S. N. Behrman Papers, 1912-1987

Summary     I     II     III     IV     V     VI

Descriptive Summary

Title: S. N. Behrman papers,1912-1987
Collection number: MssCol 248
Creator: S. N. (Samuel Nathaniel) Behrman
Extent: 37 linear ft. (89 boxes)
Repository: The New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
5th Avenue and 42nd Street, New York, New York 10018-2788
Abstract: The S. N. Behrman Papers document the literary career and personal life of the playwright and essayist. The date span of the papers is 1912-1987. They include personal and professional correspondence; diaries; notebooks, manuscripts, typescripts, galley proofs and publication tearsheets of Behrman's writings; news clippings; scrapbooks; photographs; and a few items of ephemera. The S. N. Behrman Papers are an important resource for the study of the American theatre, the Hollywood film industry, popular magazine literature and New York intellectual culture. Prominent correspondents include: Maxwell Anderson, Brooks Atkinson, Bernard Berenson, Isaiah Berlin, Edna Ferber, Felix Frankfurter, Ira Gershwin, F. Tennyson Jesse, George S. Kaufman, Joshua Logan, Sonya Levien, W. Somerset Maugham, St. Clair McKelway, Kenyon Nicholson, Cole Porter, Joseph Verner Reed, Gottfried Reinhardt, Harold Ross, Siegfried Sassoon, William Shawn, Robert E. Sherwood, Salka Viertel, Rebecca West, Katharine White, Edmund Wilson and Alexander Woollcott.

Administrative Information

Source

The S. N. Behrman Papers were purchased by the Manuscripts and Archives Division of The New York Public Library from David Behrman, son of the playwright, on October 13, 1998. An additional holograph manuscript of a novella by Behrman's friend Siegfried Sassoon was purchased from David Behrman in November, 2001. One folder of correspondence between S. N. Behrman and Max Bruell, previously acquired by the Manuscripts and Archives Division through a 1989 donation from Mr. and Mrs. Frederick M. Bruell, has been interfiled in the collection (see Box 4 Folder 1). Finally, one box of photographs, miscellaneous papers and ephemera loaned by Elza Behrman, wife of the playwright, to the New York Public Library Theatre Division in 1976 for an exhibition was transferred to the Manuscripts and Archives Division in October 1998 and has been interfiled in the collection.

Access Restrictions

Collection is open to research. Apply in Special Collections Office.

Preferred Citation

S. N. Behrman Papers, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

Scope and Content Note

The S. N. Behrman Papers document the literary career and personal life of the playwright and essayist. The date span of the papers is 1912-1987. They include personal and professional correspondence; diaries; notebooks, manuscripts, typescripts, galley proofs and publication tearsheets of Behrman's writings; news clippings; scrapbooks; photographs; and a few items of ephemera. The S. N. Behrman Papers are an important resource for the study of the American theatre, the early years of the Hollywood film industry, popular magazine literature and New York intellectual culture. Important figures represented in Behrman's correspondence files include: Maxwell Anderson, Brooks Atkinson, Bernard Berenson, Isaiah Berlin, Edna Ferber, Felix Frankfurter, Ira Gershwin, Sonya Levien, Joshua Logan, W. Somerset Maugham, Cole Porter, Joseph Verner Reed, Gottfried Reinhardt, Siegfried Sassoon, Robert E. Sherwood, Rebecca West, Katharine White and Edmund Wilson. Behrman's hand-written diaries span his entire career, and provide insights on his personal life, his professional relations and his working methods. The papers include thousands of news clippings about Behrman, including reviews of his writings, biographical portraits and interviews. These items provide a measure of the critical response to Behrman's work throughout his long career. At the heart of the collection are thousands of pages of notebooks, manuscripts, typescripts, galley proofs, and publication tearsheets of the writings of S. N. Behrman. Highlights include: manuscripts and tearsheets of Behrman's earliest published essays and book reviews from the 1910s; drafts of several of Behrman's early collaborations with Kenyon Nicholson; notebooks, manuscripts and corrected typescripts for important plays including Serena Blandish, No Time for Comedy, and But For Whom Charlie; manuscripts and tearsheets of Behrman's numerous contributions to The New Yorker; holograph manuscripts, corrected typescripts and galley proofs of his late novel The Burning Glass and his memoir People In A Diary.

Series Descriptions

Series I. Correspondence, 1915-1974

11 linear feet

(Boxes 1-27, 89)
S. N. Behrman's correspondence files contain incoming and outgoing letters, postcards and telegrams which document the playwright's professional activities and personal life. The files are arranged alphabetically by the name of the correspondent, organization and in a few cases by topical heading. While the bulk of the correspondence dates from 1930-1973, there are some important items from Behrman's earlier career. These include: letters from various publishers and editors regarding short stories written during the 1910s and '20s, correspondence with such friends and colleagues as Kenyon Nicholson and Siegfried Sassoon, and a few letters from Behrman's childhood mentor Daniel Asher. Manuscripts of poems and a novella by Siegfried Sassoon are also included in this series. As Behrman achieved success in the late 1920s and '30s, the circle of his correspondence widened to include many renowned figures in the arts and letters. Among the most prominent were critics Brooks Atkinson, St. Clair McKelway and Alexander Woollcott; editors Harold Ross and Katharine White; playwrights Maxwell Anderson and Robert E. Sherwood; authors Edna Ferber, F. Tennyson Jesse and Jesse's husband and collaborator Harold Harwood, W. Somerset Maugham and Maugham's secretary and companion Alan Searle, and Edmund Wilson; lyricists and composers Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill; philosopher Isaiah Berlin; and U. S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. During the 1930s and '40s Behrman wrote numerous letters (filed in this series under "Refugees from Europe") on behalf of European Jews fleeing Nazi terror and sought to win them entry into the United States. In later years, Behrman exchanged letters with Bernard Berenson, Richard A. Cordell, Alfred and Blanche Knopf and Rebecca West. Behrman also corresponded with many important figures from the theatre and film worlds, including George S. Kaufman, Joshua Logan, Sonya Levien (whose letters are filed with those of her husband, Carl Hovey), Laurence Olivier, Harpo Marx, Joseph Verner Reed, Gottfried Reinhardt and Salka Viertel. Additional letters documenting Behrman's work in the film industry are contained in the "Hollywood studios" folders filed in this series. Financial and business concerns connected with all of Behrman's literary projects are discussed in great detail in his correspondence with the Brandt & Brandt agency, and with Harold Freedman. Those interested in the critical response to Behrman's writings will find useful information in the hundreds of fan letters Behrman received over the years, interfiled in this series alphabetically by the title of the work concerned. Finally, there is some editorial and production correspondence regarding several of Behrman's works, also interfiled alphabetically by title.

Series II. Diaries, 1916-1973

3 linear feet

(Boxes 28-34)
From 1916, when he was a student at Harvard, until the end of his life, S. N. Behrman faithfully kept a diary. The pages of these spiral or paper-bound notebooks are filled with entries made in a small hand that is often difficult to read, but which provide fascinating insights on the author's artistry and his personal life. The diaries chronicle Behrman's professional associations, the development of literary themes, the writing and production of plays, as well as his travels, friendships and family affairs. Significant events recorded in the diaries include the beginning of his friendship with English poet Siegfried Sassoon (Box 28, Folder 2), the New York production of his first successful play, The Second Man (Box 28, Folder 10), his reaction to the suicide of his childhood friend and mentor Daniel Asher (Box 28, Folder 13), his marriage to Elza Heiftetz Stone (Box 29, Folder 4), and the last weeks of his life (Box 34, Folder 5).

Series III. Miscellaneous Papers and Ephemera, 1914-1987

1.5 linear feet

(Boxes 35-37)
Documents and artifacts contained in this small series include: awards and diplomas received by Behrman; publications relating to the Harvard College class of 1916; promotional materials and programs for many of Behrman's plays; lists of books read by the author; meeting minutes and a program of the Playwrights' Company; copies of manuscripts written by authors other than S. N. Behrman.

Series IV. News Clippings and Scrapbooks, 1917-1980

6 linear feet

(Boxes 38-50)
This series is composed of three large boxes and ten scrapbook volumes containing news clippings and promotional materials regarding Behrman's plays, films and publications; tearsheets of many of his short stories and books reviews; biographical portraits and interviews of the playwright. This material provides an excellent view of the critical response to Behrman's writings throughout his prolific career. The months immediately following the production of his first successful play, The Second Man, are particularly well-documented. Also of great importance are two scrapbooks (Boxes 41, 42) containing hundreds of book reviews written by Behrman for The New York Times and other publications during 1916-1918. The vast majority of these early critical pieces are not included in the Writings series of the S. N. Behrman Papers. However, all of the tearsheets of Behrman short stories contained in the scrapbook in Box 43 are represented in Series VI, where they are filed individually by title.

Series V. Photographs, 1910s-1960s

.5 linear feet

(Box 51)
This small group of black and white and color photoprints includes images of S. N. Behrman's friends and colleagues; actors and actresses who appeared in his plays; street scenes of Worcester MA; and miscellaneous images related to research for various writing projects. Photographs of Carl Hovey, Sonya Levien and Siegfried Sassoon, found among Behrman's correspondence with these close friends, have been moved to this series where they are filed by name. Unfortunately there is no good portrait of the camera-shy Behrman. A few pictures of the playwright do appear, however, in several of the news clippings contained in Series IV.

Series VI. Writings, 1912-1975

15 linear feet

(Boxes 52-88)
This series contains published and unpublished writings of S. N. Behrman from all phases of his long and varied career. The material is arranged alphabetically by the title of the work, when known. Included are holograph manuscripts and typescripts of plays; holograph manuscripts, edited typescripts, galley proofs and tearsheets of essays and short stories; notebooks; and several folders of unidentified manuscripts and fragments. The wide range of materials available for certain of Behrman's works enables the reader to track their development from their initial conception to their final publication or production. A few folders contain correspondence, news clippings and printed material gathered by Behrman in the course of his research for the project concerned. Behrman's early years are especially well-documented by manuscripts included in this series. Several "College essays" folders (Boxes 61, 62) contain dozens of short pieces written during 1912-1916 while Behrman was a student at Clark College and at Harvard. Most of these items are annotated and graded by his instructors. Also included are publication tearsheets of many of Behrman's earliest short stories from the late-1910s and 1920s, filed by title and identifiable in the Container List by date. Many of these pieces were written in collaboration with Kenyon Nicholson, and several are ascribed to the pseudonymous Paul Halvy. Readers particularly interested in Behrman's formative years should also consult two scrapbooks (Boxes 41, 42) included in Series V which contain clippings of book reviews written by Behrman for The New York Times and other periodicals from 1917-1919. The Writings series also includes a strong representation of works from Behrman's mature period, including: holograph manuscripts of such major plays as Serena Blandish, No Time for Comedy, and The Talley Method; research notes, drafts, galley proofs and tearsheets of several autobiographical essays first published in The New Yorker and later compiled to form The Worcester Account; notebooks and edited typescripts of Behrman's late prose works The Burning Glass and People In A Diary. Unfortunately, there is no manuscript of his first successful play, The Second Man. There is, however, a typescript and publication tearsheet of the 1919 short story, "That Second Man," (Box 82, Folder 6) upon which the play was based.


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