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Series I: Correspondence and Subject Files, 1918-1980

Call Number: YCAL MSS 436, Series I

Scope and Contents

This series consists of correspondence, production, and topical files maintained, for the most part, by Lawrence Langner and Theresa Helburn in their roles as co-directors of the Theatre Guild. The majority of material within this series dates from 1930 to 1960, with very little correspondence from the earliest years of the Theatre Guild. The files document the history of the organization and provide insight into all aspects of the day-to-day running of the Theatre Guild. Broader issues are documented as well; these include the development of American playwrights; the introduction of plays by modern European playwrights to the U.S. stage; the evolution of theatre practice and technology both in New York and throughout the country through such organizations as the American Theatre Wing, the League of New York Theatres, the Council of the Living Theatre, and the American National Theatre and Academy; the growth of the Hollywood film industry and its effect on theatre production; and the influence of social and political movements and events on the local, national and international theatre community. Reflecting the long and distinguished history of the Theatre Guild, the series includes correspondence with and about major (as well as lesser-known) figures in American and European theatre. A few selected names include the playwrights S.N. Behrman, Eugene O’Neill, Elmer Rice, Lynn Riggs, and George Bernard Shaw; composers and lyricists Dorothy Fields and Herbert Fields, Dorothy Heyward and Du Bose Heyward, and Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein; actors Helen Hayes, Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, and Katharine Hepburn; directors Rouben Mamoulian, Elia Kazan, and Philip Moeller; designers Lee Simonson, Robert Edmond Jones, and Samuel Leve; choreographers Doris Humphrey and Agnes de Mille; as well as casting and literary agents, labor union representatives, and administrators of other theater companies and theater-related businesses and organizations. The amount of material relating to any one name varies; correspondence with Eugene O’Neill and George Bernard Shaw is particularly extensive, while some playwrights are represented only by files relating to the production of their plays.

The majority of correspondence and other materials relating to projects such as Theatre Guild radio, television and film productions, the Theatre Guild-American Theatre Society, the Bureau of New Plays, Westport Country Playhouse, etc., is organized within other series in the collection; however, there may be related material within Series I.

The work of Armina Marshall Langner, Lawrence Langner’s second wife, and Philip Langner, their son, both of whom held various staff positions over the years and became directors following the deaths of Helburn and Langner, is also documented in the series. Many other staff members are represented, some of whom include administrators Warren Caro and Warren Munsell; legal counsel Charles Riegelman and H. William Fitelson; play readers Courtenay Lemon, John Gassner, and Phyllis Anderson; casting director Cheryl Crawford; press representatives Joseph (Jo) Heidt and Nat Dorfman; and technical directors Kate Drain Lawson and Howard (Bud) Wicks.

While specific shows are well documented in the series ( Oklahoma!, to note an exceptional example, is represented by thirteen boxes of material), even the files of less well-documented productions provide insight into the history and development of the making of a Broadway show, from selection of the script through press and publicity. Within the production files (which, as noted above, are filed under the name of the playwright) there may be correspondence with and/or about the playwright, as well as directors, actors, designers, and other individuals affiliated with the production. Additionally, there may be material documenting some or all aspects of the production including financial documents; casting notes and contracts; publicity and press clippings; script changes; rehearsal notes; costume, set, and lighting designs; and records of contractors, vendors and craftspeople who were involved in technical construction. Technical production information is more common in the files documenting productions from the late 1920s through the early 1940s. In the course of the most recent processing of the series, library staff have penciled notes in square brackets on correspondence and other documents to clarify names and dates. Other notes not in square brackets may be those of Theatre Guild staff or former library staff. Original folders on which notes by Theatre Guild staff appear have been retained within new archival folders. Labels for files that were transcribed directly from original files are enclosed in quotation marks. Corporate names are frequently inverted for alphabetization purposes. It was not possible to create ”see” and “see also” references for the large number of names appearing in multiple folders in the series, but references have been included where deemed critical.


  • 1918-1980


Conditions Governing Access

From the Collection:

The materials are open for research.

Boxes 1267-1269, 1289-1292, 1303, 1319, and 1328-1333 are restricted pending preservation treatment.

Boxes 1483-1490 (audiovisual materials): Restricted fragile. Reference copies may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.

Art 1570-1572, 1599: Restricted fragile. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Box 1597: Restricted fragile. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Broadside 1598: Restricted fragile. For further information consult the appropriate curator.


Series I is arranged alphabetically by personal, corporate, or topical name, and consists of folders containing at least three pieces of correspondence or other documents relating to a name. A small run of general letter files, consisting of similar material arranged alphabetically with fewer than three items related to a name, is arranged at the end of the series. It is possible that material pertaining to an individual may be found in both runs.

While it is likely that Lawrence Langner, Theresa Helburn, Armina Marshall Langner, and other staff maintained their own sets of files within the Theatre Guild offices, the correspondence files were merged when they were acquired by the Library. Letters may be filed under the name of the correspondent or under the name of an individual discussed in the letter. There are instances in which Helburn’s and the Langners’ correspondence with an individual or organization has been maintained in separate folders, and in these cases their initials have been placed in square brackets on the folder label, e.g., [TH], [LL], [AML]. Material filed under Langner’s and Helburn’s own names includes internal memos and letters between the co-directors, correspondence with others relating to their personal and professional activities, and other personal papers.

In the past, presumably in order to better identify literary figures within the collection, library staff filed folders assembled by Theatre Guild staff containing correspondence and other materials relating to specific theatrical productions under the name of the playwright or creator, even when that individual had no direct or personal relationship with the Theatre Guild (Shakespeare, for example).


110.92 Linear Feet (266 boxes)

Language of Materials

From the Collection: English

Processing Information

Oversize and special formats of material (production designs, music, audiovisual material, for example) found within this series has been removed from the files and placed in either the Oversize section of the collection or with material in an appropriate series with which it is associated. In the list, references noting the location of the oversize or special format material follows the description of the material from which it was separated.

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Access Information

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