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Aileen Pringle papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 56

Scope and Contents

The Aileen Pringle Papers contain letters, manuscript materials, photographs, clippings, printed works, and miscellaneous personal papers which document the life of Aileen Pringle, a popular American silent film star. The papers span the years 1887-1970, with the majority falling within the years 1926-56.

The collection is housed in 10 boxes and consists of four series: Correspondence; Writings; Photographs; and Personal Papers. Boxes 8 and 9 contain Oversize material from all four series and Box 10 contains Restricted Fragile Papers.

Series I, Correspondence (Boxes 1-4) covers the years 1918-70. The major part of this series consists of letters to and from H. L. Mencken. After their first meeting on June 19, 1926, Aileen and Mencken began to correspond. By 1928, Aileen was often writing two letters a day to "Henry." Her letters discuss her affection for Mencken, but also include running accounts of her everyday life in Hollywood. She gossips about the fortunes of her costars (e.g. Conrad Nagel), her associates (e.g. Greta Garbo), and her bosses at MGM studios (e.g. Louis B. Mayer). Tales of her social life abound with accounts of buffet dinners at Marion Davies's estate and parties where she crossed paths with Irving Berlin and George Gershwin. Letters from October and November 1926 document Menckens visit to Los Angeles, while those of November 1927 tell about Aileen's extended visit to New York, where she saw Mencken again; those from February and April 1928 cover Carl Van Vechten's visit to California.

Aileen's relationship with Mencken came to an abrupt end on June 19, 1930, four years to the day after they had originally met, when Mencken announced his engagement to Sara Haardt. Aileen had half-seriously questioned Mencken about his intentions towards Haardt in a letter dated May 23, 1928, but was taken by surprise at this new development in the relationship, as evidenced by a telegram dated June 19, 1930. After Mencken returned her letters in three large packages (see Box 8, folder 134), Aileen apparently returned the most personal of his, but kept many telegrams and short notes from the period 1926-30. She also retained a number of clippings and letters which Mencken had forwarded to her.

Aileen and Mencken corresponded infrequently during the early 1930s, but after Sara Haardt's death in 1935, Aileen offered her condolences and she and Mencken began to correspond and see each other more frequently. In letters of October 1935, Mencken offers Aileen advice about submitting a manuscript to Mademoiselle. He discusses his coverage of the presidential nominating conventions in the summers of 1936 and 1940. He expresses his pessimism about the looming escalation of war in December 1940. In July 1944, he offers his best wishes to Aileen on her marriage to James M. Cain. (A few subsequent letters are addressed Cain). Because of a stroke he suffered in 1948, Mencken's correspondence from then until his death was handled mostly by his secretary.

Series I also contains notable groups of correspondence of other literary and art world figures. Ralph Barton, illustrator and caricaturist for Vanity Fair, wrote to Aileen from Europe between 1926 and 1930. Carl Van Vechten was a friend of Aileen's from the time he met her in 1926. A few of his earlier letters are included, but the majority date from the 1950's, when Aileen had settled in New York City and was very close to Carl and his wife Fania Marinoff. During this period, Aileen became asociated with a number of young artists who wrote to her from various locations. Elwyn Chamberlain, an artist and later a novelist, exchanged letters with Pringle from several locations where he was studying and teaching. Her letters to him between 1954 and 1957 are extent in this series; they were given to the Beinecke Library by Chamberlain in the mid-1950s. In them, Pringle describes a wide range of Manhattan theater and social events. Karl Priebe sent watercolor postcards of birds from Milwaukee. Dick Banks wrote and sent drawings from Palm Beach, Florida. Saul Mauriber, who called Aileen the "Penny Princess," is represented by several letters. The series also contains a pair of telegrams from Joseph Hergesheimer, three items from James M. Cain, and letters from Blanche Knopf, Fania Marinoff, and Joan Crawford.

Series II, Writings , is made up of works by others. Included here are a group of poems, Naked Ghosts, and a draft of a novel, The Last Thirty Days of Christ, by Sadakichi Hartmann, and a playscript, with part-book, of "Goodnight Gwendolen!" by Rupert Hughes.

Series III, Photographs consists principally of photographs made by Carl Van Vechten. The subjects include many black performers from the 1950s (Geoffrey Holder, Mattiwilda Dobbs, Diahann Carroll) and others such as Fania Marinoff and the Baroness Blixen. Several large portraits of H. L. Mencken, done by a photography studio, are in this series (Box 8, Oversize).

Series IV, Personal Papers , is made up of various items collected by Aileen Pringle. Included are: a folder of obituaries of Carl Van Vechten, a number of clippings which mention H. L. Mencken, and printed works about Carl Van Vechten.

Box 8 contains Oversize material from all four series, arranged in series order. Box 9 contains one oversize item from the Personal Papers series, namely a letter box, likely given to Aileen by Saul Mauriber.


  • 1887-1970


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Box 11: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The Aileen Pringle 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 papers were donated to Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 1990 by Joseph Solomon.


6 Linear Feet (11 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The Aileen Pringle Papers consist of letters, photographs and personal papers relating to Pringle's career as a silent film actress and her relationship with H. L. Mencken.

AILEEN PRINGLE (1895-1989)

Aileen Pringle was born on July 23, 1895, the daughter of William Bisbee, president of the Pioneer Fruit Company in San Francisco. She was educated in Paris and London. While in London, she married her first husband, Sir Charles Pringle, and made her acting debut on the stage in a production of The Bracelet. During World War I, Aileen and her husband, later governor general of the Bahamas, took up residence in Jamaica, then came to live in New York, where Aileen resumed her acting career, starring in a stage production of The Green Goddess and the motion picture Honor Bound with a then unknown Rudolph Valentino. As Aileen's interest in acting grew and she moved to Hollywood in 1922, precipitating her separation from Charles Pringle. They divorced 20 years later. She began her film career as a player for Metro studios (later MGM), but quickly moved into starring roles in silent features. She was chosen by Elinor Glyn for the lead in the screen adaptation of Glyn's popular novel, Three Weeks. Her portrayal of a runaway queen who falls for a lovelorn young man is perhaps her most notable role. She followed this success with leading roles in other Elinor Glyn adaptations as well as other popular romances, in which she was cast as the seductress. Among her best known films are: Adam & Evil (1927), Beau Broadway (1928), Body and Soul (1928) and The Phantom of Crestwood (1932). She continued working into the 1930s, but with the advent of sound films, her career faded and she was relegated to westerns and "B" movies. Her final role was a small part in Since You Went Away (1944).

She led an active social life in Hollywood. Living on the beach in fashionable Santa Monica, she was a frequent hostess to and guest of Joan Crawford, Eric Von Stroheim, Greta Garbo, and King and Florence Vidor. She developed a close friendship with Marion Davies that endured well beyond Aileen's acting career, though no letters from Davies are extant in this collection.

Aileen Pringle also developed a circle of literary acquaintances and friends, earning the nickname "the darling of the intelligentsia." Carl Van Vechten met Aileen in the mid 1920s and became her self-professed fan. He visited California in 1928 as Aileen's guest and used his experiences to write a series of articles about the motion picture industry. His second to last novel, Spider Boy, focusing on the fortunes of Hollywood types, features the character Auburn Six, a thinly disguised Aileen Pringle. Aileen played hostess to Blanche Knopf and was acquainted with novelist/gadabout Sadakichi Hartmann, illustrator Ralph Barton, playwright Rupert Hughes, and novelist Joseph Hergesheimer.

It was through Hergesheimer that Pringle met H. L. Mencken. While visiting California in June of 1926, Mencken attended a party given by Hergesheimer, where he was introduced to the popular actress. The two began a relationship that would last, despite major setbacks, until his death in 1956. The couple soon became an item in Hollywood gossip columns, and although they publicly denied any romantic relationship, they corresponded with the frequency and intensity of sweethearts. Mencken returned to Los Angeles in October 1926, where he spent much of his time with Aileen. In November 1927, Aileen visited New York City, and Mencken made the trip from his native Baltimore to see her. Their relationship remained intense until 1930, when Mencken announced to Aileen that he was to marry Sara Haardt, a writer whom he had known for years. Mencken returned Aileen's letters on his wedding day, August 27, 1930, and asked Aileen to return his. Upon receiving his letters, Mencken reportedly burned them all. The two remained polite during the next few years, then, after Sara's death in 1935, they began to correspond, and even saw each other more frequently.

Aileen married James M. Cain in 1944, but the marriage lasted less than a year. In the early 1950s, she moved to New York City where, along with her friend Saul Mauriber, she was a regular guest of Carl Van Vechten and Fania Marinoff. She became a devoted theatergoer and remained in New York until her death on December 16, 1989.

Guide to the Aileen Pringle Papers
by Timothy G. Young
July 1992
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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