Costumes and Personal Effects
Costumes and props are visual tools used by an actor to release the soul of a character, a way to lift a character off the pages of a script. They dominate the foreground action throughout a film, shaping the characters and thus helping to move the story forward with visual narrative, and they are invaluable tools for the stage actor.
The collection of Gordon Conway (1894-1956) includes a handful of reproduction costumes based on designs Conway created for stage and screen. Of particular note is a silver lamé dress—a vision of the future of women's apparel—from the British science fiction film High Treason (1929). Underneath the Art Deco geometric skirt panels are a pair of short pants; sketches by Conway and stills from the film show that nearly all of the female costumes were designed with variations on short pants, breeches, or plus fours, indicating increased mobility and comfort for tomorrow's woman.
The Dance Collection contains a dozen costume items such as doublets worn by dancer and choreographer Igor Youskevitch; Imperial Ballet costumes for Raymonda; ballet slippers worn by Nathalie Krassovska; a shawl previously owned by Queen Victoria and presented to Krassovska on the occasion of a Command Performance by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1950; and gloves used by members of Colonel de Basil's Ballets Russes. (See also Dance.)
The vast collection of American actor, producer, and director Robert De Niro (born 1943) contains costumes, props, scripts, and related memorabilia from his entire career. Highlights include a leopard-print boxing robe from Raging Bull (1980), a distressed Army style jacket worn by De Niro as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (1976), and voluminous, body-length coats for The Creature in Frankenstein (1994).
A small collection of Hollywood Film Costumes from the 1940s to the 1960s contains costumes worn by major stars from both major and minor films of the period. Highlights include a silk dressing gown worn by Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember (1957), Maghreb-inspired pajamas worn by Bob Hope in The Road to Morocco (1942), and a wool coatdress with fox fur cuffs worn by Susan Hayward for her Oscar-nominated role in I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955) designed by Helen Rose, who won the Oscar for Best Costume Design (Black and White) for this production.
The collection of Norman Bel Geddes (1893-1958) includes three costumes for the Max Reinhardt-directed The Eternal Road (1937). Bel Geddes wrote Thunderbird (ca. 1914-1917) for Aline Barnsdall's Los Angeles Little Theatre, and though it was not produced, the archive contains an impressive Native American feather headdress, along with wool leggings and accessories such as arrows and jewelry.
The collection of film noir icon Ann Savage (1921-2008), who played the consummate femme fatale in the B-movie classic, Detour (1945), includes costumes worn in her final film role as Mother in director Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg (2007). The costumes are unusual because they are garments from her personal wardrobe.
The archive of motion picture producer David O. Selznick (1902-1965) includes five original costumes worn by Vivien Leigh in the role of Scarlett O'Hara in the Selznick-produced film Gone with the Wind (1939), among them the famous Green Curtain Dress. Although repairs were done to the original gowns, executed by Plunkett himself, the fragile state of the originals spurred the Ransom Center to commission exact replicas of four of the gowns that could withstand the rigors of handling and display.
Of interest to silent film scholars is a small group of items worn or used by the legendary actress Gloria Swanson (1899-1983). A charming articulated metal and rhinestone fan designed by Swanson and executed by René Hubert houses a tube of lipstick in the bejeweled handle. Swanson used the fan in a film from the early years of sound, What a Widow! (1930). The collection also includes a leopard-print overskirt worn by Swanson in her acclaimed role as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (1950).
Nearly two dozen circus costumes are included in the collection of circus clown and civil engineer Joe E. Ward (1894 or 1895-1971). Though Ward collected circus memorabilia for many troupes and performers, most of the costumes appear to have been used by Ward in his own act.
The archive of the British actor-manager Donald Wolfit (1902-1968) includes a gown that may have been worn by Wolfit's wife Rosalind Iden in As You Like It, and various other costume items such as hats, a tabard, and a cape.
In addition to the books, manuscripts, and letters that usually make up an individual's archive, the Ransom Center often receives an object or personal effect that can reflect the work and habits of the individual, his or her interests, or may illuminate the person's fashioning of self as a public or private citizen. Through examination of these objects that were used, created, received, treasured, or collected, an enhanced picture of the individual and their archive emerges.
For example, the letter-opener belonging to the prolific author George Bernard Shaw, who sometimes wrote and received as many as one hundred letters a day, is included in his archive. Similarly, the archive of poet and painter E. E. Cummings contains the wooden paint box, tubes of oil paint, bottles of linseed oil, and spatulas that he used to create his many paintings. Other items, like the lapis lazuli seal given to D. H. Lawrence by Mary Cannan, illuminate the subject's friendships and associations. This is certainly the case with the hair brooch and mother-of-pearl compact given by Edgar Allan Poe to Sarah Elmira Royster Shelton, his childhood sweetheart whom he courted during the last year of his life.
Some of the objects in the Personal Effects Collection provide cultural context. Various writing implements belonging to Evelyn Waugh, Gertrude Stein and Isaac Bashevis Singer, among others, depict the shift from longhand to typewriter. The pervasiveness of smoking during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is represented by various writers' ashtrays and cigarette cases, as well as Erle Stanley Gardner and Compton MacKenzie's pipes and Carson McCullers's cigarette lighter. Pairs of eyeglasses, some with their cases, reflect the eras during which their owners worked, from Arthur Conan Doyle's simple metal-rimmed glasses to those of multi-colored plastic worn by poet Anne Sexton during the 1960s. Other items can represent the impact of an author or artist on the wider popular culture. A paper dress, a brief fashion fad in the 1960s, features Allen Ginsberg's poem "Uptown N.Y." printed on the surface of the paper.
Several items in the Collections defy categorization, such as the unopened five yard roll of wallpaper border from playwright Terrence McNally; a pair of socks belonging to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; and a 1953 champagne magnum bottle from Pablo Picasso's wedding, signed by the artist and dated March 14, 1961 that he gave to his friend the photographer David Douglas Duncan.
The Ransom Center also has over a dozen special rooms featuring period furniture, oriental rugs, paintings, photographs, decorative arts such as silver or china, and personal libraries of authors and donors. Most of them are not accessible to the public except by special arrangement with a curator.
After her success as Associate Editor of Look magazine in the 1940s, author and painter Fleur Cowles (1910-2009) created and edited the stylishly innovative FLAIR magazine in 1950. The Fleur Cowles Room is inspired by her study in Albany, her primary residence in Piccadilly, London. The light chartreuse walls and the leopard printed sofa are offset by the black enamel and cream wicker furniture. The walls are adorned with original artworks by the author, and the shelves are filled with her favorite books and photographs.
The personal effects of Robert De Niro (born 1943) consist of approximately 220 items dating from 1967 to 2005 that were personally used by or given to De Niro, but were not utilized in a film and do not represent character development onscreen. Included is a small case of stage makeup, brushes, and hair pieces that De Niro carried from theater to theater during his early stage career in the 1960s; the case remained a cherished item well after his success in major film roles. Also present are numerous "wrap gifts" presented after the completion of a film, such as an engraved bullet given to De Niro by actor Joe Pesci after the filming of Casino (1995).
The Ransom Center holds the personal library, memorabilia, and furniture from the Austin, Texas home of Texas native J. Frank Dobie (1914-1947), a folklorist, author, and University of Texas at Austin English professor. Dobie's chair, crafted out of the polished horns of longhorns, is unique.
The John Foster and Janet Dulles Rooms replicate the study and living room of the Dulles home in Washington D.C. as it was during the time John Foster Dulles (1888-1959) served as Secretary of State under President Eisenhower. The living room is filled with Chippendale couches, Sheraton chairs, and eighteenth-century tables and chests. The room also contains many artifacts given to Dulles while Eisenhower was in office, such as a vase from West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, an engraved cigarette case from Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, and an oriental screen from Korean President Sygman Rhee. The study contains Dulles's vintage 1750 desk, books from the Dulles family library, paintings, and a Korean oak tree coffee table.
A full cabin-within-a-room, the Erle Stanley Gardner Cabin replicated Perry Mason creator and detective novelist Erle Stanley Gardner's (1889-1970) workroom from his ranch home in Temecula, California. Peering through the windows, one could view his enormous oak desk, a towering chest of drawers, and numerous bookcases filled not only with reading material but Gardner's personal belongings, gifts from friends, and artifacts and souvenirs from around the world. Also on display were first editions of many of Gardner's books, honorary police badges, and photographs of Gardner and friends.
Theater owner, civic leader, and philanthropist Karl Hoblitzelle (1879-1967) dedicated the Esther Hoblitzelle Parlor to the memory of his wife. The parlor is furnished with hand painted silk wallpaper, Grinling Gibbons carvings, and Chippendale furniture from the family home in Dallas, Texas.
The Ransom Center maintains a room dedicated to El Paso artist and author Tom Lea (1907-2001), known for his landscapes and Texas-Mexican border art. The room's facsimile exhibition tracing Lea's artistic and literary contributions is complemented by a rotating display of original paintings.
The Lundell Library contains over six thousand volumes of rare botanical books and journals, some dating from the eighteenth century, collected by C. L. and Amelia Lundell (his dates 1907-1994). The colonial furnishings, many of which are antiques, were purchased by the Lundells in Williamsburg, Virginia.
The dominant theme of the Cora Maud Oneal Room is nineteenth century revivals and interpretations of French palace furniture designed and produced during the reigns of Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI. These pieces, which reflect the collecting tastes of Cora Maud Oneal (1892-1999) and her husband, former Texas state senator Ben G. Oneal, formerly furnished their home in Wichita Falls. The interior includes a settee and six chairs upholstered in Gobelin tapestry with gilt carved frames, ca. 1800-1810, and a magnificent Boulle center table, ca. 1810.
Paintings by Kelly Stevens, William Henry Huddle, Valentín de Zubiaurre, Eugene LePoitevin, and Angel Caraveille are displayed on the walls of the Kelly Stevens Room. Native Texan Kelly Stevens (1896-1991), deaf from age five, was an artist and art teacher who studied in Spain with deaf painter Valentin de Zubiaurre in the 1920s. Stevens collected visual and decorative art, artifacts, and religious art from Europe and the Americas. The collection's furniture includes a mahogany empire sofa, a Louis XVI commode, and a nineteenth-century German table with a hexagonal top and elaborately carved legs.
The Willoughby-Blake Room was established by Clara Pope Willoughby (1902-1985) and her husband Ray Willoughby in memory of Mrs. Willoughby's aunt, Ruth Starr Blake (1880-1969), a direct descendent of James Harper Starr, who was Secretary of the Treasury for the Republic of Texas. Included in the Blake Collection are Texian Campaigne china, ca. 1840, one of the finest private collections of silver by English silversmith Hester Bateman, Steuben and Waterford crystal, Fulton and Jesuit tea services, a collection of Wedgwood silhouettes of kings, and a large number of Battersea boxes, ca. 1756. Also on display in this room are items from the collection of Mrs. E. E. Sheffield, including an oblong mahogany Georgian banquet table, ca. 1780, and Hepplewhite chairs, ca. 1770.
Areas of Study
The Reading Room Will Be Closed:
December 21-Jan. 1, 2014
January 4, 2014
January 11, 2014
January 18, 2014
January 20, 2014
March 8, 2014
March 15, 2014
May 17-May 26, 2014
May 31, 2014
July 4-5, 2014
Always closed on Sundays