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Lynn Riggs papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 61

Scope and Contents

The Lynn Riggs Papers consist of letters, manuscripts, photographs, legal and financial documents and printed materials concerning the life and work of the playwright. The papers span the years 1924-54, and complement those in the Lynn Riggs Memorial in Claremore, Oklahoma.

The collection is housed in 31 boxes and consists of six series, Correspondence, Writings, Personal Papers, Financial and Legal Papers, Photographs, and Printed Material. Box 31 contains Oversize material.

Series I, Correspondence , contains letters exchanged between Lynn Riggs and many of his friends and collaborators. A significant body of correspondence with Barrett Clark and Garrett Leverton, both during their tenures with Samuel French, Inc. and after, has been preserved. Also included here are letters from Aaron Copland, Sawyer Falk, Andrius Jilinsky, and Sidney Lumet as well as from the directors of theatre groups such as the Hedgerow Theatre and the Theatre Guild. Riggs' professional life is documented in correspondence with his agents, H. E. Edington-F. W. Vincent, Inc. and Lucy Kroll. Among the playwrights, friends, and family included here are Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Ida Rauh Eastman, Spud Johnson, Witter Bynner, José Limón, Ramon Naya, and Ann Webster. At the end of this series is a group of letters between third parties.

Series II, Writings , is the largest of the series, containing a variety of manuscripts, but concentrating on drafts of Riggs' plays. Among the extant journals are an early notebook from Riggs' first stay in Santa Fe in 1924, and a later private journal dating from 1939-52. Riggs' novel, The Affair at Easter, which he left uncompleted at the time of his death in 1954 is preserved in several fragments.

Of the play manuscripts included here, the majority are drafts of later works which remained in the hands of Riggs' agent, Lucy Kroll, after his death. Among these are the stageplays, All the Way Home (a revision of Verdigris Primitive), Borned in Texas, (a revision of Roadside), The Cream in the Well,Hang on to Love, (a revision of Domino Parlor), Laughter From a Cloud,Out of Dust, and Tragic Ground, an adaptation of the novel by Erskine Caldwell. The only materials concerning Green Grow the Lilacs are notes by Riggs and watercolor sketches by Sidney Lumet for a production of the show. In the 1950s, Riggs worked on several plays for television, such as the two preserved here in different versions, Some Sweet Day (or The Boy with Tyford Fever), Song in the A.M., and Someone to Remember. Among other projects represented here are a radio play written in conjunction with Ramon Naya, The Cow in the Trailer, a benefit show for the Soldiers Service Club written with William Saroyan, The Gay Nineties, and Origin: Oedipus, a version of a dance drama written in 1947.

Lynn Riggs' poems, housed in the next subseries, show a different aspect of the playwright's art. He published verse as early as the 1920s in various little magazines, but after the publication of The Iron Dish in 1930, poetry became more of an avocation in light of his successes on stage. The poems included here are mostly drafts written in the late 1940s and 1950s.

Riggs' brief career as a screenwriter in the mid-1930s is documented by several drafts included in this archive. Among these are the shooting script of A Day in Santa Fe, a movie he made with James Hughes, The Garden of Allah,Madame Curie, and his original work, Love to Mamie. Among the drafts of short stories in the next subseries is "Eben, the Hound, and the Hare," published in Gentry magazine in 1953. The drafts of speeches which follow are all concerned with Riggs' view of the theatre.

The final subseries, Writings of Others, contains several manuscript works by Ramon Naya (Enrique Gasque-Molina), a protegé of Riggs' during the late 1930s and 1940s. Also included are many typescripts of poems by George O'Neil, a typescript of a novel, The Copper Earth, by Elliot Roosevelt, and a photostat fragment of an opera, Riel, by Paul Gelrud.

Series III, Personal Papers , contains a number of items concerning Riggs' life. Among these are documents detailing the renovation of his houses in Santa Fe and on Shelter Island, a scrapbook of ideas for plays, and several annotated calendars. The Financial and Legal Papers which are housed in Series IV principally address Riggs' contractual relationships with agents and publishers.

Series V contains Photographs , chronicling the later years of Riggs' life. Found here are shots of scenes from All the Way Home and Laughter From a Cloud. Informal snapshots picture Lynn Riggs with friends such as Joan Crawford and Franchot Tone, as well as unidentified visitors to his houses in Santa Fe and on Shelter Island. A series of informal portraits features Riggs in a range of poses, most likely set in his apartment in New York around 1951.

Series VI, Printed Material , contains items collected by Riggs over several decades. Here there are a number of clippings of various subjects and many programs for productions of plays by Riggs and by other playwrights.

A number of monograph items and issues of magazines which came with this archive have been catalogued separately. The following list identifies Rigg's writings which appeared in magazines that were catalogued:

"Eben, the Hound, and the Hare" (short story) Gentry Summer, 1953

"A Hand on Mountains" and "Black Wall" (poems) Avenue April, 1934

"I Who Have Been a Soldier" (group of four poems) The Lyric Winter,


"Morning Walk - Santa Fe" (poem) Palms, [1925?]

"New Song" (poem) Harper's Magazine, November, 1946

"When People Say 'Folk Drama'" The Carolina Play Book June, 1931


  • 1924-1954




Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Lynn Riggs 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 by Lynn Riggs' literary agent, Lucy Kroll, in 1984.


14.25 Linear Feet (32 boxes)

Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The Lynn Riggs Papers consist of letters, manuscripts, photographs, financial and legal documents and printed materials relating to the life and work of Riggs and his associates such as Ramon Naya and George O'Neil.

LYNN RIGGS (1899-1954)

Rollie Lynn Riggs was born in northeast Indian Territory [now Oklahoma] on August 31, 1899 to William Grant Riggs, a rancher and banker, and Rose Ella Buster Gills Riggs. After his mother died in 1901, several members of the Riggs family aided in raising Lynn and his two siblings. He was educated at the Eastern University Preparatory School in Claremore before taking off to seek his fortune at age 17 in Chicago and Los Angeles. At 21, he returned home to enroll in the University of Oklahoma, financing his education by mortgaging a small acreage which had been allotted to him by virtue of his mother's Cherokee Indian ancestry.

Riggs left school in the middle of his final year and at the suggestion of friends, he made his way to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he sought to recover his health at Sunmount Sanatorium. His crisis soon turned to be a deciding event in his life, for in Santa Fe, he found a community of artists who nurtured his nascent desire to write. His first major production, of the one-act play, Knives from Syria, was mounted by the Santa Fe Players in 1924. He soon dedicated himself to play-writing, writing his first major play, Big Lake, while teaching English at the Lewis Institute in Chicago.

Big Lake was produced in New York, where Riggs moved in 1926 to continue his development as a playwright. The next two years saw his completion and the successful production of several plays, including, Sump'n Like Wings,A Lantern to See By, and Rancor, all of which expounded on memories of growing up in Oklahoma. In 1928, to add to his successes, Lynn Riggs was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship to continue his playwriting. The following year was spent travelling throughout Europe, visiting regional theaters and constructing what would become his greatest success, Green Grow the Lilacs.

Upon his return to the United States in 1929, his play Roadside was produced, and the Theatre Guild began negotiations to stage Green Grow the Lilacs. This newest play became a hit in early 1931, setting up Riggs as a writer much-in-demand. The next decade would have Riggs leading a more secure, if scattered existence. He built a house in Santa Fe, though lived for periods in Los Angeles and New York. While working on new works for the stage, he served as a screenwriter for Paramount and Universal Studios, co-authoring such films as Garden of Allah, and The Plainsman. His social circle widened as well. Among his close friends in Hollywood were Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Franchot Tone, who had played the role of Curly in the original New York production of Green Grow the Lilacs.

Though Riggs continued to write through the 1940s, he focused his energy on other activities. In 1941, he taught a course, "Drama and the Playwright," at Baylor University. From 1942-44, he served in the U.S. military, eventually scripting documentary films for the Office of War Information. It was while he was still enlisted that Oklahoma!, the Pulitzer-citation winning musical version of Green Grow the Lilacs, debuted. Though this beloved staple of the American stage would prosper for years, Riggs found it difficult to mount successful runs of his new works, which focused on more contemporary events in his life, such as his experiences in Santa Fe, as detailed in Laughter From A Cloud.

Riggs worked slowly through the 1950s, creating a historical drama for Western Reserve University, publishing a short story, "Eben, The Hound, and the Hare" in 1952, and working on a novel set in Oklahoma. Though he lived principally on Shelter Island, New York, he travelled often to Chapel Hill to work on projects. His health began to deteriorate after his 50th birthday and he eventually found himself plagued by stomach problems. The full extent of his medical condition was revealed in Spring of 1954, when he was found to have cancer. He died on June 29 of that year in New York City.
Guide to the Lynn Riggs Papers
by Timothy Young and Tina Evans
November 1993
Language of description
Finding aid written in English

Revision Statements

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  • 2007-08-13: beinecke.riggs.xml converted for compliance with Yale EAD Best Practice Guidelines with brbl-migrate-01.xsl (mr2007-08-13).
  • 2007-07-26: PUBLIC "-//Yale University::Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library//TEXT (US::CtYBR::::[LYNN RIGGS PAPERS ])//EN" "riggs.xml" converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02.xsl (sy2003-10-15).

Repository Details

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

P. O. Box 208330
New Haven CT 06520-8330 US
(203) 432-2977