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University of Texas at Austin

Robert Downing:

An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Downing, Robert, 1914-1975
Title: Robert Downing Papers
Dates: 1881, 1920-1975, undated (bulk dates 1931-1975)
Extent: 58 document boxes, 3 card boxes (cb), 10 oversize boxes (osb) (37.13 linear feet), 5 oversize folders (osf)
Abstract: The papers of production stage manager, actor, playwright, and theatre critic Robert Downing contain manuscripts for numerous works, extensive correspondence, production and stage manager materials for various productions, scrapbooks, and works and correspondence by others, forming a notable record of Downing's contribution to twentieth-century theatre.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-01205
Language: English
Access: Open for research. Researchers must create an online Research Account and agree to the Materials Use Policy before using archival materials. The scrapbooks in this collection are in fragile condition and require special handling techniques. One scrapbook is restricted from use due to the presence of mold. Special permission from the Curator of Performing Arts, plus advance notice, is required to access the restricted scrapbook. To make an appointment, please email
Use Policies: Ransom Center collections may contain material with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in the collections without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the Ransom Center and The University of Texas at Austin assume no responsibility.
Restrictions on Use: Authorization for publication is given on behalf of the University of Texas as the owner of the collection and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder which must be obtained by the researcher. For more information please see the Ransom Center's Open Access and Use Policies.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation: Robert Downing Papers (Manuscript Collection MS-01205). Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin.
Acquisition: Purchase and Gift, 1961, 1976 (R1031-1035, R1049)
Processed by: Anne Kofmehl and Joan Sibley, 2019 Note: This finding aid replicates and replaces information previously available only in a card catalog. Please see the explanatory note at the end of this finding aid for information regarding the arrangement of the manuscripts as well as the abbreviations commonly used in descriptions.

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

Robert Downing was a noted production stage manager, actor, director, playwright, and theatre critic who worked with some of the great playwrights and directors of the twentieth century, including Tennessee Williams, Elia Kazan, Ezra Stone, and Moss Hart. Robert Downing was born April 26, 1914 in Sioux City, Iowa. He was adopted by his parents Clark Elmer and Alice Mae Downing soon after his birth and raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Downing got his start in the theatre at the age of thirteen taking acting lessons in Cedar Rapids. He developed and honed his acting skills through work with various community theatres and tent shows in Cedar Rapids and the surrounding region. In 1931, he studied theatre at University of Iowa under B. Iden Payne. He continued to act in regional theatre and expanded his repertoire with several lead roles on the Dixiana Showboat in Chicago, Illinois (1934-35) and played Pontius Pilate in a touring production of the passion play (1935-36). He eventually got his big break when he joined the Lunts (Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne) on tour in 1939-40 for their productions of The Seagull, Amphitryon 38, The Idiot's Delight, and The Taming of the Shrew. He later served as their secretary and wrote the "Luntanne Tattler", a backstage gossip newsletter for the cast and crew.
Downing's stage management career began in 1940 as an assistant stage manager for There Shall Be No Night. In 1942, he led the USO-Camp Shows' production of Junior Miss. For the next two years, he added more assistant stage manager credits to his resume, including the tour of My Sister Eileen (1942-43) and Mae West's Catherine was Great (1943). In 1945, he returned abroad as the stage and company manager for the USO-Camp Shows' production of Moss Hart's The Man Who Came to Dinner.
In 1947, Downing served as production stage manager for A Streetcar Named Desire, his first Tennessee Williams production. He stayed with that show through its opening run and subsequent tour until 1950. He came back five years later as production stage manager for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955. In the years between and after, Downing worked on numerous successful productions, oftentimes working multiple shows with the same director, producers, and/or set designers. Some notable shows from that period include: Seventeen (1951); The Tender Trap (1954-55); Happy Hunting, with Ethel Merman (1956); Say, Darling (1958); J.B. (1959); and Camelot (1960). His creative partners for many of these shows included Elia Kazan, Jo Mielziner, Jule Styne, Ezra Stone, Moss Hart, and Tennessee Williams.
Downing was appointed as production stage manager for the Repertory Theatre at the Lincoln Center in 1963. For the next couple years, he worked on a variety of shows, including three for Arthur Miller: After the Fall (1964); The Changeling (1964); and Incident at Vichy (1964). In 1965, he worked on his last production on Broadway as a stage manager for Molière's Tartuffe.
During his two decades on Broadway, Downing also wrote and/or co-wrote his own plays, including Yankee Doodle Comes to Town with Kermit Love and Under Canvas with George Greenberg. His play The Limbo Kid was performed as a radio drama in 1940, a stage production in 1957, and a television adaptation in 1960. The play won the first prize in the annual playwriting competition of the Southeast Theatre Conference in 1961. He taught theatre courses at the American Theatre Wing, the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York, and numerous colleges and universities. In 1966, he toured twenty countries in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East speaking on the subject of American Theatre for the State Department.
In 1968, Downing moved to Champaign-Urbana to serve as the production administrator at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois. After a year, he moved further west to Denver to join the staff of the Bonfils Theatre in Denver, and in 1970 he became a regular contributor to the Denver Post as their drama editor. Downing had previously spent many years reviewing books for Variety under the byline "Rodo" and continued to review books for the Post and contribute theatre and theatre history articles to periodicals. Downing was a member of many professional societies, but was especially active in The Players, serving as secretary from 1960 to 1968. He was also appointed as director of the American National Theatre and Academy (ANTA) in 1967.
In 1961, Downing sold his theatre collection to the University of Texas at Austin's Hoblitzelle Theatre Arts Library. He continued to generously add material to the collection until his death on June 14th, 1975.


Crain, William. "Robert Downing, 26 April 1914-14 June 1975," The Library Chronicle, New Series Number 9, 1978.

Scope and Contents

The papers of production stage manager, actor, playwright, and theatre critic, Robert Downing contain manuscripts for numerous works, extensive correspondence, production and stage manager materials for various productions, scrapbooks, and works and correspondence by others, forming a notable record of Downing's contribution to twentieth century theatre. Many of Downing's colleagues are represented in the papers, including noted directors, producers, playwrights, actors, set designers, and other theatre professionals, most notably Tennessee Williams, Moss Hart, Elia Kazan, Jo Mielziner, and Ezra Stone.
The papers span 1881-1975, with the bulk dating from the period from 1931 until Downing's death in 1975. The papers are organized into five series, I. Works, 1932-1968, undated (boxes 1-9, 71); II. Letters, 1933-1975, undated (boxes 9-10); III. Recipient, 1931-1975, undated (boxes 10-28); and IV. Miscellaneous, 1881, 1920-1975, undated (boxes 28-61); and V. Miscellaneous Scrapbooks, 1933-1962 (boxes 62-70). The Robert Downing papers were previously described only in a card catalog. This finding aid replicates and replaces that description. Please see the explanatory note at the end of this finding aid for information regarding the arrangement of those manuscripts as well as the abbreviations commonly used in the descriptions. Downing's papers were formerly part of the Ransom Center's Theater Arts Manuscripts Collection, but now form a separate, discrete collection.
Manuscripts, play scripts, drafts, and notes, for Downing's writings make up Series I. Works and represent his output of articles, plays for stage and radio, interviews, reviews, columns, and criticism. The materials are arranged alphabetically by title. Dominant among the works are his plays The Limbo Kid (1957), first produced as a radio drama in 1940, copyrighted and performed as a stage production in 1957, and adapted for television in 1960; Singing in the Wilderness (1941); Yankee Doodle Comes to Town (1940), co-written with Kermit Love; and A Line Down the Middle (1968) co-written with Bernice Weiler. Also present are issues of the "Luntanne Tattler" (1939-40), a backstage gossip newsletter Downing edited while on tour with the Lunts, and a series of journals he kept documenting his two tours with the production company USO-Camp Shows and his trips abroad lecturing on American theatre in 1966. All titles are represented in the Index of Works in this finding aid.
Series II. Letters contains outgoing letters written by Downing that are arranged alphabetically by the recipient's name. Correspondents include Downing's colleagues: directors, producers, playwrights, designers, and actors; as well as family members, friends, editors, publishers, and fellow members of the theatre community. Present are numerous letters to Franklin Heller, a close friend and television producer. An Index of Letters in this finding aid lists all correspondent names represented in this series.
Downing's sizeable incoming correspondence is located in Series III. Recipient and is arranged alphabetically by the author's name. The correspondence helps to demonstrate both his career activities and personal relationships with numerous colleagues and friends over many years. His correspondents include fellow directors, producers, playwrights, set designers, composers, performers and other theatre professionals; editors, publishers, journals, theatre-related organizations and other writers and performers; also included are state officials, several U.S. presidents, and other foreign dignitaries, as well as close friends and family members. All correspondent names are listed in the Index of Recipients in this finding aid.
Among the many notable correspondents are Julie Andrews, Richard Pike Bissell, Helen Bonfils, Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, Kitty Carlisle, Carol Channing, Beatrice Joy Chute, Marchette Chute, Bette Davis, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Maurice Evans, Herbert Fields, Lynn Fontanne, George Freedley, Ketti Frings, Marian Gallaway, Abel Green, Moss Hart, Franklin Heller, President Herbert Hoover, Frederick Hunter, Joseph Hyman, Burl Ives, Elia Kazan, Deborah Kerr, Carl Laemmle, Angela Lansbury, Alan Jay Lerner, Howard Lindsay, Anita Loos, Alfred Lunt, Hattie McDaniel, Archibald MacLeish, Ethel Merman, Jo Mielziner, Laurence Olivier, The Players (New York), Christopher Plummer, Cole Porter, Repertory Theater at the Lincoln Center, President Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt, Irene Mayer Selznick, Robert L. Sherman, Robert E. Sherwood, Max Shulman, Adlai E. Stevenson, Ezra Stone, Jule Styne, Jessica Tandy, President Harry Truman, Carl Van Vechten, Berenice Weiler, Mae West, and Tennessee Williams (two letters).
Noteworthy items include a series of letters from Downing's birth mother, Florence Reyman (née Erbes) in folder 23.1. Downing searched for his mother via newspaper ads in the 1930s and was reunited with her on the radio program We the People in 1936; a script of this broadcast is located in folder 57.6. Also of interest are a series of photographic postcards from Carl Van Vechten, taken by the artist himself (folders 26.3-7, 27.1), and significant series of letters from Elia Kazan (folders 18.2-3), Jo Mielziner (folders 21.1-2), and Ezra Stone (folders 24.6, 25.1), all longtime colleagues who worked on several productions with Downing. A small amount of photographic negatives were removed to cold storage due to preservation concerns.
Series IV. Miscellaneous chiefly comprises Downing career-related and personal papers plus works and third-party correspondence created by others. Included are scripts authored by others for productions in which Downing was involved, often with Downing's annotations. All materials in the series are arranged alphabetically by creator and are listed in an Index of Miscellaneous in this finding aid.
Present are multiple drafts of scripts, including annotated stage manager scripts, for There Shall Be No Night (1940); The Man Who Came to Dinner (1945); A Streetcar Named Desire (1947; 1949); The Tender Trap (1954); Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955); J.B. (1958); Say Darling (1958); Chéri (1959); Camelot (1961); After the Fall (1963); and Natural Affection (1963). Some oversize materials, such as blueprints for set design and light plots, were removed to flat file storage.
Downing's own materials in this series include: day books for productions and other stage manager materials (prop lists, lighting notes, etc.); notes and fragments; tour diaries for Lunt-Fontanne and USO-Camp Show productions; notecards on George Ade (a nineteenth century playwright); a postcard collection (arranged thematically); promotional material for Yankee Doodle Comes to Town; and other personal items.
Other items of interest include Allen Brousseau's union membership cards; the correspondence and financial papers (royalty statements) of Moss Hart; Joseph Hyman's correspondence and contracts; a rewrite of Act III for Cat on the Hot Tin Roof (folder 55.2); and Downing's extensive collection of autographs of theatrical personalities.
Downing's scrapbooks in Series V. were formerly cataloged as Miscellaneous 1-29. These are now arranged alphabetically by title. Most were created by Downing for productions he was involved in and include photos, clippings, programs, and some correspondence; the correspondent names and folder locations are included in the Index of Recipients. The scrapbooks cover Downing's early acting career, provide important documentation for such Broadway hits as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Street Car Named Desire, and reflect Downing's interests, such as his scrapbook on cats. An Index of Miscellaneous Scrapbooks includes more detail on the contents of each book.

Related Material

There are letters from or to Robert Downing in several other collections held by the Ransom Center: the Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Records; E. P. Conkle Papers; John Gassner Papers; Harper & Brothers Records; Oliver La Farge Collection; Robert Payne Collection; Elmer Rice Papers; Robert Haven Schauffler Correspondence; and Jule Styne Papers.
Researchers of Downing may also be interested in the Center's Tennessee Williams Collection.
The Denver Public Library holds a small number of scrapbooks of Downing's articles for the Denver Post (3 oversize folios).

Separated Material

The Ransom Center holds photographs, programs, and clippings that originated from the Downing Papers in its Card Photograph Collection, Magic Collection, Musicians Collection, Playbills and Programs Collection, Production Photographs Collection, and Theatre Biography Collection. Material from Downing was also added to the Harry Houdini and Sarah Bernhardt collections.
The Center also holds books previously owned by Downing (approximately 5450 items) that are accessible online via The University of Texas Library Catalog; six Downing items in the Literary File Photography Collection; and three audio reels in the Sound Recordings collection.
The Ransom Center also holds approximately sixty-nine boxes and three flat file drawers of uncatalogued Robert Downing material.

Index Terms


Chute, B. J. (Beatrice Joy), 1913-1987.
Chute, Marchette, 1909-1994.
Downing, Mae.
Fontanne, Lynn.
Freedley, George, 1904-1967.
Green, Abel, 1900-1973.
Hart, Moss, 1904-1961.
Heller, Franklin.
Kazan, Elia.
Laemmle, Carl, Jr., 1908-1979.
Lindsay, Howard, 1889-1968.
Loos, Anita, 1893-1981.
Lunt, Alfred.
Merman, Ethel.
McDaniel, Hattie, 1895-1952.
Mielziner, Jo, 1901-1976.
Stone, Ezra, 1917-1994.
Styne, Jule, 1905-1994.
Van Vechten, Carl, 1880-1964.
Williams, Tennessee, 1911-1983.


ANTA (Organization).
The Players, New York.


American drama -- 20th century.
American drama -- History and criticism.
Stage managers.
Theater -- History.
Theater -- New York (State) -- New York.
Theater -- United States -- 20th century.
Theater critics.
Theaters -- Employees -- Stage managers.
Theatrical companies.

Document Types

Plays (performed works).
Prompt books.
Theatre programs.

Container List