“Betty always said, ‘We want to capture the crackle of live,’” Mr. Hoffman said.
And so the archive did, making its first recording in the autumn of 1970: the obscure Japanese avant-garde Off Broadway rock musical “Golden Bat.” It wasn’t until January 1974 that Ms. Corwin added her first Broadway show to the collection: “Liza,” which Liza Minnelli performed at the Winter Garden Theater at the height of her fame. Another early coup for theatrical history was the Public Theater’s pre-Broadway production of “A Chorus Line,” in 1975.
The collection includes every play in August Wilson’s 20th-century cycle, starting with “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” in 1985; the 1978 New York Shakespeare Festival production of “The Taming of the Shrew,” starring Meryl Streep and Raul Julia; the original Broadway production of “Angels in America,” recorded in 1994; and the 1988 Lincoln Center Theater production of “Waiting for Godot,” starring Robin Williams and Steve Martin.
Ms. Corwin and the archive won a special Tony Award in 2001.
Which shows are recorded depends on permission from the production, the judgment of the archive’s director and, crucially, the means to pay for it. The producer Harold Prince was such a supporter of the archive, Mr. Hoffman said, that he established an endowment to help it document musical theater. Some shows, like the recent Broadway musical “The Prom,” pay for their own taping.
All that’s generally required to watch the recorded productions, which become available after a show closes, is a New York Public Library card (or, for out-of-staters, a temporary visitor’s card) and a valid research purpose.
Betty Linkoff was born in New York City on Nov. 19, 1920, to James Linkoff, a bookmaker, and Mae (Rosenberg) Linkoff, a homemaker. She grew up in Manhattan.
She worked as a script reader in a theatrical office and married Henry Corwin, a dermatologist, in 1943, eventually moving with him first to Westport and then Weston, Conn. She helped establish a progressive bookshop in Westport and volunteered in the psychiatric emergency room of Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx.