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Mary Ellen Bute Papers

Call Number: GEN MSS 603

Scope and Contents

The papers document the filmmaking career of Mary Ellen Bute and include papers from Expanding Cinema Studios and Ted Nemeth Studios. The collection contains scripts, notes, correspondence, photographs of film productions and of Mary Ellen Bute, and printed material related to the production of many of Bute's films including "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking," "Passages from James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake," and "Skin of Our Teeth." Printed material includes newspaper clippings of reviews and background information, files of images which presumably served as inspiration for images in Bute's films, and other ephemera such as brochures and programs.

The papers span the entirety of Bute's career, though the bulk of them document her later film productions. Since she was unable to complete or release some of these (e.g. "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking") the papers are a unique resource on Bute's work to realize her vision of the films. The papers also provide personal and professional context to Bute's career through her correspondence and personal papers.

The papers also document Bute's research, writing and lectures on the topics of film making and animation and her work to support female film makers through forums such as the Women's Independent Film Exchange.

Material from Bute's early abstract films is mostly related to their distribution and promotion. Papers from later live action films include correspondence, scripts and research material in addition to material related to funding, distribution and promotion. Papers from "Skin of Our Teeth" include correspondence with and notes from Thornton Wilder about the adaptation of his play.

In addition to papers related to Bute's film productions, the collection includes papers from Ted Nemeth Studios. These papers document Nemeth's commercial productions for corporations such as Schlitz, his film "Mobilcolor" (about Charles Dockum, the creator of Mobilcolor projectors) and his work to distribute Bute's films.

The collection also contains personal papers that include family correspondence, photographs and financial and medical records.


  • 1907 - 1985


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Boxes 26 and 35 (audiocassettes): Restricted fragile. Reference copies may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.

Box 35: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The Mary Ellen Bute Papers 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

Gift of Terry Halladay (1991) and transfer from the Yale Film Study Center (1999, 2007, 2008).


Organized into five series and one addition: I. Film Production Material, 1935-1982. II. Business Papers, 1941-1983. III. Personal Papers, 1907-1984. IV. Ted Nemeth Studios Papers, 1939-1985. V. Printed Material, 1936-1985. June 2008 Addition, 1908-1983. The papers are largely organized according to their function, with correspondence, scripts and other documentation filed in different series or under the title of the production as appropriate.

Associated Materials

Related film has been retained by the Yale Film Study Center.


14.85 Linear Feet (36 boxes, including 1 Oversize box)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


Scripts, correspondence and photographs documenting the film productions of Mary Ellen Bute and Ted Nemeth. The films represented in this collection include "Passages from James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake," "Skin of Our Teeth," and "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking."

Mary Ellen Bute, 1906-1983

Mary Ellen Bute was a film animator, director and producer. She was a pioneer in adopting electronic techniques for film animation. Early in her career she made animated films in the "visual music" style that synchronized abstract images and music. Her later films were live action and included adaptations of works by James Joyce and Thornton Wilder.

Bute was born in Houston, Texas in 1906. She studied painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadephia and lighting design at Yale University. Her early influences included Leon Theremin and Gerald Warburg and she collaborated with Theremin to produce a paper titled "Light as an art material and its possible synchronization with sound" (1932). Most of Bute's films were produced by Ted Nemeth Studios or Expanding Cinema Studios and her collaborators included Norman McLaren and Melville Webber. Later in life Bute was a founding member of the Women's Independent Film Exchange.

Bute's films include: "Synchromy" (1932 or 1933), "Rhythm in Light" (1934), "Synchromy No. 2" (1935), "Dada" (1936), "Parabola" (1937), "Escape" (1937), "Spook Sport" (1939), "Tarantella" (1940), "Polka Graph" (1947), "Color Rhapsody" (1948), "Imagination" (1948), "New Sensations in Sound" (1949), "Pastorale" (1950), "Abstronic" (1952), "Mood Contrasts" (1953), "The Boy Who Saw Through" (1956, producer), "Passages from James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake" (1965-1967), and "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" (1977-1980, unfinished). Bute's projects also include two adaptations of plays: "Lazarus Laughed" by Eugene O'Neill and "Skin of Our Teeth" by Thornton Wilder (both unfinished).

In 1940 Bute married camera operator and painter Theodore (Ted) Nemeth and they collaborated on many of her projects. Ted Nemeth Studios focused on commercial films and Nemeth also handled the distribution of Bute's films. Bute and Nemeth had two sons: Theodore Jr. and James.

Custodial History

Portions of the collection were donated to the Film Study Center by Ted Nemeth in 1985.

Processing Information

Portions of the collection were discarded due to mold damage. The discarded papers include clippings, routine correspondence and ephemera. Preservation photocopies of selected documents remain in the collection.

Social security cards of Theodore J. Nemeth, James House Bute Nemeth, Margo A. Lion, and Mary [Ellen Bute] Nemeth were discarded.

Portions of the collection were formerly Uncat.MS Vault.865 and Uncat.MS Vault.651.

Folder 402 in Box 27 is unused. The original audiocassette is in Box 35, folder 532.

Guide to the Mary Ellen Bute Papers
by Lisa Conathan
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

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


121 Wall Street
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.