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University of Texas at Austin

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.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-05134
Language: English and French
Access: Open for research

Administrative Information


Acquisition: Gift, 2009 (G5134)
Processed by: Amy E. Armstrong and Ancelyn Krivak, 2010
Repository:

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch


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.

Sources:


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).

Scope and Contents


Scope and Contents

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.

Series Descriptions

Series I. Works, 1924-2004 (53 document boxes, 17 oversize boxes)
Series I. Works includes notes, drafts, interview transcripts, clippings, and other items associated with Gussow's books, articles, essays, and reviews. This series is arranged into three subseries: A. Books, B. Journalism, and C. Other Writings. Gussow wrote eight books, most of them related to American and British theater, edited Tennessee Williams: Plays 1937-1955 and Plays 1957-1980 (co-editor, two volumes, 2000), and contributed introductions or essays to several other books. Published works include: Don't Say Yes Until I Finish Talking: A Biography of Darryl F. Zanuck (1971), Conversations with Pinter (1994), Conversations with Stoppard (1995), Conversations with [and about] Beckett (1996), Theatre on the Edge: New Visions, New Voices (1998), Edward Albee: A Singular Journey (1999), Conversations with Miller (2002), and Michael Gambon: A Life in Acting (2004). In addition, Gussow contributed essays and introductions to several books and regularly contributed an essay about Off-Off Broadway to Best Plays Theater Yearbook.
Subseries A. Books is arranged in alphabetical order by title, and within each title the folders generally follow the order of literary production, from research notes to publication drafts. When applicable, related material for publicity, reviews, and correspondence follows the drafts. Because Gussow often re-purposed his research files for his books, articles, and reviews, see also Series. II Collected Material for additional items, such as interview transcripts, photographs, clippings, programs, and other printed matter.
Although Gussow's first book, Don't Say Yes Until I Finish Talking: A Biography of Darryl F. Zanuck, was not an "authorized" biography, Zanuck lent his full cooperation and support to Gussow. Zanuck provided Gussow with complete access and met with him regularly for interviews. Because interviews with Zanuck and his family, friends, and associates were conducted specifically for this work, interview transcripts are filed within this series. Of particular interest are manuscript drafts annotated by Zanuck; he typically wrote his comments and suggestions using a blue, felt-tipped pen. Correspondence with Zanuck and his associates is filed within this series and is also noteworthy. For additional Zanuck-related material, see also Series II. Collected Material.
Gussow completed similar research about playwright Edward Albee for his book Edward Albee: A Singular Journey. Transcripts of interviews with Albee, his friends, and his artistic collaborators are filed in this series, along with manuscript drafts of the book, one of which is annotated by Albee. Gussow's research materials for the book, which he originally labeled as Albee's "Chronology," have been maintained in their original order, with the original folder titles. Albee granted Gussow extensive access to his personal papers and correspondence, and even provided Gussow with originals and photocopies of his letters. The collection arrived at the Ransom Center with a significant amount of this correspondence; however, all of the original and most of the photocopied letters were returned to Albee at his request after the collection was originally processed. Therefore, there are significant gaps in the correspondence and the sequential numbering of the folders and boxes; however, Gussow's system of organizing correspondence both by date and correspondent has been preserved. Also collected in this series are reviews of, and correspondence regarding, the finished book, some of which were originally bound together as a scrapbook by Gussow. These items were removed for preservation purposes, but the original order of items was maintained. For additional Albee-related material, see also Series II. Collected Material.
Because Gussow's Conversations with… series and his final book, Michael Gambon: A Life in Acting, were edited excerpts from his numerous interviews with Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, Samuel Beckett, Arthur Miller, and Michael Gambon, the files associated with these works contain various edited interview transcript drafts, proofs, publicity material, reviews, and related correspondence. Gussow's research files for these individuals are located in Series II. Collected Material and may include the original interview transcripts, notes, programs, other writings, correspondence, clippings, scripts, and published matter.
Subseries B. Journalism contains article drafts, clippings, WQXR segment scripts, tear sheets, memos, correspondence, research files, notes, proofs, and clippings scrapbooks used by Gussow while working as a journalist. The subseries is organized alphabetically by publication title, with General material filed at the end of the series. The segment containing the New York Times material is comprised mostly of Gussow's clipping files originally retained in the New York Times morgue. The files are arranged chronologically; however, the clippings remain unarranged within folders. Also contained in this series are fifteen scrapbooks with clippings of Gussow's Times articles and reviews.
Gussow wrote New Yorker profiles for Athol Fugard, Al Hirschfeld, Bill Irwin, and Margaret "Peggy" Ramsay. These files are arranged alphabetically by the subject's name and include typescript drafts, galley and page proofs, correspondence, and related material. Series II. Collected Material contains Gussow's research files for these individuals. Also included in this subseries are typescripts and tear sheets from Gussow's book and theater reviews published in Playboy, as well as typescripts and clippings of Gussow's early writings for Newsweek.
For thirteen years between 1979 and 1993, Gussow broadcast a daily theater segment on WQXR, the radio station owned by the New York Times. These scripts are arranged chronologically; however, there is a gap in coverage between 1984 and 1985, when Gussow's program was canceled and replaced by a program hosted by Times Broadway critic Frank Rich.
In addition to books and articles, Gussow contributed essays and introductions to several books and regularly contributed an essay about Off-Off Broadway for Best Plays Theater Yearbook. Subseries C. Other Writings contains drafts and notes for these and other writings.
Series II. Collected Material, 1933-2008 (109 boxes)
Series II. Collected Material comprises Gussow's subject files used for his reference and writings. Subjects include actors, authors, playwrights, theater companies, productions, and general topics such as "film rights" or "black theater." Folders are arranged in alphabetical order by title, often transcribed from Gussow's original folders. Folder volume varies significantly from subjects represented by only a single clipping to subjects that fill multiple folders. Files for individuals who were the subject of a book by Gussow, such as Edward Albee, Samuel Beckett, and Darryl Zanuck, are quite extensive. Contents may include notes, interview transcripts, typescript drafts, original and/or photocopied clippings, correspondence, photographs, scripts, publication proofs, receipts, contracts, royalty statements, production programs, playbills, publicity material, posters, magazines, and material related to symposia, public appearances, and tributes. Interview names are listed in the Index of Interview Transcripts located at the end of this finding aid.
Series III. Correspondence, circa 1950s-2005 (6 boxes)
Correspondence consists of incoming and some outgoing letters between Gussow and actors, writers, playwrights, directors, and other professional associates. Important correspondence, in particular letters from Edward Albee and Darryl Zanuck, is often filed in Series I. Works or in Series II. Collected Material. Correspondent names are listed in the Index of Correspondents located at the end of this finding aid.
Series IV. Personal and Professional Papers, 1940-2005 (16 boxes, 1 oversize box)
Series IV. Personal and Professional Papers contains Gussow's childhood and university papers, contracts, early writings, employment files, family papers, photographs, professional affiliations, appointment books, and army material. The materials are in alphabetical order by topic.
Gussow received several awards including the George Jean Nathan Award (1979), a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship (1979), and a Rockefeller Foundation Grant (2003). The Awards segment within this series includes material associated with these prestigious honors. Because of his knowledge of the theater and involvement in the theater community, Gussow frequently was invited to serve as a judge or nominator for various awards. The Professional Affiliations segment in this series includes correspondence, nominee packets, and reports associated with Gussow's participation on award committees. Gussow was a judge for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and also contributed an essay to Women Writing Plays (working title Women Write Theatre), edited by Alexis Greene, which is a published history about the Blackburn prize. Along with correspondence and clippings, Gussow's essay draft is contained within this section.
Of particular interest are Gussow's childhood, school, and university papers including report cards from his elementary school in Brooklyn to high school report cards and yearbooks. While an undergraduate student at Middlebury College in Vermont, Gussow became involved in a local controversy when he submitted an unflattering story about the Middlebury townspeople to the campus magazine, Frontiers. The fictitious story angered the townspeople and the local post office refused to send the magazine through the mail, stating that its content was obscene. Gussow was often threatened and had to issue a public apology. Material documenting this episode, along with issues of the Middlebury Campus, class assignments, and yearbooks, are included in this segment of material. Journalism assignments and stories from Gussow's graduate program at Columbia University are also included.
In the 1950s, Gussow wrote short fiction as an undergraduate and graduate student and while he was in the Army. There are often several re-worked versions of these stories arranged alphabetically by title within the Early Writings segment of this series.
Various versions of early-career resumes and cover letters, as well as two folders of response letters Gussow received from news and magazine publications declining his application for employment, are filed within Employment.
Family papers include material regarding other notable members of the Gussow family. The most voluminous segment is the papers of Gussow's father, Don Gussow, a businessman who founded and published trade magazines, such as Candy Industry. Gussow wrote several books, including Divorce Corporate Style (1972), in which he describes the sale of his publishing company to Cowles Communication, his later repurchase of the company, and the final resale to Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Included are drafts of three unpublished books and other writings, as well as some business and personal papers.
The section of material filed within the New York Times section contains administrative and personnel memos, performance evaluations, and a large volume of clippings about the management of the New York Times organization.
Of particular interest are five folders that document Gussow's six years teaching a continuing education course at New York University titled "The Filmmakers." Gussow called upon his notable contacts in the film and entertainment industries and invited actors, directors, writers, and producers to participate in class discussions. Guests who appeared in Gussow's class included Woody Allen, Alan Arkin, Mel Brooks, Dustin Hoffman, Elia Kazan, Sidney Lumet, Mike Nichols, and numerous others. Material consists of course descriptions, correspondence, notes, and expense reports.
Series V. Works by Others, 1948-2008 (7 boxes)
Series V. Works by Others contains scripts and other writings by various playwrights and authors retained by Gussow. The works are arranged alphabetically by author's surname. In cases where there is more than one work by an author, the works are further arranged in alphabetical order by title.

Related Material


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.

Separated Material


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.

Index Terms


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

Container List

Oversize boxes Container 192-214   
Request entire Container 192-214