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Theater manuscripts collection

Call Number: MS 667

Scope and Contents

The Theater Manuscripts Collection consists of correspondence, autographs, playbills, theatrical notebooks and several drafts for the WPA Writers Project. The correspondence ranges from such eminent tragedians as Edwin Booth and E.H. Sothern to such minor comedians as Yankee Robinson and Joe Flynn. While the majority of correspondents are American, a few important letters were written by British and European actors. Of particular interest are Sir James Matthew Barrie's letter to Frederick Harrison enlisting his support in a protest against governmental censorship of plays; several letters by Benjamin Webster and Dame Ellen Terry; Guiseppe Verdi's note to his publisher Ricordi mentioning "La Traviata."

The collection contains the letters of such noted American theaterical famlies as the Wallacks and the Chippendales. There are fragmentary records of Edwin Booth's financial dealings and several P.T. Barnum letters appear in the collection. The greater part of the correspondence is composed of notes written by various "vaudevillians" to Albert Emmett Fostell, an old time song and dance man; August Heckler, the editor of a New York dramatic news; or John Holmes, a New Jersey Theater manager. A few letters are addressed to John B. Wright, manager of the Forbes Theater, Washington, at the time of Lincoln's assassination. Most of the letters are from the period 1825 and 1905. However, more contemporary correspondence includes letters from Sherwood Anderson, Frederic March, Dame May Whitty and Monty Woolley. There is a letter from Thornton Wilder concerning the trials of the "Skin of Our Teeth." In a short note, John Galsworthy explains his position on anti-semitism.

The autographs include signatures of Maude Adams, David Belasco, Edwin Booth, John Drew, William Gillette, Joseph Jefferson, Richard Mansfield, Conde Nast, James O'Neill, Adelina Putti, E.H. Sothern and Otis Skinner.

The Theatrical notebooks in Box 10 are essentially lists of antiquated comedies, tragedies, and melodramas. Along with these items is a copy of an anonymous play, "The Smuggler."

The WPA Writers project is composed almost entirely of notes and background material dealing with the growth of Theater in New Haven. The notes have been condensed into two papers, 1941, entitled "History of the New Haven Theater; 18th Century" (of which there are some ten copies: one typewritten, some manuscript, some incomplete) and "Disputes, Dialogues, and Plays: 18th Century" (one complete). Among the notes are a play 1784 "Dialogue At Oration Day"; a manual of research procedure for investigating New Haven Theater; a history of the Linonian, Brothers in Unity and Calliopean Societies, including the comedies and tragedies acted by these groups; and some pages of notes on Nathan Hale's theatrical propensities.

The value of this collection lies not so much in the few letters of renowed actors, actresses and playwrights as in the consistent picture it gives of Theatrical life in the late 19th century. A life lived in hotels and rented rooms comes vividly alive in such items as Al Fostelle's paen to the boarding house and Joe Flynn's doggerel in praise of the New YorkClipper. The sense of the uncertainty and impermanence of a 19th century stage career found in these manuscripts coupled with the unique flavor of "old time" Theater, makes this collection valuable for the Historian of the Theater.


  • 1784-1941

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Existence and Location of Copies

Scrapbook on "The Gypsy Trail," a play by Robert Housum available on microfilm (147 frames on 1 reel, 35mm.) from Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, at cost. Order no. HM102.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jack Crawford, Mary Hamlin, Yale University School of Drama, and others.


Arranged by type of material.

Related Materials

Crawford Theater Collection (MS 1387). Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library. Jack Randall Crawford Papers (MS 153). Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library.


6.75 Linear Feet (12 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


Correspondence, autographs, playbills, notebooks, and writings relating to the American theater and the history of theater in New Haven, Connecticut, as collected by Jack Crawford, Mary Hamlin and others.

Guide to the Theater Manuscripts Collection
Under Revision
compiled by Staff of Manuscripts and Archives
May 1980
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Yale University Library
P.O. Box 208240
New Haven CT 06520-8240 US
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(203) 432-7441 (Fax)


Sterling Memorial Library
Room 147
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New Haven, CT 06511

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