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John Breon papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 1

Scope and Contents

The John Breon Papers document the life of the editor and writer John Wallace Breon, Jr. The papers span the dates 1936-1984, with a large part of the material covering the years 1944-1951.

The collection has three series. Series I, Correspondence, Boxes 1-8, consists of letters between John Breon and his family and friends. Series II, Diaries, contains the diaries of John Breon and is housed in Boxes 9-10. Series III, Personal Papers, is housed in Boxes 11-14.

Series I, Correspondence , is composed of alphabetically arranged correspondence spanning the years 1944-84. Breon's letters to his family document his military and academic career between 1944-1951, while correspondence to his friends concerns his varied interests and activities in later years.

The 1944 correspondence details Breon's basic army training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi (Box 1, folders 2-8) and includes his impressions of officers and enlisted men. He also discusses his daily activities, provides diagrams of bivouac problems, and outlines his code school training. At the end of 1944 Breon was sent overseas.

With the war drawing to a close in the spring of 1945 and restrictions on correspondence being lifted, Breon was able to write more freely on such matters as conditions in war-torn Germany, the German people, and refugees. He also wrote a long and detailed account of his trip from Camp Shelby to England and his experiences in the British Isles, France, Belgium, and Germany (Box 2, Folders 29-37).

In October 1945 Breon went to Paris on leave and met Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (Box 2, folder 34-35). He discusses their initial conversation, their thoughts on the German occupation of France, the theme of "choice" in Gertrude Stein's upcoming work, her dislike of Ernest Hemingway, and Breon's education and writing career.

In November 1945 Breon was transferred to the French Institute of Motion Pictures. His letters describe Paris immediately following the war, including the illumination of the city for the first time since the occupation. He writes about his study of French movie techniques, his social life, the ballet, and his holiday in Mont St. Michel. He also writes in considerable detail about the people he met, including Marlene Dietrich, the actor, Jean Gabin,the stage designer, Christian Berard, and Jean Cocteau, as well as Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (Box 3-4, folders 36-60). With Stein's help he was admitted to the Sorbonne and he describes his classes, fellow students, and professors. In July 1946 Breon was discharged and returned to the United States.

Breon resumed his studies in Europe in September 1949. He chronicles his transatlantic crossing, his reunion with Alice B. Toklas, his impressions of Rome while on holiday there with Carl Van Vechten, his daily activities, his friends, and the general mood of Paris in the late 1940s. He also wrote about giving English lessons to Dora Maar, Picasso's mistress in the late 1930s and early 1940s; his introduction to Thornton Wilder by Alice B. Toklas; and the novel he had begun writing in the summer of 1950. Upon completion of his studies Breon took a job with the State Department in Paris and he recorded his impressions of the job and his co-workers.

Breon also maintained a lengthy correspondence with Margaret Buxton from 1959-84 (Box 5, folders 84-98). His letters to her provide considerable detail about the Ryerson House, the eighteenth-century dwelling Breon purchased with his companion Charles Cerbone in the early 1960s. Other topics include the decoration of the house, the genealogical history of the Breon family, books, antiques, Gertrude Stein, and a play Breon was writing, "See Grady See."

The papers contain a large number of letters from Pat Carroll, the star of the play "Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein," (Boxes 5-7, folders 100-124). The letters are primarily concerned with the play, although some discussion of family news is included. There are also letters from Mary Ellen Devery, the producer of "Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein," containing news of the play and Pat Carroll (Box 7, folders 135-137).

Other correspondents include Dora Maar, Clement Richer, Samuel Seward, and Norman Mailer, who offered criticism of Breon's published novel, The Sorrows of Travel. Breon's correspondence with Gertrude Stein can be found in the Gertrude Stein Papers. His correspondence with Carl Van Vechten is located in the Carl Van Vechten Papers. Photocopies of these letters are in Box 8, folders 163, and 166- 167.

Series II, Diaries , is housed in Boxes 9-10. The diaries span the years 1949-84 and are arranged chronologically. The diaries for the years 1949-51 complement the correspondence of the same period.

The 1949 diary begins while Breon was still attending college in Rockford, Illinois. It contains details on Rockford, his friends, his feelings about leaving college, and his short stay in New York. Breon describes his voyage to Europe, comments on his fellow passengers, and reflects on leaving Rockford and returning to Paris. He also recorded his reunion with Alice B. Toklas, including their discussion concerning the publication of Stein manuscripts. He chronicles their efforts to assist Bernard Fäy with his legal problems, comments on Olga Picasso's relationship with Picasso, and records Alice B. Toklas's account of Gertrude Stein's meeting with James Joyce. Breon describes his holiday in Rome with Carl Van Vechten. The 1949-51 diaries provide a record of Breon's friendships and social activities and include wide ranging personal reflections.

Breon's diaries for the years 1952-59 deal with family problems; his father's death; unemployment; his unpublished novel, The Separation Center; reflections on his state of mind and his relationships with friends. The diaries spanning the years 1960-84 are much less detailed than those of earlier years. Breon reflects on his youth, personal relationships with others, his difficulties with McGraw-Hill, the death of his mother, and health problems. The diaries end approximately one month before his death.

Series III, Personal Papers , can be found in Boxes 11-14. Included in this series are art exhibit catalogues, drawings by Maurice Genis, and material pertaining to the artist Alfonso Ossario. Breon kept clippings on subjects which interested him for example, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Carl Van Vechten.

The photographs, (Box 12, folders 214-216), are primarily of art works and include a portrait of John Breon by Rudolphe Schneider and works of art by Alfonso Ossario. Series III also contains a photocopy of the second draft of "See Grady See," a play Breon wrote in the late 1970s and frequently revised. The play is an experimental one, based upon the experiences of friends. Military papers consist of material relating to Breon's military service (Box 12, folders 207-209). The collection also contains medical records, papers on his retirement, material on the history of the Ryerson House, and advertising copy written for McGraw-Hill.


  • 1936 - 1984
  • Majority of material found within 1944 - 1951


Physical Description

Other Storage Formats: Oversize

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research. Box 16: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The John Breon Papers are 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

The material was donated to The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 1986 by Charles Cerbone, a longtime friend of Breon's, and Margaret Buxton, whose husband, John, was Breon's third cousin.


9 Linear Feet (17 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers contain correspondence, diaries, writings, subject files, and personal papers of John Breon concerning his World War II experiences, correspondents include Pat Carroll, Charles Cerbone, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Carl Van Vechten.


John Breon was born in Rockford, Illinois, on August 31, 1923, the son of John Wallace Breon and Jessie Breon. He served in the infantry in France during World War II, at which time he met Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. After his discharge from the army, he studied in Paris. In 1946 Breon returned to the United States and entered Beloit College. After his graduation in 1949, he spent two years at the Sorbonne and at the University of Florence. While in Italy, he began work on a novel, The Sorrows of Travel (1955), a copy of which can be found in the Beinecke printed collection.

During the 1950s Breon joined McGraw-Hill Company. but in 1966 he left McGraw-Hill for the New American Library. He remained with the NAL until 1968, when he took a position with Franklin Speir, Inc., a New York advertising agency. In 1969 he returned to McGraw-Hill, joining the Industrial and Business Books Division as an advertising copywriter. Breon retired in 1979.

In 1963 Breon and a companion, Charles Cerbone, purchased the Ryerson House in Wayne, New Jersey. In 1982 they moved to Succasunna, New Jersey, where John Breon died after a lengthy illness on April 21, 1984.

Guide to the John Breon Papers
by Tina Evans
August 1987
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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