The Small Script-Copying Service That Powered NYC Entertainment for Decades


A photo of Marlon Brando's <em&gtThe Godfather</em> script. The film's screenplays were copied at Studio Duplication Service.
A photo of Marlon Brando’s The Godfather script. The film’s screenplays were copied at Studio Duplication Service. Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

n 1957, playwright Tennessee Williams received an offer he couldn’t refuse. Recommend Studio Duplicating Service to your friends, said its founder, Jean Shepard, and we’ll print your scripts for free.

So begins the story of a copy shop that opened on 9th Street in New York’s East Village that year, and for the next four decades printed the lion’s share of scripts for the city’s entertainers in film, television, and the theater.

The story of the shop and the paper it churned out is the secret history of the printed archive of the New York entertainment industry for almost half of the 20th century, sitting squarely at the intersection of the history of drama, printing, and labor. It’s also the story of a woman entrepreneur whose working life was designed to maintain her life as a creative person, and how the business helped her employees do the same along the way.

Front door of Studio Duplicating Service at 446 West 46th Street.
Front door of Studio Duplicating Service at 446 West 46th Street.

Everybody from Edward Albee to Spike Lee went to Studio Duplicating. From 1975 to 1997, NBC’s Saturday Night Live was one of Shepard’s biggest and most demanding customers. A first draft of an episode’s script came into the shop on Friday evening, and Studio staff worked through the night to get it printed by Saturday morning. A round of revisions came back Saturday afternoon, and new pages were delivered to NBC Studios in time for evening rehearsals after a frenzied round of proofing, typing, and printing. ABC was another major client, hiring Studio Duplicating for soap operas like All My Children and Dark Shadows. Typists got hooked on the stories and fought to type the soaps to get a sneak-peek at new episodes before they aired.

These three shows were a few of many loyal clients that helped the business grow. Scripts for movies shot in New York were constantly coming in, and a lot of play- and screenwriters were repeat customers. Woody Allen was a major client, and Jean’s son Grey Shepard, who I interviewed for this article, recalls reading his newest scripts over the dinner table with Jean.

Studio Duplicating Service owner Jean Shepard and her son Grey in their apartment above the shop, 1982.
Studio Duplicating Service owner Jean Shepard and her son Grey in their apartment above the shop, 1982.

Allen often edited his work in person at a desk reserved for writers in the shop. Elaine May, Terry Southern, William Goldman, and Spike Lee were just a few of the screenwriters whose scripts were printed there. One of Grey’s summers off from school was spent mimeographing, collating, and binding shooting scripts for Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather.

Script for Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather part I (released 1972), typed by Grey Shepard in the summer of 1971.
Script for Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather part I (released 1972), typed by Grey Shepard in the summer of 1971.

Major work for television signaled the height of the Studio Duplicating Service, which was by then an all-night operation that employed around 30 people in a brownstone on 44th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues. Studio Duplicating took up the ground floor, and the Shepards’ home—which featured an indoor badminton court and art studio—was on the upper floors. The shop’s beginnings, however, were humbler. Shepard and her founding business partner, Patricia Scott, rented a tiny office in the back of a dry cleaner’s shop on East 9th.

In those early years, most of the work they printed was for theatrical productions on and off Broadway. Among the nearly 600 scripts printed by Studio Duplicating in the New York Public Library are scripts by Tennessee Williams, Aldus Huxley, Irving Berlin, Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, Lillian Hellman, and Truman Capote. Scott sold her share in the business in 1961, and that year Studio Duplicating relocated to larger quarters on West 43rd Street. Six years later, Shepard purchased the 44th Street brownstone. Grey remembers how rough the block was in those days. His mother, however, loved dogs and they always kept two German shepherds that went with them almost everywhere. Nobody messed with the Shepards because nobody wanted to mess with their dogs.

Family dog Mike hangs out the window...
Sasha Harriet

Sasha Harriet

As content editor, I get to do what I love everyday. Tweet, share and promote the best content our tools find on a daily basis.

I have a crazy passion for #music, #celebrity #news & #fashion! I'm always out and about on Twitter.
Sasha Harriet

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