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Theater Arts Manuscripts: An Inventory of the Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Harry Ransom Center, compiler of collection
Title: Theater Arts Manuscripts Collection
Dates: 1695-1978 (bulk 1801-1978), undated
Extent: 35 document boxes, 1 card box (15.12 linear feet), 1 oversize box (osb), 2 galley folders (gf)
Abstract: The Theater Arts Manuscripts Collection is an artificial collection of manuscripts drawn from a variety of sources, including the personal dramatic collections of W. H. Crain, Albert Davis, Robert Downing, Harry Houdini, and Messmore Kendall, among others. The majority of items are letters or autographs written by nineteenth- or twentieth-century American and British figures in the performing arts, along with some manuscript works, and personal or business papers, such as agreements, checks, contracts, invitations, invoices, receipts, theater passes, and tickets. Holdings for each person or entity range from a single item to several folders of items, arranged by creator name in one alphabetic sequence.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-04196
Language: English, with some items written in Arabic, French, German, Italian, or Russian.
Access: Open for research. Researchers must create an online Research Account and agree to the Materials Use Policy before using archival materials.
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: Theater Arts Manuscript Collection (Manuscript Collection MS-04196). Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin.
Acquisition: Gifts and purchases, 1956-2021. The Theater Arts Manuscript Collection chiefly contains items from two Hoblitzelle Foundation gifts: the Albert Davis Collection of Theater Artifacts in 1956, and the Messmore Kendall Collection in 1958. Items were also added from the Drama Collection and the W. H. Crain Collection, along with a number of more recent acquisitions through 2021. Additional items remain tipped into books or withdrawn from books in the Theater Arts Library.
Processed by: Joan Sibley, 2022. 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

Scope and Contents

The Theater Arts Manuscripts Collection, 1695-1978 (bulk 1801-1978), is an artificial collection of manuscripts drawn from a variety of sources, including the personal dramatic collections of W. H. Crain, Albert Davis, Robert Downing, Harry Houdini, and Messmore Kendall, among others. The majority of items are letters or autographs written by nineteenth- or twentieth-century American and British figures in the performing arts, along with some manuscript works, and personal or business papers, such as agreements, checks, contracts, invitations, invoices, receipts, theater passes, and tickets. Holdings for each person or entity range from a single item to several folders of items, arranged by creator name in one alphabetic sequence. The items are mostly English language, with some items written in Arabic, French, German, Italian, or Russian. See the Cataloging Note below and the Explanatory Note at the end of this finding aid for information about items previously described in the card catalog, their arrangement, and abbreviations commonly used.
Two of the most significant holdings are a 1751 travel diary and correspondence of David Garrick (1717-1779), English actor, playwright, theater manager and producer; and manuscripts of the Russian actor, director, and theorist Konstantin Stanislavsky (1863-1938), including correspondence with his English translator and a drawing entitled "Work on a Role", an early working scheme for his Method of Physical Action.
The most extensive holding in this collection is for the English actor and theater manager Robert William Elliston (1774-1831), with nine folders of correspondence and other manuscripts. Others represented by four to five folders of manuscripts include: Chilean ballet impresario Marquis George de Cuevas (1885-1961); American theatrical agent Thomas Ebert (of the Roberts & Ebert firm); American dramatist Clyde Fitch (1865-1909); American theater critic George E. Morrison (1860-1930); and English-born artist Henry Warren (1794-1879), who moved to America in 1807 with his older brother William Warren (1767-1832), an actor who became manager of the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia.
Many other performing arts figures are represented by one to three folders of manuscripts. Among these, some of the best known are Edwin Booth, Dion Boucicault, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, Augustin Daly, Edwin Forrest, Charles Frohman, Daniel Frohman, Joseph Jefferson, Charles John Kean, Edmund Kean, Ellen Tree Kean, Charles Kemble, Fanny Kemble, Richard Mansfield, Philip Moeller, Ada Rehan, E. H. Sothern, Ellen Terry, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, James William Wallack, Lester Wallack, Benjamin Nottingham Webster, and J. B. Wright.
Numerous other persons and entities, from the renowned to the obscure, are documented by less than a folder of material, and sometimes by only a single item. They represent a broad spectrum of those engaged in the performing arts: actors, actor-managers, actresses, agents, authors, blackface entertainers, collectors, comedians, composers, dancers, directors, dramatists, editors, entertainers, filmmakers, illusionists, journalists, lyricists, minstrel shows, orators, photographers, playwrights, producers, promoters, screenwriters, singers, songwriters, stage managers, theater critics, theater historians, theatrical agencies, theatrical managers, vaudeville entertainers, and vaudeville shows.
Many famous women who achieved great success in the theater as actors are documented, such as Lotta Crabtree (1847-1924), who left $4 million in a charitable trust on her death. Items for a number of female performers who were also accomplished theater managers, producers, and/or playwrights, such as Dame Madge Kendal (1849-1935), Jane M. Scott (1779-1839), and Madame Vestris (1797-1856), are also present.
Manuscripts are present for several Black performers and authors, including Ira Aldridge (1807-1867), Amiri Baraka (1934-2014), Harry Belafonte (1927- ), and Booker T. Washington (1859-1915).
Among the LGBTQ+ figures represented are Edward Albee (1928- .), Noel Coward (1899-1973), Charlotte Saunders Cushman (1816-1876, known for playing both male and female dramatic roles), John Gielgud (1904- ), and Ivor Novello (1893-1951). While the popular Broadway playwright Clyde Fitch (1865-1909) is not known to have identified as gay, recent research has documented his personal relationship with Oscar Wilde and probable homosexuality.
There are also several letters written by Marshall Pinckney Wilder (1859-1915), who became a respected actor, monologist, humorist, and sketch artist, shunning offers to exploit his dwarfism.
Among some of the more unexpected or surprising items in the collection are: a lengthy letter by American abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) concerning the reinstatement of Southern states into the Union after the Civil War, 1866; a manuscript and letters by Giovanni Battista Belzoni (1778-1823), Italian circus giant and strongman turned pioneer archaeologist of Egyptian antiquities; an undated letter by German composer Johannes Brahms (1833-1897); a ballet scenario for Mad Tristan (1944) by the Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dalí (1904-1989); a letter by English schoolmaster and minister David Hall (1683-1756) concerning business dealings of Quakers in England, 1738; a lengthy 1924 letter by American author H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) to the publisher of Weird Tales magazine; and a 1799 letter by German physician Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815).
The collection also contains a wide array of autographs, ranging from single items to entire albums or collections. For some actors, it was not uncommon to also include a quotation from dialogue associated with a signature role along with their autograph. Two unusual figures who are now obscure are also represented here: Joshua Abraham Norton (1818-1880), a San Franciscan who declared himself Norton I, Emperor of the United States in 1859, signing an autograph here as "Norton the 1st"; and Evander Berry Wall (1861-1940), a rich New York City clotheshorse who signed his autograph with his title "King of the Dudes".
Index of Names
A single alphabetical index with nearly 4,400 name entries is included in this finding aid. The index mainly lists creators of items and their box and folder location within the collection, but there are also a substantial number of entries for persons or entities who received numerous letters. Among the most frequent recipients are American theater critic T. Allston Brown (1836-1918); American actor James L. Carhart (1843-1937); English actor William Henry Chippendale (1801-1888); American theater historian John Bouvé Clapp; American theatrical manager James T. Clyde ( -1941); English actor Harry Edwards (1827-1891); theater manager Thomas McKeon (active 1833-1865); American author, anti-suffragist, and advocate of higher education for women Annie Nathan Meyer (1867-1951); American theater manager Albert Marshman Palmer (1838-1905); American theatrical agents Simmonds & Brown; and American drama critic William Winter (1836-1917). See the Index of Names for further information on the types of index entries included.
Cataloging Note
This collection was previously accessible only through a card catalog, but has been recataloged as part of a retrospective conversion project. It is now arranged in two series, Series I. Alphabetical A-Z (Described in Card Catalog), and Series II. Later Acquisitions (Not Described in Card Catalog).
Item-and/or group-level descriptions in Series I. were derived from legacy data contained in the card catalog. Several enhancements were added during recataloging:
• Identities were established for some previously unidentified creators;
• Life dates, fuller name forms, and variant names were added for some creators;
• Nationalities and occupations (if available) were added to name headings in the container list for well-represented persons;
• Letterhead names were added if potentially useful in identifying some creators;
• Languages other than English were noted when present; and
• Notes were added to point out the presence of portraits (print or photographic), drawings or sketches, and musical notations.
The later acquisitions in Series II. appear twice in the Container List: once in Series II. arranged chronologically by date of acquisition. They additionally appear in Series I. in correct alphabetical position to aid discovery and also reveal the entirety of holdings for persons or entities represented in both series.
Content warning: This collection contains material that users may consider offensive or harmful, such as terminology, language, and negative stereotypes that may be considered racist, sexist, outdated, or exclusionary. This language was used by the people and organizations that created the material and reflects the period in which they were created. It should not be interpreted to mean that Center staff endorse or approve of the representations or stereotypes implied within. For more, please refer to the Center’s Statement on Language in Ransom Center Descriptive Records.

Related Material

The manuscripts held in the Theater Arts Manuscript Collection are closely-related to and are often complementary to materials held in the Theater Biography Collection. It 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.
Another good resource for original theater documents are books located in the Theater Arts Library that are extra-illustrated with letters, manuscripts, and other non-published items. Several examples are included in this finding aid and cited by book call number: see Theodore Dreiser, Robert William Elliston, William Jermyn Florence, Charles Melville, Elmer L. Rice, Gloria Swanson, and Ellen Terry for examples. To locate additional items, search the University of Texas Library Catalog for phrases in any field such as “extra-illustrated,” “tipped in,” tipped into,” “laid in,” “mounted in,” or “in a copy of,” and then limit search results to Library (Harry Ransom Center) and then to Location in Library (Theater Arts Library).
Additional manuscripts at the Ransom Center related to those in the Theater Arts Manuscript Collection are located in these collections:

Separated Material

Three pre-1700 manuscripts were separated from the Theater Arts Manuscript Collection in 1981 and placed in the Medieval & Early Modern Manuscripts Collection (see HRC 134, HRC 135 , and HRC 136).
Over the years, other materials were removed from the Theater Arts Manuscript Collection and added to existing collections or made into discrete collections. These include Arthur Todd (3 boxes) in 2005, and Sarah Bernhardt (11 boxes) in 2006. During 2016-2017, four large segments were removed and now exist as separate collections for Wilson Barrett (31 boxes), Hillary Bell (4 boxes), John Gassner (154 boxes), and Jule Styne (97 boxes). In 2018, the Harry Houdini Papers (105 boxes) and Harry Houdini Collection (4 boxes) were formed. During 2019, materials for James Foster Milliken (2 boxes) and Robert Downing (71 boxes) were removed and made into separate collections. And in 2021, materials for A. M. (Allyn Mather) Colegrove (2 boxes), E. P. (Ellsworth Prouty) Conkle (55 boxes), John Farnsworth Low (2 boxes), Henry Morford (1 box), and Frances Starr (5 boxes) also became discrete collections. Eleven screenplays for film or television were removed in 2021 and added to the Screenplays Collection (no online finding aid as of 2021).

Index Terms


Booth, Edwin, 1833-1893.
Boucicault, Dion, 1820-1890.
Campbell, Patrick, Mrs., 1865-1940.
Cuevas, George de, marquis, 1885-1961.
Daly, Augustin, 1838-1899.
Ebert, Thomas.
Elliston, Robert William, 1774-1831.
Fitch, Clyde, 1865-1909.
Forrest, Edwin, 1806-1872.
Frohman, Charles, 1856-1915.
Frohman, Daniel, 1851-1940.
Garrick, David, 1717-1779.
Jefferson, Joseph, 1829-1905.
Kean, Charles John, 1811-1868.
Kean, Edmund, 1787-1833.
Kean, Ellen Tree, 1805-1880.
Kemble, Charles, 1775-1854.
Kemble, Fanny, 1809-1893.
Mansfield, Richard, 1857-1907.
Moeller, Philip, 1880-1958.
Morrison, George E. (George Ebenezer), 1860-1930.
Rehan, Ada, 1857-1916.
Sothern, E. H. (Edward Hugh), 1859-1933.
Stanislavsky, Konstantin, 1863-1938.
Terry, Ellen, Dame, 1847-1928.
Tree, Herbert Beerbohm, Sir, 1852-1917.
Wallack, James William, 1795-1864.
Wallack, Lester, 1820-1888.
Warren, Henry, 1793-1877.
Warren, William, 1767-1832.
Webster, Benjamin Nottingham, 1797-1882.
Wright, J. B. (John B.), 1814-1893.


Collectors and collecting.
Theater--Great Britain--19th century.
Theater--Great Britain--20th century.
Theater--United States--19th century.
Theater--United States--20th century.
Theater critics.
Theater historians.
Theatrical agencies.
Theatrical companies.
Theatrical managers.

Document Types

Business records.
Personal papers.

Container List