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University of Texas at Austin

Nicholas Ray:

An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Ray, Nicholas, 1911-1979
Title: Nicholas Ray Papers
Dates: 1929-1998
Extent: 18 document boxes, 7 oversize boxes, 3 oversize folders (osf) (12.06 linear feet)
Abstract: The Nicholas Ray Papers, 1929-1998, include scripts, storyboards, production photographs and film stills, correspondence, photographs, manuscript drafts, interview transcripts, notebooks and note cards, clippings, artworks, address books, and personal effects purchased from Nicholas Ray's widow, Susan Ray.
Call Number: Film Collection FI-054
Language: English, French, and German
Access: Open for research

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Purchase, 2011
Processed by: Ancelyn Krivak, 2011, 2012

The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center

Biographical Sketch

Nicholas Ray (born Raymond Nicholas Kienzle, Jr., on August 7, 1911, in Galesville, Wisconsin) was a film director active in Hollywood between 1944 and 1963. Revered by American and European critics and filmmakers, Ray put his personal touch on every film he made, despite the constraints of the studio system. His films are marked by a sensitive handling of actors, a distinctive visual style that includes an expressionistic use of color and dramatic compositions, and unconventional subject matter. Ray's evocative depictions of young rebels, troubled outsiders, and characters on society's margins have won wide recognition in the United States and abroad as among the most aesthetically and culturally significant American films.
After briefly attending the University of Chicago, Ray began his career in the 1930s with a short stint as an apprentice at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin Fellowship in Wisconsin. Ray then moved to New York, where he performed as part of a left-wing theater troupe, the Theatre of Action. He worked as an actor and stage manager for the Works Progress Administration's Federal Theatre Project and co-produced a folk music radio show with Alan Lomax. During World War II, Ray was hired by John Houseman to work on Voice of America radio programs. In 1944 he went to Hollywood to assist Elia Kazan on his film adaptation of Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. After returning to New York to direct works for television and the Broadway stage, Ray returned to Hollywood to direct his first feature at RKO Studios, They Live By Night (1949).
Ray directed nineteen feature films for various Hollywood studios from 1949 to 1963, including In a Lonely Place (1950), Johnny Guitar (1954), and his best-known and most successful film, Rebel Without a Cause (1955). By the late 1950s, however, Ray's alcohol and drug abuse had begun to have increasingly serious repercussions for his career and personal health. After collapsing on the set of 55 Days to Peking (1963), Ray was removed from the film and never worked for a major studio again. He traveled through Europe in the 1960s, trying to get financial backing for a string of film projects, before returning to the United States to film the conspiracy trial of the Chicago Seven in 1969. In 1971, Ray was hired to teach filmmaking at Harpur College, State University of New York at Binghamton. Believing the best way to teach filmmaking was to make a film, Ray and his students made We Can't Go Home Again (screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1973 under the title The Gun Under My Pillow), an experimental work shot in a variety of formats.
In 1977, a newly sober Nicholas Ray obtained work teaching film directing and film acting at the Lee Strasberg Institute and New York University, and appeared in Wim Wenders's film The American Friend. Later that year, he learned he had lung cancer. He continued to teach and had a small role in Milos Forman's film Hair, but his health continued to decline. Wim Wenders's documentary Lightning Over Water (Nick's Story) chronicles the last few months of Ray's life in New York. Nicholas Ray died on June 16, 1979.
Ray was married four times: to journalist Jean Evans (circa 1931-1940), to actress Gloria Grahame (1948-1952), to dancer Betty Utey (1958-1966), and to writer Susan Schwarz, whom he met in 1969 and who remained with him until his death. He was survived by two sons, Anthony and Timothy, and two daughters, Julie and Nicca.


Eisenschitz, Bernard. "Nicholas Ray: A Biographical Outline". In I Was Interrupted: Nicholas Ray on Making Movies, Nicholas Ray, edited and introduced by Susan Ray, xli-xlviii. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Scope and Contents

The Nicholas Ray Papers, 1929-1998, include scripts, storyboards, production photographs and film stills, correspondence, photographs, manuscript drafts, interview transcripts, notebooks and note cards, clippings, artworks, address books, and personal effects purchased from Nicholas Ray's widow, Susan Ray. The material is divided in two series: I. Nicholas Ray, 1929-1979 and II. Susan Ray, 1974-1998.
The bulk of the Nicholas Ray series is comprised of materials related to specific films, such as scripts, storyboards, production photographs, and stills. Most of the films Ray directed are represented here, with the notable exception of Johnny Guitar. There is also a significant amount of personal and career-related materials from the 1960s and 1970s, including correspondence, journals, and photographs, much of it related to Ray's teaching activities at Harpur College, the Lee Strasberg Institute, and New York University. Most of the materials in the Susan Ray series are related to her work editing Nicholas Ray's autobiography, I Was Interrupted.
A complete Index of Correspondents is located at the end of this finding aid. Also located at the end of this finding aid is an Index of Photographic Subjects. Subjects of production photographs, film stills, portraits, and snapshots are indexed if their names are identified on the photograph itself or if their identity is readily apparent. However, the subjects of many photographs in the collection, particularly those related to Ray's teaching activities, remain unidentified.
Additional manuscript materials, primarily related to the film We Can't Go Home Again, were processed and added to the container list in 2012.
In addition to the materials described in this finding aid, the Papers include film, video, and audio materials, most of them related to Ray's film We Can't Go Home Again.

Series Descriptions

Related Material

The Rebel Without a Cause Collection at the Harry Ransom Center contains contracts and legal correspondence related to Nicholas Ray's 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause.
The James Jones Papers at the Harry Ransom Center contain correspondence with Nicholas Ray, notes and a treatment for the unproduced script Under Western Eyes, and Ray's unproduced script The Doctor and the Devils.
The Magnum Photos, Inc., Photography Collection, also at the Harry Ransom Center, contains a folder of images of Nicholas Ray.
The Ransom Center collection of film and television publicity materials includes film stills, lobby cards and posters for a number of Ray's films.

Separated Material

Twelve floppy disks containing transcripts of audio tapes of Nicholas Ray used to compile the book I Was Interrupted, and drafts of the text of the book, were transferred to the Electronic Records Collection.
Film, video and audio tapes were separated from the Nicholas Ray Papers and transferred to the Film Collection.

Index Terms


Ray, Nicholas, 1911-1979
Ray, Susan


Motion pictures--Production and direction
Motion pictures--Study and teaching
Motion pictures--United States

Container List