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Christopher Phillips papers

Call Number: MS 1830

Scope and Contents

The Christopher Phillips Papers were appraised, arranged, and described solely by the donor and creator, Christopher Phillips. The papers are arranged in series that mark major periods in his life; in total they provide documentation from his birth in 1950 onward.

Each series description is comprised of two sections: Dates and Events, and Personal and Larger Themes. Both sections provide critical information that assists the researcher in placing materials within the series in their proper context. When read in their entirety, the series descriptions provide a fairly comprehensive biographical essay on Phillips. Most, but not all, entries in the Dates and Events, and/or the Personal and Larger Themes sections have some documentation in the Papers. See "Introduction to the Papers" below for an important and insightful statement by Phillips describing his assemblage of the collection and themes represented in it.

In terms of substantive genres of materials in the collection, the most important are those generated by Phillips himself. His letters are found throughout the collection and often provide detailed descriptions of both his personal and professional lives. Interesting interviews with Phillips at various points in his life include one regarding his 1981/1982 year on the road in Asia; 1986 interviews in which he tells the story of his life up to that point; and psychic readings beginning in the late 1970s during which Phillips converses with various psychics about personal and professional matters. All of the interviews are on cassette (see individual series descriptions regarding restrictions on use of original cassettes).

Materials that document or reflect Phillips' life as a gay man include his letters and those written to him by gay friends, a wide range of gay ephemera from around the world, and particularly interesting assorted administrative materials that document the Gay Community Services Center of Los Angeles in its early years. Folders that contain gay materials exclusively have descriptions that begin with the word "Gay." Phillips notes throughout the descriptions of materials when they concern a gay person who, in his view, is particularly important and deserves further study. (See "Gay researchers note!" for these notations.)

Materials on Phillips' interest and involvement with the Baal Tshuvah (Newly Orthodox) Movement within Judaism include detailed letters, teaching materials, and printed materials. There are also notes on, and cassettes of, lectures by prominent rabbis, especially at Ohr Somayach yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Phillips’ various editorial positions (magazines and books) are documented through letters (including exchanges with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis at Doubleday) and writings (both published and unpublished). Documentation on a new edition ofSelf Portraitby Man Ray, one of Phillips’ most important ventures in the publishing industry, includes an interview conducted by Phillips of Juliet Man Ray and her brother Joe Browner. In addition, there are a number of photographs Phillips commissioned of the interior of the Man Ray studio in Paris and copies of Man Ray photographs that were never published.  For a book idea he was pursuing, Phillips obtained copies of interviews with prominent Israeli women of achievement conducted by Jerusalem sociologist Beverly Mizrachi.  During the interviews the women talk about the development of their personal and professional lives.

Phillips' interest in Asia is reflected in ephemera from Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, India, and parts of coastal Sri Lanka that were devastated by the 2004 tsunami. In addition there are assorted materials documenting the beginning of Asian-American studies at American universities and unpublished interviews with three Japanese American leaders concerning World War II Japanese American American concentration camps.

Life in prestigious private schools in both the United States (Collegiate School) and England (Eton and Mill Hill School) is documented through Phillips' letters, collected ephemera, and course materials. Upper middle-class summer camp life is described in Phillips' letters, counselors' reports, and collected ephemera.

Christine Weideman, Archivist, Manuscripts and Archives, October 2005

Introduction to the Papers


Christopher Phillips

This first installment of the Christopher Phillips Papers covers the period from my birth, on December 19, 1950, until February 13, 1991, when I moved back to New York after an absence of 23 years.

I have assiduously - to put it mildly - saved papers and documents since I was at least nine years old. And judging by the amount of material that has survived from my earliest childhood, my parents were great savers of things as well.

The boxes contain just about every piece of paper that has come my way - letters, receipts, school work, tickets, daily schedules, intriguing bits of stationery and atmospheric ephemera of various kinds. When I discovered the photocopier, I began adding copies of every letter I sent out, as well.

This installment of the archives traces the course of a modern gay life from childhood in Manhattan through Yale, the gay movement, and various lives in Edinburgh, Los Angeles, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Jerusalem and London. The next installments are to cover the period from 1991 until the present and into the future.

While particular parts of this collection illustrate various times and places, I think the main value of this story might well be cumulative.

I believe that, taken as a whole, what these papers chiefly show is the evolution of a gay soul in the process of liberation. I once heard quoted a member of the great Paris generation who was asked to sum up his life. He responded, "I was 20 when the century was 20." For my part, I came of age when my gay tribe came of age. I was 18 in the summer of 1969, when the Stonewall Riots gave birth to the modern gay movement. There is no way to exaggerate the importance of this event for me personally: I owe my freedom and happiness to it. And indeed, I plunged into the gay movement the moment I could find it, in October 1969, at the first meeting of the first gay group at Yale.

There are many gay themes in this collection.  To begin with, the impulse to document and preserve history has been a traditional role for gay people, who have been the record-keepers and saga-makers in numerous cultures since time immemorial.  If anyone doubts this, just look at the number of gay men in antiques shops, in museums, in historic preservation.  The title of a recent book (by Will Fellows, University of Wisconsin Press, 2004) says it all:A Passion to Preserve: Gay Men as Keepers of Culture. I agree with its premise that curating is a natural role for gay men to adopt.

A related gay theme has been my closeness with people one or two generations older than myself. This impulse has resulted in significant friendships that are documented here. But it has echoes in my early attraction to vintage cars and ancient China, not to mention England as shillings were replaced by decimals much to my sorrow.

Another gay theme here is that of living in fantasy, since early on it seemed clear that the real world did not contain a place for me and my kind. Many young gay men dream of escaping to New York one day. Well, I was already in New York, so for me those escapes were to England or California or China, or to other eras or milieus, beginning with the Asia of Japanese prints and continuing to cathedral choirs, Fleet Street and beyond. I soon developed the notion of being an outsider, a person alone. On the up side, this notion has allowed me to forge my own path to an extent that most people have not. The down side is that it has kept me alone for much of my life until now - usually solitary, sometimes lonely. Whenever I got too comfortable in a place, it seemed, I went off alone to another side of the world to start again. On the up side, I got to know many sides of the world intimately; on the down side, I rarely found time to enjoy the fruits of my work. And also on the good side, but definitely with a price attached, my view of life has always been wide-screen: attempts to fit myself into cozy, inward-looking worlds (Orthodox Judaism, or the gay scene, for that matter) have never lasted long.

In many ways, my return to my native place, New York, in 1991 was a statement that I wanted to stop living in fantasy and start living in reality -- which I think I have largely done.

Yet another gay theme in these papers is what I call the pastoral instinct. Anyone who does not see this as a traditional gay role need only look at the numbers of gay people in the clergy, social services, human resources and teaching (particularly special education) - or, for that matter, in the overlooked but definitely pastoral professions of hairdressing, fashion design and interior decorating. It is true that people who do not have children of their own must improvise in finding ways to give to others. In these archives, one can see this pastoral instinct in my gay organizing, and my work at the Gay Community Services Center in Los Angeles, with its Maoist creed of "Serve the People"; it extended into my plans to become a rabbi. Today, I think it has found its most effective outlet, in my practice of homeopathic medicine. "We minister one to another," has always seemed to me an obvious truth.

People have often asked me why I have saved all this material, storing it and shipping it all over the world at great trouble and expense.

One reason is certainly the supremely non-Buddhist impulse to hang on to time. The archives and diaries together were, at their peak periods, an attempt to create an aide-mémoire that would enable me to re-create a period and a place in every detail. As the years went on, I began thinking of the archives in a light that was a bit more fun, as Andy Warhol-type time capsules. Perhaps it's my performance art.

Also, as time went on and I moved from continent to continent every three years or so, these papers became in a way my only continuity. Certain individuals were witness to certain of my stops along the road, but no one has seen the whole picture except me. My life has been so disjointed that it was sometimes hard for me believe that all this really happened. So the archives remain as evidence.

My hope for these aides-mémoire is that they will become the basis for oral history. I have no interest in ever writing a book, but I would love to be interviewed. I am a good story teller, and I can promise that each piece of paper contains a good yarn.

The act of sending these papers to Yale is much like sending something into orbit. But unlike the case with rocket ships, for example, whose orbits are minutely calculated, I have not the slightest idea who, if anyone, will ever delve into this collection. Or when: maybe in a week, a decade, a thousand years, or never. To all researchers, I say welcome, and I hope that my highly personal style of cataloguing aids your work and does not interfere with it. You can probably see this material more clearly than I can. I give my blessing (if not necessarily my agreement) to any and all conclusions you may draw from these papers. Regarding those conclusions, I am, in the words of Man Ray (who is a large figure in this archive), "unconcerned, but not indifferent."

One thing I can say: every scrap of paper here has enriched me in some way. If Abraham in the Bible could not even count the stars in the sky, how am I to count my blessings?

In December 2003, the very month I had my first serious discussions about placing my papers at Yale, I came across a sentence from St. Augustine that perfectly sums up my view of these archives and the spirit in which I send them along: "Entrust the past to God's mercy, the present to His goodness, and the future to His Providence." These things I do.

Christopher Phillips, New York, October 2005


1. Diaries. In a way, this archive is just an illustration to the diaries, which have the real narrative. So you could call these papers the biggest pop-up book in the world.

My diary writing started tentatively in 1970, then picked up again in earnest in 1971. In the early years I mostly used notebooks, and later I began using plain pieces of paper, some of them typed. The intensity of the diary writing ranges from occasional notes when there was something on my mind to meticulous records of everything that happened during the day. At its most extreme, it involved telephone logs in which I made notes on every conversation; some diaries look almost like scrapbooks, with various relics pasted in. I have never had psychotherapy, and so the diaries are where I have worked things out over the years.

At the moment, I have restricted the diaries until 2060. I have done this not so much to keep secrets of my own, but to keep other people's confidences. If a researcher particularly wants diaries from a particular period, I will try - as best I can - to prepare a text that will keep the narrative intact but will honor the trust that others have placed in me. Another difficulty with the diaries is that they are peppered with words in various languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Hebrew and others as well, including some code words. These would need deciphering, along with my handwriting in some places.

2. A note on Hebrew letters that appear on some documents, following the Jewish custom. In the upper right-hand corner on some file folders are Hebrew letters that stand for "Baruch Hashem," meaning "With thanks to God." Some folders, concerning people who have died, have letters meaning, "The memory of the righteous is for a blessing." Some documents have letters meaning, in Aramaic, "With the help of heaven." Note, also, that the Hebrew written alphabet differs from the printed one - and that my handwriting sometimes seems to differ from both!

3. I have kept most of the originals of photographs in the collection and inserted photocopies of them. I will add the originals to the collection in the future.


  • 1950-2009
  • Majority of material found within 1950 - 1991


Conditions Governing Access

Series XV, Diaries, is closed until January 1, 2060, unless researchers receive written permission to access the diaries from the donor or his executor.

Original audio, film, and video recordings, as well as preservation masters and duplicating masters may not be played. Readers may only play use copies. If a use copy of a particular recording does not exist, researchers must consult with the reference archivist for policies and procedures regarding the creation of duplicating master and use copies of original recordings.

Original computer files may not be accessed due to their fragility. Researchers must consult access copies.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright is retained by the donor of this collection for unpublished works he has authored or otherwise produced. After the lifetime of the donor or on January 1, 2040, whichever comes first, copyright passes to Yale University. Copyright status for other 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 Christopher Phillips, 2005 and 2009.


Arranged in fifteen series and one addition: I. December 1950 - August 1959, New York: Early Childhood. II. September 1959 - August 1968, New York (Plus London and Eton): School Days of a Church-Choir Groupie. III. September 1968 - June 1972, Yale (With Summers in California): Coming out, Loosening up. IV. 1968-1972: Yale Professors. V. June 1972 - June 1973, New York, then Edinburgh (via Paris and London): Starting Out in Life - With Benjamin Sonnenberg and Virgin Records. VI. June 1973 - August 1975, Los Angeles (With an Interlude in Alabama): Gay Community Services Center and Highland Park Collective. VII. August 1975 - October 1976, Taiwan (Plus Travels): In Asia at Last, and Starting a Career. VIII. October 1976 - June 1981, Los Angeles Again: Hitting My Stride - Architectural Digest, Jim Ito, and My First Book. IX. June - December 1981, Hong Kong (Plus a Trip to China): Newsmagazine Days, but Not Very Many of Them. X. December 1981 - November 1982, Thailand, England, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, France, U.S.A.: A Year on the Road. XI. November 1982 - February 1984, London: Fleet Street and Orthodox Judaism. XII. February 1984 - September 1987, Jerusalem: Yeshiva Life and a Start as a Book Publisher. XIII. September 1987 - February 1991, London Again: Producing Books in Bloomsbury. XIV. 1950 - 2005: About My Life as a Whole and the Making of This Archive. XV. Diaries, 1971-1991.


62.73 Linear Feet (224 boxes )

9 5.25_floppy_disks (123 megabytes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers are comprised of writings, collected ephemera, correspondence, book and article research materials, and audio-visual materials documenting the personal and professional lives of Christopher Phillips.

Biographical / Historical

Christopher Phillips was born on December 19, 1950, in Manhattan into an upper-middle-class assimilated Jewish family. He attended private schools (Collegiate in New York and, briefly, Eton and Mill Hill in England) and was involved with church music as a teenager. He graduated from Yale in 1972 (B.A., Chinese history). He was active in the gay liberation movement beginning with the founding of the first Yale gay group in October 1969; he soon became the first publicly gay man in Yale history. He worked full time at the Gay Community Services Center in Los Angeles in its early days (1973-75), and lived with other Center gay activists in the Highland Park Collective. His career as an editor has included positions at Architectural Digest (Los Angeles, 1977-81); Asiaweek magazine (Hong Kong, 1981); and The Telegraph Sunday Magazine (London, 1982-83). He worked for Virgin Records in Edinburgh in its early days (1972-73), where he also did gay organizing. He lived in Taiwan as a student in 1975-76. From 1983 to 1986, he was very involved in the Jewish Baal Tshuvah (Newly Orthodox) movement in London and in Israel, where he lived and studied at an Orthodox yeshiva. From 1987 to 1991 he ran his own co-edition publishing house in London, and clients included Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis at Doubleday. His first book was produced with Juliet Man Ray, Man Ray's widow, who was a close friend. Since 1991 he has been an editor at The New York Times and has had a practice in homeopathic medicine in Manhattan.

Processing Information

This finding aid was revised in 2020 to address outdated or harmful descriptive language. During that revision, description was changed in the series-level scope and contents note. References to Japanese-American "relocation camps," during World War II were removed and replaced with community recommended and currently accepted terminology in 2020, such as "American concentration camps." In some cases, original descriptive language was retained. The use of this description is not an endorsement of the language it contains. Original descriptive language has been used to promote searchability and discoverability of the collections. Previous versions of this finding aid may be available. Please contact Manuscripts and Archives for details. If you have questions or comments about these revisions, please contact Manuscripts and Archives or the Archival and Manuscript Description Committee. For more information on reparative archival description at Yale, see Yale’s Statement on Harmful Language in Archival Description.

Guide to the Christopher Phillips Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Christopher Phillips and Staff of Manuscripts and Archives
October 2005
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • April 2021: Finding aid revised to replace outdated or harmful descriptive language. See the processing note for more information.

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