scope of his collection:
- "Roland Young has a large collection of droll looking toy penguins about his room." The Bismarck Tribune, April 28, 1928.
- "His hobby is collecting porcelain, clay and other models of penguins. The penguin is Young's favorite bird. He says they have a government organization resembling that of humans." Wallace X. Rawles, Cumberland Evening Times, August 12, 1931
- "The walls of Roland Young's den are covered with pictures of penguins; the shelves are stocked with hundreds of tiny reproductions of the bird that walks like a man; there are doorstops, book-ends, paper weights, penholders, ashtrays, cigarette boxes and bottle-stoppers made in the image of the fascinating bird.
'Penguins are romantic,' asserted the hero of many screen plays. 'The male is always faithful to his choice. He courts her just as a human being courts his mate ... If the female bird likes him, she gives him a peck on the chest; if she doesn't like him, she probably gives him a jab in the eye.'" Alice L. Tildesley, Oakland Tribune, April 3, 1932.
- "Perhaps the most sincere pet fadist of all, however, is Roland Young ... Penguins have been Roland's hobby. He has collected thousands of pictures, paintings and statues of penguins. Yet he has never owned a live one ... He discovered that penguin eggs, imported from South Africa, can be purchased for $2 a dozen in London, and is bringing back several hundred." Gilbert Swan, Syracuse Herald, May 27, 1932.
- "In that den, and all over the house for that matter, are hundreds of penguins. One shelf is fairly cluttered with battalions of the birds. There are penguins everywhere." Article by Robbin Coons, Gettysburg Times, July 16, 1932
- "Most specialized doodler in town is Roland Young--he never draws anything but penguins." Jimmie Fidler, Chronicle Telegram, June 10, 1938.
- "Give Roland Young a telephone, pencil and a piece of paper and he'll draw penguins every time." Jimmie Fidler, Nevada State Journal, May 31, 1939.
- "Roland Young's romance with the new Egyptian gal is based on something less fickle than love ... they are both mad about penguins." John Truesdale, Oakland Tribune, April 30, 1941
- "Look out for animal questions from Clifton Fadiman's corner when Information Please takes the air Friday ... Roland Young is making a return engagement to the board of experts' table, and Fadiman found out one night last year that the popular actor knows his zoology. He is widely traveled and wild life is his hobby, with the accent on penguins, of which he owns a rare collection of stuffed specimens." The Lima News, May 22, 1942.
- "Roland's house is up for sale--all his belongings, including a priceless collection of penguins." Hedda Hopper, San Antonio Express, August 8, 1943.
- "He collected penguins of all kinds because penguins in life most nearly approached his estimation of it. They had dignity and a kind of touching comicality, both of which he believed essential to any interesting man." Article by Whitney Bolton, Chronicle Telegram, June 13, 1953.
I did try a deeper search of the 1943 papers hoping to come up with something to corroborate Hedda Hopper's tidbit about Young selling off his penguin collection with his house, but I came up empty. He seemed pretty active throughout '43, though he did divorce his first wife in 1940 so if I were to speculate perhaps the alimony was cramping his lifestyle? Of course that might just be a total throw away line in Hopper's article as well, though it is interesting to note that the only reference I could find to the penguin collection after that was in a 1953 article remembering Young after his death.
Did he sell the collection? I don't know.
"Roland Young Is Ace Cane Collector." Charleston Gazette 30 October 1938: 30.
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