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Mel Gussow:

An Inventory of His Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Gussow, Mel, 1933-2005
Title: Mel Gussow Collection
Dates: circa 1920s-2008 (bulk 1960-2004)
Extent: 191 document boxes, 2 oversize document boxes, 21 oversize boxes, 2 flat files, 1 galley file (81.06 linear feet)
Abstract: The Mel Gussow Collection, circa 1920s-2008 (bulk 1960-2004), consists of article and manuscript drafts, interview notes and transcripts, correspondence, scrapbooks, photographs, subject files, clippings, published material, and sound recordings belonging to theater critic and writer Mel Gussow.
Language: English and French
Access:

Open for research




Acquisition:

Gift, 2009 (G5134)

Processed by:

Amy E. Armstrong and Ancelyn Krivak, 2010

Repository:

The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center


Mel Gussow was born on December 19, 1933, in New York, New York, to Don and Betty Gussow. He attended Public School 192 in Brooklyn and Wilson Elementary School, Southside Junior High School, and Southside High School in Rockville Center, New York. In 1951, he enrolled at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, where he gained his first experience in journalism as Editor-in-Chief and contributor to the campus newspaper, Middlebury Campus. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1955 and then enrolled at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism the same year. After completing his graduate degree in 1956, Gussow entered the United States Army and was assigned to Headquarters Area Command (HAC) in Heidelberg, Germany, for two years. While there, he was Editor of the HAC Post .

Gussow worked as editorial assistant and later associate editor for the cultural department at Newsweek beginning in 1959. In 1969 he joined the staff of the New York Times, where he wrote more than 4,000 reviews, articles, profiles, and obituaries. In addition, Gussow frequently contributed profiles and reviews of theater, films, and books to magazines and newspapers including Playboy, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Ladies' Home Journal, and McCall's. For the New Yorker, Gussow introduced some of theater's important, though lesser-known, personalities to a larger audience through in-depth profiles of Athol Fugard, Michael Gambon, Al Hirschfeld, Bill Irwin, and Margaret "Peggy" Ramsay. During the 1978 newspaper strike, Gussow regularly reviewed theater for WNET's Special Edition, and in 1979 he began a regular broadcast of theater reviews for WQXR radio, which lasted for 13 years.

Gussow's first book, Don't Say Yes Until I Finish Talking: A Biography of Darryl F. Zanuck (1971), details the colorful life and career of one of Hollywood's last Golden Age studio bosses. He later wrote and edited eight books related to American and British theater and contributed introductions or essays to several other works. As part of his Conversations with… series, Gussow published four volumes of selected excerpts from his interviews with English playwright, director, and actor Harold Pinter (1994), British playwright Tom Stoppard (1995), Irish writer and playwright Samuel Beckett (1996), and American playwright Arthur Miller (2002), a format he continued with his book about the British actor Michael Gambon, Michael Gambon: A Life in Acting (2004).

When the New York Times became fully computerized and purged its clippings morgue, Gussow reclaimed his reviews and articles--often about then-unknown playwrights and actors, experimental theater productions, Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway productions--and published Theatre on the Edge: New Visions, New Voices (1998). This selected anthology of Gussow's previously published pieces demonstrates his pioneering interest in new and soon-to-emerge talent and alternative theater. His reviews were often the first to appear for these productions, many of which went on to receive awards and enjoy long-run successes. Gussow's criticism helped launch the careers of many actors and playwrights, including Miguel Piñero, David Mamet, Sam Shepard, Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, and Sigourney Weaver.

In 1962, Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? debuted at the Billy Rose Theatre on Broadway. Gussow's enthusiastic review of the play was his first Broadway review for Newsweek, thus beginning Gussow's life-long interest in Albee's work and career. In 1993, Gussow began work on a full-length biography of the playwright. Albee gave Gussow full access to his letters and other personal papers and generous amounts of his time in extended and candid interviews. Edward Albee: A Singular Journey (1999) was described by many critics as a definitive biography of the playwright. It won praise from reviewers for its close analysis of the relationship between events in Albee's life and his theatrical works, and for its gripping narrative of the playwright's dazzling early success, subsequent theatrical failures, and triumphant comeback. In 2000, Edward Albee: A Singular Journey received the Theatre Library Association's George Freedley Memorial Award, a prize awarded annually to the year's most significant work of theater scholarship.

A frequent participant in cultural events and symposia in New York, across the United States, and abroad, Gussow appeared as a guest speaker at many conferences, readings, tributes, and other gatherings, including the Ransom Center's 1996 Flair Symposium. Most notable among these was a lecture series titled "The Filmmakers," organized by New York University's School of Continuing Education in the 1970s. The series combined film screenings with interview/discussion sessions with directors, actors, screenwriters, critics, and others in the film industry. Guests included Mike Nichols, Woody Allen, William Friedkin, Sidney Lumet, Mel Brooks, Robert Evans, Pauline Kael, Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, Faye Dunaway, and Katharine Hepburn, among many others. Gussow also supported theatrical artists as a committee member and/or nominator for several awards and fellowships, including the Helen Merrill Awards, the Pulitzer Prize, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, the Theater Hall of Fame Awards, and the John Simon Guggenheim and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur fellowship programs.

Gussow himself received several awards, including the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism (1979), a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship (1979) to research and write the history of the New York Shakespeare Festival, and a Rockefeller Foundation Grant in 2003 for a residency at the Bellagio Center to write his proposed memoir, A Life In and Out of the Theater. Unfortunately, he was unable to attend due to illness and never began this work. He served as President of the New York Drama Critics' Circle from 1988 to 1991.

In the mid-1990s, Gussow's cultural coverage at the Times expanded to include feature articles based on interviews with literary and other notable people from a variety of artistic disciplines. Among the subjects of these articles were the artists Edward Gorey and David Hockney; fiction writers V. S. Naipaul (a friend of Gussow's since the 1970s), John Irving, Robertson Davies, Paul Bowles, Umberto Eco, and Richard Russo; and historian Simon Schama.

Throughout his career at the Times, Gussow occasionally wrote about current events in New York City, such as his coverage of the arts policy of Mayor Abraham Beame's administration. An unexpected and dramatic intersection between Gussow's personal life and his professional interest in New York City's news occurred on March 6, 1970, when the townhouse next door to Gussow's on West 11th Street exploded as five members of the Weatherman organization were assembling a bomb. Gussow wrote about the incident for New York magazine in 1971 and continued to follow the story over the decades. On the 30th anniversary of the blast, the Times published Gussow's personal history of the event, "The House on West 11th Street."

Mel Gussow died of cancer on April 29, 2005. He was survived by his wife Ann and son Ethan.


In addition to material found within the Mel Gussow collection, the following sources were used:

McKinley, Jesse. "Mel Gussow, Critic, Dies at 71; a Champion of Playwrights."   New York Times, 1 May 2005.

"Mel Gussow."   Contemporary Authors Online, http://galenet.galegroup.com (accessed May 2010).


The Mel Gussow Collection, circa 1920s-2008 (bulk 1960-2004), consists of article and manuscript drafts, interview notes and transcripts, correspondence, scrapbooks, photographs, subject files, clippings, published material, and sound recordings belonging to theater critic and writer Mel Gussow. The bulk of the archive documents Gussow's professional life, beginning with his brief assignment as a journalist in the United States Army through his nearly forty years as theater and cultural critic for the New York Times. The relatively small volume of personal papers focuses on Gussow's school years and the Gussow family. The papers are organized into five series: I. Works, II. Collected Material, III. Correspondence, IV. Personal and Professional Papers, and V. Works by Others.

Series I. Works includes notes, drafts, interview transcripts, clippings, correspondence, and other material associated with Gussow's books, articles, essays, and reviews. Gussow wrote and edited nine books highlighting American and British theater and the careers of some of the twentieth century's most acclaimed playwrights, directors, producers, and performers. This series is arranged into three subseries: A. Books, B. Journalism, and C. Other Writings.

The extensive subject files contained in Series II. Collected Material complement Gussow's works. Topics include film, stage, and television actors; authors; playwrights; theater companies; productions; and general topics such as "film rights" or "black theater." Notes, interview transcripts, clippings, and other reference material form the bulk of the material in this series. These files also often contain drafts and clippings of Gussow's reviews and articles.

Series III. Correspondence consists of incoming and outgoing letters between Gussow and actors, writers, playwrights, directors, and other professional associates. While the correspondent is frequently notable, the letters are often brief or acknowledgments of Gussow's reviews or articles. Significant correspondence, such as with Edward Albee and Darryl Zanuck, is often filed in Series I. Works and Series II. Collected Material. Correspondents' names are listed in the Index of Correspondents located at the end of this finding aid.

Series IV. Personal and Professional Papers contains Gussow's childhood and university records, contracts, appointment books, early writings, employment files, family papers, photographs, and material associated with his professional affiliations and army career. The files are in alphabetical order by topic.

Published and unpublished scripts and other writings sent to Gussow by various playwrights and authors form Series V. Works by Others. The works are arranged alphabetically by author's surname and in cases where there is more than one work by an author, the works are further arranged alphabetically by title.

The Mel Gussow Collection includes numerous documents that were typed or printed on highly acidic paper. Over time, these sheets have deteriorated and are now very fragile. In order to diminish further deterioration caused by frequent handling, many documents have been photocopied with the copy filed in front of the original.


Other repositories with material related to Mel Gussow include the Mandeville Special Collections Library at The University of California San Diego and Yale University Library.


Over 900 sound recordings (most are audio cassettes with a few reel-to-reel tapes) of Gussow's interviews with actors, playwrights, writers, and directors have been separated from the collection and are housed in the Ransom Center's Sound Recordings Collection. The tapes span the years 1978-2003 and there are often multiple tapes per interview session. Interview transcripts, both in synopsis and verbatim form, may be found in Series I. Works and Series II. Collected Material. Interview names are listed in the Index of Interviews located at the end of this finding aid. Books received with the collection have been separated and housed in the Ransom Center's Book Collection. Computer disks containing works and slide shows have been separated from the collection and are housed in the Ransom Center's Electronic Records Collection. Four VHS tapes depicting tributes to or panels with Arthur Miller and Edward Albee have been separated from the collection and are housed in the Ransom Center's Moving Image Collection.


People

Albee, Edward, 1928-

Beckett, Samuel, 1906-1989.

Fugard, Athol.

Gambon, Michael.

Gussow, Mel, 1933-2005.

Hirschfeld, Al.

Hoffman, Dustin, 1937-

Irwin, Bill, 1950-

Mankiewicz, Joseph L.

Miller, Arthur.

Naipaul, V. S. (Vidiadhar Surajprasad), 1932.

Nichols, Mike.

Papp, Joseph.

Pinter, Harold, 1930-2008.

Ramsay, Margaret, 1908-1991.

Stoppard, Tom.

Williams, Tennessee, 1911-1983.

Zanuck, Darryl Francis, 1902-1979.

Organizations

New York Shakespeare Festival.

New York Times.

New Yorker.

Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation.

Weatherman (Organization).

Subjects

Authors and publishers.

Experimental theater--20th century.

Journalism--United States.

Motion picture industry-- California--Los Angeles.

Off-Broadway theater.

Off-Off-Broadway theater.

Theater critics

Theater--Great Britain--20th century.

Theater--United States--20th century.

Document Types

Calendars.

Clippings.

Correspondence.

Galley proofs.

Manuscripts.

Photographs.

Publications.

Scrapbooks.

Scripts.

Serials (publications).

Sound recordings.

Theatre programs.

Transcripts

Oversize boxes Container 192-214