Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Model of a car. Click to enlarge.

Norman Bel Geddes (1893-1958)
Motor Car No. 8, ca. 1932
Norman Bel Geddes Papers

Performing Arts

The performing arts collection contains materials documenting a wide variety of performance genres in the United Kingdom and America. The collection features holdings in theater, dance, opera, and popular entertainment, including the circus, vaudeville, and minstrel shows, and related fields such as puppetry and magic. The creative process, from concept and staging to publication and revival, constitutes the primary focus of this collection.

All of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into creating a performance is represented throughout the performing arts collections: designs for scenery and costumes created by figures as diverse as Léon Bakst and Jo Mielziner; reviews and historical opinion ranging across the centuries from critics such as William Winter and John Gassner; notes and correspondence of legendary acting teacher Stella Adler; producers' archives documenting entrepreneurs such as New York's Morris Gest and London's Sir Donald Albery; and the creations of composers such as Jule Styne and John Philip Sousa, or choreographers such as Mary Wigman. Files containing images, production documentation, and correspondence follow the careers of thousands of British and American actors and performers from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, supplemented by separate holdings on actor-managers such as Wilson Barrett and Sir Donald Wolfit. The comprehensive output of Broadway designers Norman Bel Geddes and London costumier B. J. Simmons & Co. are held here, as are the collected photographs and negatives from photographers Fred Fehl and Bob Golby, among others.

For information about the Ransom Center's numerous archives of playwrights, see also Literature: American, Literature: British and Irish, and Literature: French. Individual finding aids will designate the holding department.

Major Collections

Bound volumes of plays, theatrical history, biography, and theory are joined with theater account books, original costume and stage designs, and an abundance of letters and original manuscript materials relating to the theater. The collections contain an estimated two hundred thousand playbills, fifty thousand engravings and photographs of performers in scenes from their plays, ten thousand pieces of sheet music, and twenty thousand news clippings.

Three large collections form the foundation of the performing arts materials, and the Hoblitzelle Foundation's 1956 gift of the Albert Davis Collection of Theater Artifacts is the cornerstone. Having embarked on a publicist's career in the late nineteenth century, theater enthusiast Albert Davis (1865-1942) collected photographs, clippings, printed pictures, programs, playscripts, and playbills concerning hundreds of productions in New York and elsewhere. These holdings provide extensive evidence of the vitality of live performance, particularly in the period between 1890 and the mid 1920s. Davis's collection has thousands of photographic prints by studios such as Byron, White, and Hall, as well as thousands of publicity photographs in a multitude of formats. In 1958 the Messmore Kendall Collection, including those materials gathered by Harry Houdini, came to the Ransom Center, again from the Hoblitzelle Foundation. Messmore Kendall (1872-1959) was a lawyer, theater entrepreneur, and collector, whose collection was especially rich in autographs, engravings, programs, and extra-illustrated books. Also in 1958, the Edgar G. Tobin Foundation of San Antonio purchased and donated the Norman Bel Geddes Collection of theatrical and industrial design. Norman Bel Geddes (1893-1958) was a visionary stage designer, director, producer, theater architect, industrial designer, producer of model photography, and author (see Costume & Set Design).


New York theater photographer Joseph Abeles (c. 1908-1991) established his Talbot Studio in 1935 and formed the Friedman-Abeles Studio with Leo and Sy Friedman in 1957. The Friedman-Abeles firm was one of the premiere photographers of stage productions and personalities, supplying images for numerous magazine photo stories about theatrical subjects. The collection of photographic files from Abeles' studio consists predominantly of publicity photographs for individuals in the performing arts, 1935-1975.

Stella Adler (1902-1992), founder of the Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting, is best known for having taught the principles of acting and character and script analysis to young talents such as Marlon Brando and Warren Beatty who later came to dominate the American stage and screen. Her archive contains teaching notes and correspondence, supplemented by more than one thousand audio and video recordings from her acting classes at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting.

The extensive archive of British producer and theater and ballet executive Sir Donald Albery (1914-1988) provides a comprehensive record of his career spanning the years 1945-1975, his involvement with professional organizations, and his role as a founding member and director of Anglia Television, the commercial counterpart to the BBC. Between 1953 and 1978 Albery presented one hundred nineteen plays in his four theaters—the Criterion, Wyndham's Theatre, the New Theatre (now named the Albery), and the Piccadilly—and seventy-nine additional plays outside the Wyndham's Theatres Limited group. His first production was Graham Greene's first play, The Living Room (1953). The Albery records provide a comprehensive portrait of Albery's involvement with post-war British theater. Materials include correspondence, photographs, audition notes, biographical information on actors, Lord Chamberlain's licenses, scripts, prompt copies, tapes, minutes of meetings, published books and journals, lighting and sound plots, set diagrams, details of costume and scenery, stage managers' reports, musical scores, posters, programs, and news clippings. Financial records include profit and loss statements, box office receipts, records of investments, treasury statements, and details of royalties and film rights.

The papers of British actor, director, and producer Frederick Harold Frith Banbury (1912-2008) consist of scripts, correspondence, posters, programs, photographs, scrapbooks, reviews, and financial records pertaining to his career, beginning in 1926.

The collection of Wilson Barrett (1846-1904), English actor, dramatist, and producer, includes agreements for the production of plays in Europe, the United States, and South Africa; photographs of Barrett in his various acting roles; financial ledger books showing expenses and income for tours dating from 1872 to 1904; the original manuscripts of three plays written by Barrett (The Sign of the Cross, The Manxman, and Quo Vadis); and scene renderings. Correspondence files dating from 1852 to 1904 include letters to Barrett from authors, performers, and other public figures such as Charles Kean, Sir Henry Irving, Matthew Arnold, Rudyard Kipling, Bret Harte, Eugene Field, Charles Read, John Ruskin, and Charles L. Dodgson. There are also letters from Barrett to members of his family. See Costume & Set Design.

The collection of French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) includes production materials, playscripts, translations, and theatrical performance photographs from over thirty of Bernhardt's productions, including L'Aiglon, Camille, and Phedre. Also present are personal photographs, postcards, clippings, a scrapbook, caricatures, advertisements, and sketches of Bernhardt.

John Russell Brown (b. 1923) is a Shakespeare scholar, author, and director who headed the Script Department at Britain's National Theatre from 1973 to 1988. His papers consist of business documents, production materials, typescripts, press releases, clippings and scrapbooks, loose notes and notebooks, appointment books, photographs and slides, and correspondence, ranging in date from 1948 to 2003.

The collection of Robert Downing (1914-1975) includes approximately ten thousand volumes, hard cover and paper-bound, scripts, blueprints, costume plates, stills, stage photos, playbills, inscribed material, memorabilia, and scrapbooks from Downing's twenty-two years as a Broadway production stage manager, plus scrapbooks covering his early experience in tent shows, showboats, and films. Published materials relate mainly to acting, directing, producing, and scene design for the theater. Other forms of entertainment represented in the collection are motion pictures, television and radio, vaudeville, magic, ballet, and the circus. The collection includes over one hundred playscripts, and over five hundred photographs of theater personalities by Carl Van Vechten. (See Costume & Set Design.)

The archive of English actress Dame Edith Evans (1888-1976) includes letters from her husband Guy Booth and from Margot Asquith, Enid Bagnold, Noel Coward, John Gielgud, Katharine Hepburn, George Moore, Terence Rattigan, George Bernard Shaw, Edith Sitwell, Ellen Terry, Sybil Thorndike, and Thornton Wilder. The balance of the collection contains clippings, programs, autograph drafts of replies and working notes, scrapbooks of press cuttings, and presentation and acting copies of books and filmscripts. A related holding is British biographer Henry Hurford-Janes' Collection of Edith Evans. Gathered by Hurford-Janes, the collection contains correspondence, programs, clippings, photographs, and other materials related to Evans.

The archive of eminent theater historian, critic, educator, and anthologist John Gassner (1903-1967) consists of his manuscripts, correspondence, and memorabilia, as well as books used as source material for his work.

The collection of graphic artist and caricaturist Al Hirschfeld (1903-2003) contains sixteen drawings and two prints of plays, films, and theater personalities, 1951-1965. Among the many personalities shown are Carol Burnett, Alec Guinness, Tennessee Williams, and Mae West. Many of the drawings appeared in The New York Times; others were used by film and television studios for publicity purposes.

The collection of Morris Gest (1881-1942), compiled by Gest's press agents, Oliver Sayler and Marjorie Barkentin, documents the life and career of one of Broadway's most successful and well-known producers of the 1910s and 1920s. Included are materials from his productions of The Miracle, directed by Max Reinhardt and designed by Norman Bel Geddes, and of the Moscow Art Theatre's only performances in the United States. Also present are drafts of Sayler's unpublished biography of Gest, correspondence, photographs, costume designs, scrapbooks, and business and legal documents.

The George C. Howard (1815-1887) collection contains scripts of both the George L. Aiken and H. J. Conway dramatizations of Uncle Tom's Cabin, actors' sides for the latter version, sheet music, programs, and other items documenting Howard's productions. The archive also contains materials from Howard's extended and quite theatrical family, including his wife actress Caroline Fox Howard and his daughter actress Cordelia Howard, as well as manager George L. Fox, actor Charles K. Fox, actor Frank E. Aiken, and actor and stage manager Walter S. Howard.

In the Manuscripts Collection, materials by Joan Littlewood (1914-2002), theater director of London's avant-garde Theatre Workshop from 1945 to 1973, include eleven notebooks spanning twenty years, as well as correspondence and script files. The Littlewood notebooks contain her workings-out of dramatic concepts and dialogue, evaluations of actors, and political essays and commentary. The correspondence includes the letters between Littlewood and her husband Gerry Raffles during 1947 and 1948, as well as a file of correspondence between Littlewood and actors and playwrights, such as Isla Cameron, David Mowat, and Celia Salkeld in the early 1960s.

Though Boston Red Sox owner Harry H. Frazee (1880-1929) won the 1918 World Series, he is reviled by some baseball fans for selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees two years later, resulting in the "Curse of the Bambino." His most successful production was No No Nanette (1925) which toured throughout the U.S., Europe, and Australia. His collection includes scripts and music for No No Nanette and Yes Yes Yvette, legal and financial documents regarding his ownership of the Red Sox, 1916-1923, and specifications and contracts pertaining to the Longacre Theatre in New York.

Carroll Masterson (died 1994) and Harris Masterson (1914-1997) of Houston were producers of Broadway shows, 1959-1966, who returned to Houston in the mid-1960s, started the Houston Presents production company, and later retired to become major arts patrons in the Houston area. The collection relates primarily to the business and legal affairs of their Broadway productions, including From A to Z, a 1960 revue starring Hermione Gingold with some sketches written by a young Woody Allen.

Promptbooks, stage managers' workbooks, preparation and rehearsal copies, and unused scripts for 100 dramas, comedies, musical comedies, and other dramatic works are found in the Playscripts and Promptbooks Collection (1795-1978). Prominent authors and theatrical managers represented include John Philip Kemble, Charles Frohman, Arthur Wing Pinero, Lillian Hellman, and Dion Boucicault.

The collection of actress Ada Rehan (1857-1916) and theater manager Augustin Daly (1838-1899) consists of published works, promptbooks, actors' sides, and scrapbook materials about or related to Rehan and Daly, covering the years 1884-1898.

The papers of literary and playwright agent Sarah Rollitts document her work for Columbia Artists, Inc. from 1939 to 1946, when she went independent as the New York office of Salkow Agency (Los Angeles). Rollitts's correspondence files include dozens of Hollywood stars, from Tallulah Bankhead to Thornton Wilder.

The Ronald Searle (1920-2011) collection includes four hundred thirty-eight pen and ink drawings and eighty sketchbooks made by Searle. The collection provides a complete picture of English theatrical entertainment in the 1950s. The drawings are caricatures of theater productions and individuals. Those that are not contained in the sketchbooks are for the theater columns of Punch. Most of the works are signed or initialed by the artist.

Conrad Seidemann, director of the Bush Temple Theater in Chicago from 1917 to 1923, acquired a large collection of German language plays from the holdings of earlier theaters in New York, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Chicago, and even Germany. The texts range from the classic dramas of Goethe and Schiller to lighter fare such as Lustspiel (comedy), Posse (farcical comedy), Schwank (farce), and Volksstücke, all dating from the 1890s to the 1920s. A separate collection contains printed German plays which were also intended for use in staged performances. In many instances, scholars will find not only complete scripts, but also "sides" provided to individual actors.

"Sueltas" is a generic term for plays published in Spain from the late seventeenth through the nineteenth century in small pamphlet formats. The Ransom Center owns some 13,000 of these (uncataloged at present), mostly concentrated in the later part of this period.

In the Manuscripts Collection, the collection of Laurette Taylor (1884-1946) documents her entire acting career, especially her legendary performances in Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie.

The Texas Theater Collection, ca. 1900-present, documents the work of theater associations and regional theater companies throughout Texas with playbills, souvenir programs, clippings, newsletters, photographs, business records, and posters. The bulk of the material is for theaters in Austin, Houston, and Dallas. Included are Palo Duro Canyon State Park souvenir programs, clippings, scripts, business records, and sound and film recordings for Texas, the Musical, ca. 1960-1986.

The Theatre Guild was a notable pioneer in the production of distinguished plays by important American authors such as Eugene O'Neill, Robert B. Sherwood, Maxwell Anderson, Sidney Howard, S. N. Behrman, and Philip Barry, as well as musicals by the Gershwins and Rodgers and Hammerstein. Their records (1918-1980) include producer's files from their earliest days of theatrical production, as well as for their radio productions (Theatre Guild on the Air) and television broadcasts (United States Steel Hour). Files from several motion pictures produced by the Guild, as well as business files relating to their daily operations and several major reorganizations, are also included.

The J. C. Trewin papers hold correspondence, numerous manuscripts of his drama reviews, and other manuscripts and material relating to works by Trewin (1908-1990), who was the London drama critic for The Birmingham Post for over thirty years.

The Uncle Tom's Cabin Collection, ca. 1852-1945, comprises photographs, programs and playbills, prints, clippings, posters, sheet music, correspondence, published acting editions, and other materials documenting the performance history of Uncle Tom's Cabin from the premiere of George C. Howard's 1852 acting version of Uncle Tom's Cabin through the second world war. Included are photographs of stage personalities associated with the play, in particular George L. Fox, Charles K. Fox, Cordelia Howard, and Lotta Crabtree, and numerous playbills and programs.

The collection of Ray Walston (1917-2001), an important and versatile actor whose career spanned the Broadway stage, motion pictures, and television (such as his starring series role as "My Favorite Martian"), includes clippings, posters, videotapes, publicity photographs, scores, scripts, programs, awards, correspondence, original caricatures, and scrapbooks.

The Richard Heron Ward (1910-1969) collection reflects the varied landscape of this British actor and producer's writings from the 1930s to the 1960s. Correspondence documents his role as founder and director of the Adelphi Players.

The archive of New York Tribune theater critic William Winter (1836-1917) charts his career at the paper from 1865 to 1909. Winter also wrote biographies of the Jeffersons, Belasco, Booth, Irving and Ada Rehan, and published volumes of poems and reminiscences. Materials related to these works are also in the collection. A few manuscripts by and concerning others are present, most notably those of Winter's son, Jefferson Winter.

Materials documenting the career of twentieth-century actor-manager Sir Donald Wolfit (1902-1968) include prompt copies, correspondence files, and a wide range of production documentation. Although the primary focus of the papers is on Wolfit's career as an actor-manager, there is a significant amount of material concerning some of the theatrical issues of the day upon which Wolfit, as a leader in his profession, felt compelled to comment. Related materials may be found in the papers of director and producer B. Iden Payne (1881-1976), whose daughter was married to Wolfit. (See Costume & Set Design and Costumes & Personal Effects.)

The surviving papers from one of the most influential pairs of theatrical agents in twentieth-century American drama, Audrey Wood (1905-1985) and William Liebling (1895-1969), contain materials from their clientele from the 1940s to the 1970s, including Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers, Jane Bowles, Yul Brynner, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, and William Inge.

Image Collections

The extensive archives of New York City theater photographers Fred Fehl (1906-1995) and Bob Golby (b. 1901) contain thousands of photographs of approximately eight hundred stagings of plays primarily on Broadway, including premiere productions, revivals, and classics from the 1930s to the early 1970s. (See Dance.)

The massive Theater Biography Collection consists of materials relating to over 10,000 British and American dramatic and variety performers, spanning the years 1750 to 1970. Although individuals are primarily represented by publicity material such as photographs, prints, playbills, programs, and posters, the collection also contains letters, legal documents, scrapbooks, paintings and drawings, sheet music, books and pamphlets, and other memorabilia. Coverage for each performer ranges from a single piece to hundreds of items. A smaller section includes playwrights, critics, managers, and other production personnel. Both well known and obscure theatrical figures are documented with valuable images and biographical data. The Barrymore family, John Hare, Edward Harrigan and Tony Hart of Harrigan and Hart, Sir Henry Irving, both Pat Rooneys, and Lillian Russell are particularly well-represented.

The Card Photograph Collection consists of cabinet cards (ca. 20,500) and cartes-de-visite (ca. 3,700) dating from between 1860 and 1920, supplemented by a small number of photographic postcards, photographic prints, and tintypes. Most of the collection depicts performers, primarily actors and actresses of the legitimate theater but also figures from the concert stage and popular entertainment, especially vaudeville. In many images, actors and actresses are shown in costume and in character, performing a scene.

The Performing Arts Glass Plate Negatives consist of 95 photographic glass plate negatives dated ca. 1890-ca. 1920. About half of the collection consists of production photographs of actors in costume, often on a stage set, which depict the stage action for a particular play, including Ben-Hur, Human Hearts, Monte Cristo, The Pit, The Rose of the Rancho, Salome (1909), The Sign of the Cross, Uncle Tom's Cabin and Zaza.

The Production Photographs Collection contains publicity photographs for 1,600 productions, chiefly in New York. The bulk of the collection consists of 11 x 14 inch photographs (1895-1930), many by White Studio, and 8 x 10 inch production photographs (ca. 1950-1970).

The bulk of the Poster Collection (1890-1997) consists of late nineteenth and early twentieth century lithographs for American theater productions. Lobby cards and posters, ca. 1950-ca. 1980, form the balance of the collection.

The Prints Collection (1669-1906) consists of ca. 8,000 images made by numerous processes including lithographs, woodcuts, etchings, and mezzotints. David Garrick, Sarah Siddons, Eliza Wrixon-Becher, and the Wallacks are among the individuals best represented.

The Playbills and Programs Collections

Playbills, which contain performance information such as names of theaters, dates, performers, playwrights, and titles of pieces performed, are an invaluable source of theatrical documentation. The Playbills and Programs Collections contain over two hundred thousand items, divided into four major holdings. The New York City Playbills and Programs Collection, spanning 1750 to the present, comprises a wide variety of playbills and programs for theater productions in New York City. Formats include early broadsides and playbills, newspaper-style playbills or programs, bound collections of playbills or programs for individual theaters, single sheet and folded sheet programs, magazine programs, and tearsheets from programs. The London and United Kingdom playbills and programs represent not only the early English theaters Covent Garden, Drury Lane, and Haymarket (23,000 playbills, dating from 1703 to 1899), but also modern London and provincial United Kingdom programs. The United States playbills and programs encompass theater productions in the United States exclusive of Texas and the five boroughs of New York City, with strong holdings for three theaters in Philadelphia, the Arch Street, Chestnut Street, and Walnut Street theaters. A separate collection holds souvenir programs, such as those provided for premieres, significant revival stagings, or national tours, as well as programs printed on silk or satin.

Costume & Set Design

Norman Bel Geddes (1893-1958), a pioneer in stage design, was involved as writer and/or designer in more than one hundred plays, motion pictures, and other theatrical performances ranging from the opera to the circus. Bel Geddes established his reputation in 1924 by successfully collaborating with Max Reinhardt on The Miracle. In addition to the unproduced Divine Comedy (1921), his most significant productions were Hamlet (1931), Dead End (1935), and The Eternal Road (1937). As a theater architect, Bel Geddes designed television studios for NBC in the 1950s. Bel Geddes' voluminous papers, the bulk of which date from 1914 to 1958, document his theater and industrial design work in equal measure and, frequently, in great detail. Works represented in the collection range from designs for the Gershwin musical Lady Be Good to industrial designs for the General Motors 1939 World's Fair Futurama exhibition. His theater files include renderings, drawings, production record books, photographs, publicity materials, correspondence, programs, legal documents and contracts, specifications, and source data. The industrial design work is documented with client correspondence, proposals, presentation books, contracts, research data, budgets, estimates, specifications, drawings, models, and publicity materials such as clippings and photographs. In addition, files for most projects from the 1930s and 1940s include job diaries and photographic record copy books. (See also Architecture.)

The London costume firm B. J. Simmons & Co. dressed hundreds of Britain's greatest shows, ranging from the Victorian spectacle of the 1890s to the so-called kitchen-sink drama of the 1960s. Their extensive archive reads like a history of the West End, documenting about nine hundred theatrical productions (mainly plays, but also operas, ballets, comic operas, musical comedies, revues, pantomimes, and other forms of popular entertainment), as well as the firm's work on over one hundred films. Stage landmarks represented include thirty-three productions by Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, Oscar Asche's blockbuster five-year production of Chu Chin Chow, and Sir Thomas Beecham's legendary opera experiment at Covent Garden and Her Majesty's Theatre in 1910 when he staged approximately twenty unfamiliar operas in twelve months. Also included are a considerable number of Sir Arthur Sullivan's operas and musical plays, Gilbert and Sullivan productions directed by Rupert D'Oyly Carte (1913 onward), the original production of J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan (1904), and numerous Ivor Novello musicals. Stage melodramas later adapted to film, such as George Alexander's The Prisoner of Zenda (1896), Wilson Barrett's The Sign of the Cross (1896), and David Belasco's Ben Hur (1902), are also represented in the Simmons records. The reputation for excellence enjoyed by Simmons attracted the finest designers available, and the work of over one hundred identified artists is represented in the estimated thirty-four thousand costume designs. The designs, many of which have notes by and about the actors who would wear the pieces, include work by such well-known figures as Percy Anderson, Léon Bakst, Cecil Beaton, Norman Hartnell, Oliver Messel, Tanya Moiseiwitsch, Motley, William Nicholson, John Piper, Charles Ricketts, Byam Shaw, and Norman Wilkinson.

Like its rival the London costumier B. J. Simmons & Co., L. & H. Nathan (1790-1972) was a leading supplier of historical costumes for the British theater, providing apparel for amateur dramatic theatricals, fancy dress balls and masquerades, and the professional stage for close to 200 years. The collection consists of 530 costume designs, property designs, studies, and photographs from 18 theater productions in London and two unidentified productions. More than 200 items are associated with Charles Karl, the head designer at Nathan's from 1885 to 1934. Notable items include costume designs for a young Edward Gordon Craig in Julius Caesar, ca. 1895, and for Julia Neilson and F. H. Macklin in a Henry Irving production of Cymbeline from about 1895.

In the Manuscripts Collection, the archive of Edward Gordon Craig (1872-1966), English actor, stage designer, and producer, includes a collection of Craig's wood-engraving designs, a large number of letters to Craig from his mother Ellen Terry, correspondence with friend and collaborator, musician/composer Martin Shaw, notebooks concerning Craig's romance with Isadora Duncan, and volumes from Craig's library. (See also Edward Carrick, who was Craig's son, in Film & Television.)

The papers of English actor, manager, and playwright Wilson Barrett (1846-1904) include three scene books, the most elaborate of which is for Hoodman Blind, produced at the Princesses's Theatre in 1892 with scenic design by Walter Hann. The scene book contains renderings pasted next to plots. Barrett's scene book for The Golden Ladder, produced in 1887 or 1888, contains renderings signed by G. Robertson.

Early twentieth century stagecraft is documented in the archive of the British actor-manager Donald Wolfit (1902-1968), which holds set designs and/or maquettes by Ernst Stern for King Lear, Twelfth Night, and Macbeth dating from the 1940s and 1950s. (See also Theater and Costumes & Personal Effects).

The collection of scenic designer Boris Aronson (1900-1980) contains original sketches, photostats and copy prints of sketches, photographs, art reproductions, models, scripts, and technical drawings documenting Aronson's work as set designer for thirty-one plays written or produced between 1939 and 1977, including productions by Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Stephen Sondheim.

While principally known for her work in fashion design and editorial cartooning, Native Texan Gordon Conway (1894-1956) was a costume designer for musical revues, musical comedy, and the early film industry in the United States and England. Her collection includes numerous sketches, personal and production photographs, correspondence, diaries, datebooks, and numerous scrapbooks. More than sixty shows are represented. (See Costumes & Personal Effects.)

The bulk of the W. H. Crain Costume and Scenic Design Collection, gift of curator W. H. Crain (1917-1998), consists of original renderings of costume and scenic designs for plays, operas, ballets, revues, and films, augmented by works of art on paper, costumes, prints, and other material, spanning four centuries of work, from 1650 to 1993, by a wide variety of world-renowned designers. (See Dance and Costumes & Personal Effects.)

The Costume and Scenic Design Collection contains original renderings supplemented by design resources such as research books, prints, and bound volumes of images of period and national costumes. Highlights include a Josef Svoboda set design for Luigi Nono's Intoleranza (1961), an Oliver Smith set design for Tennessee Williams's The Night of the Iguana (1962), and Ming Cho Lee's designs and model for the fire curtain at Bass Concert Hall at the University of Texas at Austin (1980).

Of the 12 costume items in the Dance Collection, the majority are related to dancers who performed with Colonel W. de Basil's Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo (1932-1947; 1951-1952), one of the many dance companies that laid claim to the Ballets Russes legacy after founder Serge Diaghilev's death and the disbandment of the company in 1929. Of special note is a colorful and beautifully appliquéd tunic that appears to be from Diaghilev's production of The Sleeping Princess (1921), designed by Lé́on Bakst. Also included is a doublet from an Imperial Ballet performance of Raymonda was purportedly worn by Anatole Vizlak, principal dancer at the Maryinski Theater, between 1915 and 1920, and items worn by dancers Igor Youskevitch and Nathalie Krassovska. (See Dance and Costumes & Personal Effects.)

The papers of Robert Downing (1914-1977), an actor, stage manager, and theater critic, include blueline technical drawings and working technical drawings by Boris Aronson and Oliver Smith.

The collection of University of Texas scenic designer and educator John Rothgeb (1928-1986) consists of research files on American scenic designers focusing on Sosman and Landis Studio of Chicago and their former artist John Hanny. Rothgeb's Sosman and Landis research files include a rendering and postcards received by Thomas G. Moses (manager, ca. 1900-1910), a typescript Moses autobiography, and slides of stage scenery and building interiors. The John Hanny material, ca. 1915-1984, includes Rothgeb-Hanny correspondence and taped conversations, Hanny's scene renderings and sketches, and Hanny job files of sketches, layouts, cutouts, photos, and programs.

The Sosman-Landis Studio sold stage scenery to Masonic Temples. The collection includes two trunks dated ca. 1900, each approximately 4 x 3 x 2 1/2 feet, one containing 112 miniature hanging backdrops, cut drops, leg and border sets, and 37 other model set pieces, and the other containing a complete model stage. The equipment was used to sell scenery for various Masonic rites and includes material for the 15th degree "Treasure" ceremony, the 32nd degree "Cathedral", etc.

The collection of designer Eldon Elder (1924-2000) documents his work on productions ranging from Broadway stagings of musical comedies such as Shinbone Alley, to the first seasons of Joseph Papp's New York Public Shakespeare Festival. Included are renderings, sketches, plans and elevations, blueline drawings, scripts, clipped reviews, photographs, rehearsal notes, and programs. Shows produced at regional theatres such as Arena Stage and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival are represented, as are some of Elder's designs for theater facilities, both proposed and built.

Popular Entertainment


The Joe E. Ward Circus Collection was assembled by Joe E. Ward (1894 or 1895-1971), longtime clown with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circuses, and contains nineteenth- and twentieth-century circus memorabilia, including rare books, photographs, letters, programs, route books, costumes, and props from his career. Additional sixteenth- through nineteenth-century materials provide a substantial history of the circus. Ward, a University of Texas graduate, began a career as a civil engineer in Wichita Falls, Texas in 1912. During the summers of the 1930s and 1940s he also performed as a clown with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey's Combined Circus. Ward's collection of circus-themed salt and pepper shakers, the touring trunk of fellow clown Paul Jung, and many copies of circus periodicals, such as White Tops, Bandwagon, and Circus Review, round out the collection. (See Costumes & Personal Effects.)

The Circus Collection contains materials related to individual circuses as well as the performers and impresarios associated with them. Dozens of American and foreign circuses and showmen are represented including P. T. Barnum, Hagenbeck-Wallace, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Sells-Floto, and Adam Forepaugh. A wide variety of circus acts are included, ranging from contortionists and aerialists to sword swallowers and sideshow performers, as are dime museums and Wild West productions, notably Buffalo Bill Cody. The collection includes newspaper clippings, photographs, posters, playbills and programs, and musical scores, with the bulk of the material dating from the mid-nineteenth century to 1940.

The W. H. Crain (1917-1998) Barnum & Bailey Circus Collection, gift of curator W. H. Crain (1917-1998), spans the years 1805 to 1902 and consists largely of correspondence and legal documents concerning P. T. Barnum, James A. Bailey, and Joseph T. McCaddon and their business dealings. Notably present are business letters from Barnum, legal documents, and endorsed bank checks written during Barnum and Bailey's partnership agreement, 1887-1888. Much of the information in this collection relates to Bailey and includes biographical notes and clippings, correspondence, various legal and financial documents concerning his property and estate, and other ventures, such as his purchase of Cooper's share of Forepaugh's Show, 1890-1892. Joseph T. McCaddon, Bailey's brother-in-law and business partner, is also represented in the collection by correspondence, typed and manuscript notes for a proposed Wild West Show, and his own marriage certificate among other items.


Parts of the Harry Houdini (1874-1926) collection pertain to the numerous magicians with whom Houdini cultivated personal relationships, but the focus of this collection is the life and career of Houdini himself. Manuscript material in the collection includes Houdini's correspondence with magicians and writers; letters to his wife Bess, 1890s-1926; manuscript notes and revisions for A Magician among the Spirits (1924), along with Houdini's annotated printed copy; the correspondence of A. M. Wilson, editor of The Sphinx, 1905-1923; and correspondence with James Northcote. Houdini's films are represented by the script for The Master Mystery (1918), news clippings and a press kit for The Man from Beyond (1922), and publicity photographs. His interest in spiritualism is documented by a newspaper clipping file on spiritualism, manuscript notebooks on spiritualism and theater, and history of magic scrapbooks, 1837-1910.

The Houdini collection is complemented by the Magicians Collection, which contains correspondence, clippings, photographs, and other publicity materials (including two thousand posters) pertaining to magicians and the history of magic from 1750 to 1920. Approximately three thousand magicians are represented, among them Professor Anderson, T. Nelson Downs, Robert Evans, Robert Houdin, Harry Kellar, Augustus Rapp, Edwin Fay Rice, William Robinson, and Chung Ling Soo.

The McManus-Young Collection contains twenty-five hundred books on the art and history of conjuring, sleight of hand and stage magic, hypnotism, spiritualism, and witchcraft. This is supplemented by other performing arts book holdings, including Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), the earliest work to contain a section on magic tricks and legerdemain.


The Pantomime Collection comprises roughly four hundred items relating to pantomime on the English stage, covering the years 1793-1977, with a strong concentration on nineteenth-century productions. The collection consists predominantly of printed scripts, programs, and souvenir programs for numerous pantomimes. These materials are supplemented by eight holograph manuscript pantomime scenes and playscripts, three typescripts, one promptbook with holograph notes, and twenty-five manuscript scores for pantomimes presented in Bradford, Bristol, Leeds, and Manchester between 1906 and 1931. The remaining items in the collection include pantomime annuals, books on the history of pantomime, original watercolors of characters in Little Red Riding Hood, as well as sheet music covers, a book of music, and a book of songs.


Entrepreneur Stanley Marcus (1905-2002) assembled a collection of sixty Sicilian marionettes which together form a troupe of characters from the Orlando Furioso story cycle. These marionettes, which may have been in use in the mid-twentieth century, include the characters Charlemagne, Orlando, various Frankish knights, Moors, princesses and other female characters, as well as horses, demons, dogs, and mythical creatures. The secondary characters stand about three feet in height; the primary, four to five feet. Their armor can weigh up to forty pounds. The collection is supplemented by a drop curtain showing a battle scene at the walls of Paris. The curtain, which dates to the mid-nineteenth century, was presumably used as a backdrop in a marionette theater in Sicily.

The collection of Joel Sherzer (b. 1942), a professor of anthropology at The University of Texas at Austin, consists mainly of about 1,000 slides, contact sheets, and negatives relating to the International Conference on World Traditions of Puppetry and Performing Objects held in 1980 in Washington, D.C. Also included are approximately 100 video tapes pertaining to performance traditions of the U.S., Canada, Europe/Sicily, and the Middle East/Asia, and 89 audio cassettes, many of which were created by Joan Gross in conjunction with her fieldwork among puppeteers in Liege, Belgium, in 1982.

The Puppetry Collection (1880s-1950s) contains approximately 100 puppets and marionettes, supplemented by photographs, clippings, programs, posters, manuscripts, and printed puppet plays. From the United States, the collection includes marionettes used by the Yale Puppeteers at the Turnabout Theatre in Los Angeles; hand-carved Punch and Judy puppets dating from the 1880s, used in the Swift Brothers tent show which toured the Midwest until 1956; and puppets designed and used by vaudeville actor and puppeteer Paul Clemens. Other puppetry traditions represented include Kathputli Rajasthani marionettes from northwestern India, Karagoz shadow puppets from Turkey, and Javanese wayang golek puppets and wayang kulit shadow puppets.

Vaudeville, Variety & Minstrel Show

The collection of Tony Pastor (1837-1908), who was known as the "Father of Vaudeville," spans his entire career as a comedic singer, minstrel singer, manager, variety show performer, and director. Scripts and actors' sides make up the bulk of the collection that documents much of Pastor's career as a theater manager, and, to a lesser extent, as a performer.

Photographs and sheet music make up the bulk of the Florenz Ziegfeld (1867-1932) collection, which documents Ziegfeld's career as a producer of the Ziegfeld Follies and, to a lesser extent, the contributions of some of the theater professionals associated with him. Additional production photographs and portrait and stage photographs of Ziegfeld showgirls and actors are located in a separate collection.

From its first performance on September 12, 1866, at Niblo's Theatre in New York, The Black Crook became one of the earliest successful musicals in the United States. The script from a Faustian melodrama, songs by assorted composers, and the services of a stranded Parisian ballet troupe were combined with elaborate sets and costumes to create a spectacle that spawned fifteen subsequent Broadway revivals and numerous touring productions. The Black Crook's scandalously dressed dancers, who were the first to perform the can-can on an American stage, delighted and shocked audiences. After attending a performance of The Black Crook in New York, Mark Twain wrote that the musical "debauched many a pure mind." The Center's Black Crook Collection (1853-1929) contains books, sheet music, playbills, programs, clippings, drawings, and photographs related to the musical.

The Minstrel Show Collection (1821-1959) documents the form of entertainment known as the minstrel show and, to a much lesser extent, other entertainments that used blackface makeup. Included are over seven hundred individual performers and minstrel show companies, as well as touring companies; motion picture actors and variety performers from the 1920s and 1930s who utilized blackface makeup in their routines; and female impersonators and banjoists. Materials present in the collection include photographs, prints, letters, clippings, programs, playbills, scrapbooks, sheet music, songsters, and jokesters

Minstrel and variety show performer, theatrical manager, and operator of a traveling dime museum, Al Emmett Fostell (1856-1920) had a theatrical career that incorporated almost every kind of variety skill: singing, dancing, comedy sketch, playing various instruments, and yodeling. During his half-century career, Fostell formed business partnerships with a wide range of performers and stage companies, and was renowned for his collection of Abraham Lincoln artifacts. His archive contains letters, clippings, programs, and ephemera relating to all aspects of his career.

Miles Matson (circa 1912- ), a former salesman living in Austin, Texas, collected jokes and other comedy-related materials as a hobby throughout much of the twentieth century. The Miles Matson Joke Collection consists of approximately 100,000 transcriptions and clippings of jokes plus additional comedy-related materials.

The collection of "Sliding" Billy Watson (1876-1939) documents the career of one of the most popular and wealthy comedians on the burlesque circuit. The famous Billy Watson slide was a sliding gait or a gag in which he slid across the stage on a banana peel. The bulk of the collection consists of research files that were compiled by Barbara Cohen-Niebauer, a great granddaughter of Billy Watson, supplemented by publicity materials.


The Musicians Collection (1727-1981) contains photographs and other visual materials pertaining to one thousand seventeen hundred musicians and musical groups. Included are classical composers, conductors, soloists, and ensembles; big bands and bandleaders; bandmasters; impresarios; vaudeville artists, minstrel show performers, and other variety acts; twentieth-century American musical theater composers; and post-1940 popular singers and musical groups, including country singers.

The bulk of the Opera Collection (ca. 1800s-1990) consists of biographical holdings on operatic performers from the 1880s through the 1950s. The careers of approximately 1,000 performers from this period are documented with photographs, clippings, prints, programs, and playbills. The collection also includes production photographs relating to operatic works produced for the American stage, and materials documenting the history of prominent opera companies in the United States, as well as a selection of European companies.

More than six thousand pieces of printed sheet music are housed in the Sheet Music Collection (1728-1964), a compilation of primarily British and American popular songs and show tunes of the eighteenth through twentieth centuries. The subject matter includes expressions of nostalgia for life back home, patriotic numbers written during wartime, and depictions of life in the American south.

The John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) collection contains numerous photographs of the composer and bandmaster, his bands, and various incarnations of the U.S. Marine Band, as well as bound volumes of Sousa band correspondence (1911-1931) and a band uniform worn by Sousa. Sousa, who directed the U.S. Marine Band from 1880 to 1892, is perhaps best known for his 1896 march "The Stars and Stripes Forever" which was designated as the national march of the United States on December 10, 1987.

For information about other music holdings at the Ransom Center, please see Music.


The bulk of the Dance Collection is comprised of publicity and production photographs, prints, programs, and clippings pertaining to two thousand dancers and choreographers and four thousand dance companies from the United States and Europe. Coverage varies, but holdings are extensive for Ruth St. Denis, Kay Lenz, Mary Wigman, Katherine Litz, the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, and Sadler's Wells Ballet Co. Other holdings pertain to the Joffrey Ballet (established 1956); the impresario Marquis George de Cuevas (1886-1961) and his dance companies, ca. 1944-1962; and square dance and folk dance. (See Costume & Set Design.)

The W. H. Crain (1917-1998) Costume and Scenic Design Collection includes costumes for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes by Léon Bakst (1866-1924) for Narcisse, and by Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947) for Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. The Diaghilev materials are augmented by the correspondence of dancer Romola de Pulszky Nijinsky (1891 or 1892-1978) and choreographer Serge Lifar (1903-1986), which is contained in the archive of literary agent William A. Bradley (1878-1939).

The dance photographs of Fred Fehl (1906-1995), a pioneer in the use of available-light photography in recording stage productions, are housed here. His collection holds prints and negatives for over sixty ballet and dance companies performing in New York City from 1940 to 1985, and is particularly extensive for the American Ballet Theatre, the Joffrey Ballet, the New York City Ballet, and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo.

May O'Donnell (1909-2004) was an American dancer, choreographer, and teacher. She was a soloist with Martha Graham's company from 1932 to 1938; in 1949 she founded her own dance troupe, which performed in New York and on tour until the 1980s. Her collection consists of personal and performance photographs and publicity materials.

Quo Vadis, a ballet in five scenes composed by Giovanni Vittorio Rosi and Sam Cudworth circa 1904, was based on the popular 1896 novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz. The Giovanni Vittorio Rosi (b. 1867) Quo Vadis Ballet Collection is comprised of a "ballet book" of dance notation, plot synopses, and musical scores.