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University of Texas at Austin

Ernest Lehman:

An Inventory of His Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Lehman, Ernest, 1915-2005
Title: Ernest Lehman Collection
Dates: 1888-1994 (bulk 1931-1994)
Extent: 186 document boxes, 28 oversize boxes (78.12 linear feet), 31 oversize folders (osf), 13 galley files (gf)
Abstract: The papers of American screenwriter, producer, director, novelist, and journalist Ernest Lehman document the span of Lehman’s forty-plus year career in New York and Hollywood. The collection contains drafts of screenplays and other written works, film production, publicity, and research materials, correspondence, collected materials, and other professional and personal papers.
Call Number: Film Collection FI-017
Language: English, with some printed material in French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, and Swedish
Access: Open for research

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Gifts, 1960s-1997 (G 10980)
Processed by: Ancelyn Krivak, 2014-2015

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

Screenwriter, producer, director, novelist, and journalist Ernest Lehman was born in New York City on December 8, 1915 and raised in Woodmere, New York. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in English from the City College of New York, Lehman began his career as a freelance magazine writer, publishing his first work (a profile of entertainer Ted Lewis co-written with his friend David Brown) in Collier’s in 1939. After the United States entered the Second World War, Lehman received training at the New England Radio Institute and worked as a radio operator for the aviation industry. He also continued his career as a magazine writer, contributing short stories and articles to national magazines including Collier’s, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Liberty, and Redbook throughout the 1940s and early 1950s. In the late 1930s and 1940s, Lehman worked as a copywriter for Broadway press agent Irving Hoffman. His experiences feeding gossip about theatrical personalities and productions to Walter Winchell and other columnists during this time period inspired his short story "Tell Me About It Tomorrow," filmed in 1957 as The Sweet Smell of Success.
In 1952, Paramount Pictures offered Lehman a contract to write screenplays, and he moved to Hollywood to begin a new career. On loan to MGM, his first film was Executive Suite (1954), followed by Sabrina, released the same year, which garnered Lehman his first Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay and his first Writers Guild of America, West award. Lehman’s next assignment was the screenplay adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical The King and I, which was released in 1956 and again won the Writers Guild award. This was followed later the same year by Somebody Up There Likes Me, based on the autobiography of prizefighter Rocky Graziano. Lehman next worked for independent producers Hecht-Hill-Lancaster on the film adaptation of The Sweet Smell of Success, but he became ill before production started, and playwright Clifford Odets completed the final draft of the screenplay. Another of Lehman’s short stories, "The Comedian," was adapted for CBS Television’s Playhouse 90 by Rod Serling in 1957. Following the critical success of these adaptations, two collections of Lehman’s short stories, The Sweet Smell of Success and Other Stories and The Comedian and Other Stories, were published in paperback editions that year.
Lehman met director Alfred Hitchcock in 1956, and began working with him the following year on a screenplay adaptation of the novel The Wreck of the Mary Deare. Hitchcock and Lehman gave up on the project after three weeks and began to create an original screenplay for a spy thriller, initially titled "The Man on Lincoln’s Nose". It reached the screen as North by Northwest in 1959 and gave Lehman his second Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay. In 1960, Lehman adapted Frank O’Hara’s novel From the Terrace, and the following year, his second musical adaptation, West Side Story, was released. Once again, Lehman was nominated for Best Screenplay at the Academy Awards and won the Writers Guild award. The film itself won ten Academy Awards and was the top-grossing film of 1961. Lehman’s next project was writing the screenplay adaptation for The Prize (1963), a spy thriller based on Irving Wallace’s novel.
The biggest commercial success of Lehman’s career was 1965’s The Sound of Music, an adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical of the same name, which set a record for the highest-grossing film when it was released, and won five Academy Awards, as well as another Writers Guild award. Lehman followed this epitome of the feel-good crowd-pleasing film with something completely different: an adaptation of Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). The profanity and adult themes of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? challenged the Production Code that had censored the language and content of Hollywood films since 1934, marking a first step on the road to the Code’s eventual abandonment and replacement with the MPAA rating system. The controversy surrounding the film proved irresistible to audiences, who made it the third highest-grossing film of the year. This was Lehman’s first try at producing a film and he was rewarded with Academy Award nominations for Best Producer and Best Screenplay. The film won five Academy Awards and Lehman won his fifth Writers Guild Award.
Lehman again acted as producer and screenwriter on his next film, Hello, Dolly! (1969), another Broadway musical adaptation, which won two Academy Awards and was the fifth highest-grossing film of the year. His next project was writing, producing, and directing an adaptation of Philip Roth’s bestselling novel, Portnoy’s Complaint (1972). The film was neither a critical nor a commercial success, and was Lehman’s last turn as producer and only turn as director. Also in 1972, the Writer’s Guild of America, West honored Lehman with their highest honor, the Laurel Award. In 1973, Lehman began working with Alfred Hitchcock again on the screenplay for Family Plot (1976), a comedy/thriller based on the novel The Rainbird Pattern by Victor Canning. Lehman’s final film, Black Sunday, an adaptation of the novel by Thomas Harris, was released in 1977. Lehman’s first novel, The French Atlantic Affair, was released the same year; it became a paperback bestseller. In 1978, Lehman started publishing a monthly column in American Film magazine, "Lehman at Large," which ran until 1981. A selection of these columns was published in book form in 1982 as Screening Sickness and Other Tales of Tinsel Town. Lehman’s second novel, Farewell Performance, was also published in 1982. From 1983 to 1985, Lehman served as president of The Writer’s Guild of America, West. He was one of the head writers for the 59th, 60th, and 62nd Academy Awards telecasts in 1987, 1988, and 1990.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Lehman worked on several unproduced screenplays, including a musical adaptation of the novel Zorba the Greek, and began work on an autobiography. His first wife, Jackie, passed away in 1994. In 2001, Lehman received an Honorary Academy Award for his lifetime achievements; he was the first screenwriter ever to receive that honor. Ernest Lehman died on July 2, 2005. He was survived by his second wife, Laurie, and his sons, Roger, Alan, and Jonathan.


In addition to material found within the Ernest Lehman Collection, the following source was used:
Fox, Margalit. "Ernest Lehman, 89, Who Wrote 'North by Northwest,' Dies."New York Times, July 6, 2005.

Scope and Contents

The Ernest Lehman Collection consists of screenplays and other written works, film production files, and professional and personal papers belonging to screenwriter, producer, director, novelist, and journalist Ernest Lehman (1915-2005). The collection documents the span of Lehman’s forty-plus year career in New York and Hollywood and includes business and personal correspondence, early short story and article writings, outlines and successive drafts of all of Lehman’s screenplays, handwritten drafts of short stories, novels, articles, and films, galley proofs and page proofs of books, film budgets, contracts, and other production documents, storyboards and set designs, press kits and other publicity materials, production and location photographs, film stills, magazine and newspaper articles by and about Lehman, speeches by Lehman, hardcover and paperback books by Lehman, press clippings about Lehman, his films, and his books, scrapbooks, and awards. Each item in the collection is annotated by Lehman in his own hand, some with extensive notes describing the context of the item and circumstances of its production. The collection is divided into five series: I. Films, 1945-1987; II. Writings, 1935-1994; III. Correspondence, 1888-1994; IV. Professional and Personal Files, 1930s-1993; V. Collected Materials and Works by Others, 1931-1994.
Series I. Films contains materials associated with specific films worked on by Lehman, arranged alphabetically by film title and grouped within the following subcategories for each film: screenplays, production materials, publicity materials, and research materials. Screenplay materials include handwritten and typed drafts of screenplays, shooting scripts, treatments, outlines, and screenplay notes. Among the production materials found in the collection are storyboards, scene paintings, set blueprints and designs, production photographs, casting materials including resumes and headshots, contracts, budgets and production cost statements, shooting schedules and call sheets, sheet music, and correspondence. Publicity materials include clippings, correspondence, publicity photographs and film stills, posters, advertising artwork, programs, invitations to premieres, and material related to awards. Source materials for screenplays such as published books and play scripts, and materials from location scouting and research trips including location photographs, printed material, and notes are filed in the research materials subcategory. Although the volume of materials present in the collection varies for each film, five films in particular are extensively documented: The Prize, The Sound of Music, and the three films Lehman produced, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Hello, Dolly!, and Portnoy’s Complaint. One of the most unique items in the collection is Lehman’s production journal from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which provides a detailed day-by-day account of Lehman’s experiences working with the film’s stars, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and its director, Mike Nichols. The journal was previously restricted from access but is now open to researchers.
Among the materials in Series II. Writings are handwritten and typewritten drafts and published editions of Lehman’s novels and short story collections, along with a collection of magazines containing Lehman’s short fiction and articles, arranged alphabetically by title. This series contains the original short story "Tell Me About It Tomorrow," published in Cosmopolitan magazine and later adapted for the screen by Lehman and Clifford Odets as The Sweet Smell of Success.
Series III. contains correspondence from Lehman’s files; the original order of the files has been maintained. Notable correspondents include Lehman’s friend, film producer David Brown and his wife, former Cosmopolitan magazine editor, Helen Gurley Brown, studio executives Jack L. Warner and Darryl F. Zanuck, film producer Richard D. Zanuck, director Robert Wise, Broadway publicist Irving Hoffman, composer Richard Rodgers, and writer Irving Wallace, among many other screenwriters, producers, directors, actors, designers, and authors.
Series IV. Professional and Personal Files includes materials related to awards and career retrospectives, clippings of articles about and interviews with Lehman, contracts, photographs, and material related to Lehman’s membership in and term as president of the Writer’s Guild of America, West. The final series, Series V. Collected Materials and Works by Others, contains screenplays and treatments for films that Lehman did not work on, proofs of novels that Lehman considered adapting, MGM Studios reader’s reports on books, novels, and plays that were possible vehicles for adaptation, and copies of two dissertations about Lehman with his annotations. This series also contains production materials from the film My Fair Lady, including hair and wardrobe test photographs of Audrey Hepburn, which Lehman obtained while he was working on Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at Warner Brothers.
The original order of Lehman’s files is maintained wherever possible. When files related to a specific film contain materials related to a different film or related to Lehman’s writing or other professional activities, it is noted in the finding aid. Although there is a series for correspondence, correspondence is also found throughout the collection and each folder that contains correspondence is noted in the finding aid. Lehman maintained several accordion files that contained correspondence filed alphabetically by correspondent; the alphabetization is not always correct and researchers may need to browse individual folders to find specific pieces of correspondence noted in the index. Selected correspondence from throughout the collection is listed in this guide’s Index of Correspondents. In general, fan mail is not indexed.
Some materials were removed from binders, boxes, envelopes, and folders that have Lehman’s annotations or explanatory notes because of preservation concerns or for ease of storage. These empty housings were retained and are listed at the end of the finding aid.
This finding aid includes all materials described in an earlier finding aid that cataloged an addition to Lehman’s collection received in 1997. It incorporates some of the item descriptions and correspondence index created in the early 1990s for a database catalog of the Ernest Lehman Collection, previously available as a printed hand-list. For the sake of brevity, some item descriptions were shortened and some indexed correspondents were omitted from this latest finding aid. Folders are annotated with catalog numbers when they correspond to an item cataloged in the database.

Separated Material

Audiotape recordings of Lehman’s story conferences with Alfred Hitchcock for the film Family Plot were transferred to the Ransom Center’s Audio Collection. Typed transcripts of these recordings remain in the Ernest Lehman Collection.

Index Terms


Brown, David, 1916-2010.
Lehman, Ernest, 1915-2005.
Warner, Jack L., 1892-1978.
Wise, Robert, 1914-2005.
Zanuck, Richard D.


Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Writers’ Guild of America, West.


Academy Awards (motion pictures).
Authors, American--20th century.
Journalists--United States.
Literature--20th century.
Motion picture authorship.
Motion picture plays.
Motion picture producers and directors--United States.
Motion pictures, American.
Novelists, American--20th century.
Short stories, American--Periodicals.


Hollywood (Los Angeles, Calif.)
New York (N.Y.)

Document Types

Film stills.
Legal documents.
Serials (publications).
Sheet music.
Short stories.

Container List

Empty binders, boxes, accordion files, and folders for production materials from Portnoy’s Complaint, The Prize, Somebody Up There Likes Me, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, with annotations by Lehman Container 208-212   
Request entire Container 208-212
Empty envelopes with annotations by Lehman Container 213   
Request entire Container 213
Oversize materials Container 182-207, 213   
Request entire Container 182-207, 213