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Variety's Protected Material Department Submissions

Call Number: YCAL MSS 1189

Content Description

The collection includes autograph and typescript descriptions, accompanied by unsealed envelopes, of comedy, musical, dancing, acrobatic and other stage acts from individual, duo, and group performers and creators, submitted to Variety's Protected Material Department between 1916 and 1925. Material was submitted by Phil Baker, George Jessel, Pert Kelton, Blanche Merrill, Harry Rose, Harry Ruby, Bert Wheeler, and others. Also included are descriptions of motion picture scenarios, drawings of stage sets and scenic machinery, and documents verifying the sale of an act by its creator to a performer. Some letters are written on letterheads of performers, theater managers, agents, and hotels. Photographs, performance programs, postcards, and other ephemera also accompany some submissions.


  • 1916 - 1925
  • 1916 - 1925

Language of Materials

In English.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Boxes 15-17, 19-20: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The Variety's Protected Material Department Submissions is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from William Reese Co., (Bonhams' sale, 24254, New York, 2017 December 6, lot 1093) on the Adele Gutman Nathan Theatrical Collection Fund, 2018.


Arranged alphabetically.


9.5 Linear Feet (20 boxes)

9.5 Linear Feet (20 boxes)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The collection includes autograph and typescript descriptions of comedy, musical, dancing, acrobatic and other stage acts from individual, duo, and group performers and creators, submitted to Variety magazine’s Protected Material Department between 1916 and 1925.

Variety's Protected Material Department

In February of 1916, in response to the extensive piracy of acts among vaudeville stage performers, the entertainment trade publication Variety announced the creation of a Protected Material Department with the goal of “protecting an originator of stage dialogue, business or title.” Performers and creators were directed to send a letter to the Department containing a description of the material they wished to have protected in a sealed envelope, with the name of the owner on the front of the envelope. Variety staff would maintain the envelope at no cost, and open it only if a complaint regarding the wrongful use of the material by another performer was received, and only if the owner of the letter gave permission to Variety to open the envelope. If a complaint was filed Variety would conduct and publish the results of an investigation, as the publishers believed that publicity was the strongest means to fight theft of vaudeville acts. The cost of litigation and the belief that existing copyright law didn’t provide adequate protection to vaudeville acts limited the number of infringement cases filed in court. As vaudeville’s popularity declined in the 1930s, the Protected Material Department was no longer advertised in Variety, but a similar department for radio writers was established by the publication in 1933.

Processing Information

Collections are processed to a variety of levels, depending on the work necessary to make them usable, their perceived research value, the availability of staff, competing priorities, and whether or not further accruals are expected. The library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.

This finding aid may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

The majority of envelopes were unopened when acquired by the library, and were subsequently opened by library staff during processing. Dates assigned are date of letter, postmark, or date written on envelope.

Guide to Variety's Protected Material Department Submissions
by Susan Brady and Caderyn Owen Jones
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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New Haven, CT 06511

Opening Hours

Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.