S. N. Behrman Papers, 1911-1973

Summary     I     II     III

Summary Information
Title: S. N. Behrman Papers

Inclusive Dates: 1911-1973

Creator: Behrman, S. N. (Samuel Nathaniel), 1893-1973

Call Number: U.S. Mss 6AN; Micro 585

Quantity: 10.8 c.f. (27 archives boxes) and 1 reel of microfilm (35mm)

Repository: Wisconsin Historical Society Archives / Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research

Abstract: Papers of a writer noted for his sophisticated comedy for the stage and motion pictures. Illustrating Behrman's writing techniques are detailed notes, drafts, and revisions of more than thirty plays, screenplays, and adaptations. Among the plays he wrote or adapted are Amphitryon 38 (1937), Biography (1932), The Cold Wind and the Warm (1958), End of Summer (1935), Fanny (1954), Jacobowsky and the Colonel (1944), Jane (1952), No Time for Comedy (1939), The Pirate (1942), Rain from Heaven (1934), and The Second Man (1927); screenplays represented include Bonjour Tristesse (Columbia, 1958), Ninotchka (MGM, 1939), and Waterloo Bridge (MGM, 1940). In addition to script materials for some titles there are clippings, playbills, correspondence, and other related information.

Probably more than any other dramatist in American theatrical history, S. N. Behrman's dramas exemplify the mastery of high or sophisticated comedy. Stark Young compared him favorably with George Bernard Shaw and called him ...one of those rare authors in the theatre who do not mistrust civilized society, and do not think that Times Square must understand or no tickets will be sold. Behind Behrman's sophisticated dramas, of which The Second Man (1927), Biography (1932), Rain from Heaven (1934), End of Summer (1936), and No Time for Comedy (1939) represent his early finest work, there is always a sound and intelligent purpose and frequently a theme of social or political significance.

Behrman was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1893. After studying at Clark College and George Pierce Baker's Workshop 47 at Harvard, Behrman went to New York where he wrote reviews and short stories for magazines such as The Smart Set. It was not long until his first artistic and commercial success, The Second Man, started him on a career as an important American dramatist. Turning his talents partially to Hollywood, he achieved recognition for his screenplays: He Knew Women (1930), Anna Karenina and The Tale of Two Cities (1935), Conquest (1937), Waterloo Bridge (1948), Quo Vadis (1950), and Bonjour Tristesse (1956).

Behrman frequently collaborated on or adapted plays. Amphitryon 38 and The Pirate, both vehicles for the acting team of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, were adaptations as were Jacobowsky and the Colonel, Jane, and the S. N. Behrman-Joshua Logan musical Fanny. Behrman was distinctive in American theatre in achieving a high degree of success during five widely varied decades of the twentieth century. Besides his dramatic writings, he also wrote a biography of critic Max Beerbohm, Portrait of Max, and often contributed pieces to The New Yorker.

Scope and Content Note

The collection provides little information on Behrman's personal life but does offer great insights into his work as a dramatist. Extensive notes, usually written daily during the writing and rehearsing of a play, detail character and plot development and often include Behrman's personal reactions and attitudes toward his work. Also included are variant scripts and rewrites, often extensively annotated; correspondence, congratulatory first-night messages, and fan mail; clippings, including reviews of road productions; playbills; box office statements; and miscellany. The papers have been organized in three series: Theatre, Motion Pictures, and Radio. Arrangement is generally alphabetical by production title.

Series I: Theatre

Behrman's theatre works comprise the majority of the collection and includes plays such as Amphitryon 38, Biography, End of Summer, Fanny, Jacobowsky and the Colonel, No Time for Comedy, The Second Man, Serena Blandish, and Wine of Choice. Major productions are arranged alphabetically by title with a small section of miscellaneous files completing the series. Included in the latter section are several of Behrman's one-act plays, unidentified script materials, and some biographical clippings.

Behrman co-authored several pieces with his friend playwright J. Kenyon Nicholson. These include All in a Night's Work, an untitled one-act play, and an unidentified manuscript. However, unless noted otherwise, Behrman is assumed to have written the works. Amphitryon 38 correspondence includes two brief sketches of Act I's set which were designed by Lee Simonson. Correspondence for The Cold Wind discusses adapting the story to film, while the Dunnigan's Daughter file includes several drafts of a letter concerning Behrman's withdrawal from the Playwrights' Company. Among the Fanny materials is a transcript of a phone conversation between Joshua Logan and Oscar Hammerstein in which they discuss the play. Included in the Jacobowsky and The Colonel correspondence are telegrams and letters discussing questions of authorship plus a draft script co-authored by Franz Werfel and Clifford Odets. A partial index to notable correspondents in the collection follows:

Name Date Production
Atkinson, Brooks 16 June 1958 The Cold Wind
  10 December 1958 The Cold Wind
Choate, Edward 9 September 1958 Me and the Colonel
Fontanne, Lynn 5 April 1937 Amphitryon 38
  6 April 1937 Amphitryon 38
  1 April 1946 I Know My Love
  31 March 1948 I Know My Love
  12 May 1948 I Know My Love
  20 May 1948 I Know My Love
Logan, Joshua 29 October 1958 The Cold Wind
Lunt, Alfred 5 April 1937 Amphitryon 38
  n.d. I Know My Love
Marx, Harpo 5 April 1949 I Know My Love
Reinhardt, Gottfried June 1956-October 1957 Me and the Colonel
  11 September 1944 Jacobowsky and the Colonel
Ross, H. W. 7 November 1949 I Know My Love
Sherwood, Robert 6 April 1939 No Time for Comedy
  9 May 1945 Dunnigan's Daughter
Swope, Herbert Bayard 19 April 1939 No Time for Comedy
Werfel, Franz 11 February 1944 Jacobowsky and the Colonel
  25 February 1944 Jacobowsky and the Colonel

Series II: Motion Pictures

Motion pictures includes scripts of Anna Karenina, Bonjour Tristesse, Ninotchka, Queen Christina, Quo Vadis, A Tale of Two Cities, and others. Typically these files are smaller than those for theatre productions.

Series III: Radio

Radio consists of one script for an adaptation of Behrman's theatrical work I Know My Love, which was adapted for radio by Erik Barnow.

Administrative/Restriction Information
Access Restrictions

Permission to use the Behrman Papers must be requested in writing from the director of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research or the director of the State Historical Society.

Acquisition Information

Presented by S. N. Behrman, New York, N.Y., 1961-1962; and placed on deposit by Anne Grossman, New York, N.Y., 1975. Six scripts (Anna Karenina, Conquest, Queen Christina, Quo Vadis, Tale of Two Cities, Waterloo Bridge) are on permanent loan from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. Accession Number: MCHC61-033; MCHC62-026; MCHC75-049

Processing Information

Processed by Diane Lindner and Christine Rongone, October 1979.

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