Film History and Film Archives
Black, Gregory, Literature/Film Quarterly
In the last two decades there has been an explosion of paper archival collections documenting the development of the American film industry. The availability of records of film companies such as Warner Bros., 20th Century-Fox, Paramount, RKO, and others; those of the Motion Picture Producers Association censorship office and the Production Code Administration; of state and local censorship boards; as well as the personal records of individual producers, directors, writers, actors, and actresses is having a profound influence on how scholars interpret the history of the American film industry.
Prior to 1975, few American historians were interested in the film industry as a subject for scholarly research and even fewer film scholars were interested in doing the type of archival research that historians were trained to do. Even if both groups had been determined to use traditional archival research as a tool to interpret film history and to read film texts, they would have been frustrated by the lack of archival materials available to them.
As late as the early 1970s, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C., and the Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles were the main repositories for film scholarship. Even at these institutions, the collections were limited, for the most part, to scripts, films, stills, and previously printed materials. All extremely valuable to be sure, but not the type of materials traditional historians were used to working with.
In addition, historians were baffled by the process of reading a film. The result was that traditionally trained historians simply ignored the entire field. Only rarely, and almost always superficially, were Hollywood films or the film industry mentioned in American history monographs and textbooks. Film histories in turn were written by non-historians and the development of the field of film studies drifted naturally to disciplines that did not have to rely on archival documentation for verification.
As late as 1960, film scholars relied on the classical histories of the development of film written by men who participated in the birth and growth of the American film industry. Benjamin Hampton's A History of the Movies (1931); Terry Ramsaye's A Million and One Nights: A History of the Motion Picture Through 1925 and Lewis Jacobs's The Rise of the American Film: A Critical History, first published in 1939 and reissued in 1967; and Arthur Knight's The Liveliest Art (1957) were the major interpretative histories of the industry. They were often more anecdotal than historical. 1
In the last two decades, however, the situation has changed radically. There has been a literal explosion of rich archival material documenting the historical development of the American film industry. As Thomas Schatz has written, "Hollywood left its legacy not only on celluloid but also on paper" (9). This legacy is beginning to change the way film scholars look at Hollywood and look at history as a lens to interpret the movies. My purpose in writing this article is not to write another historiographical essay but rather to comment on the impact archival research is having on film studies and to discuss the availability of materials at the major archival centers in the United States. Valuable archival collections are scattered all over the country, which makes using paper collections on the history of the American film industry difficult, expensive, and time consuming. Yet these dusty archives are an invaluable window to the past.
Los Angeles is, of course, a treasure trove of archival resources for film scholarship. The Margaret Herrick Library, founded in 1931 as the library for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is devoted to documenting the history of the American film industry. The Special Collections Department of the Library houses the Paramount Pictures Corporation Collection, which contains scripts and press books for more than two thousand Paramount pictures from 1912-65; the records of the Motion Picture Patents Company, 190927; the Academy Production Files, which cover more than eighty thousand separate productions and include stills, lobby cards, credit sheets, press books, and clippings; and the papers of individual producers, directors, actors, and actresses.2
One of the most valuable holdings in the Herrick Library is the Motion Picture Association of America Production Code Administration (PCA) case files, which document the history of censorship of American film from 1927-67. There are over twenty thousand production files in the PC A collection. The files include a wide range of information beginning with the first contact a studio had with the PCA through re-release. If, for example, a studio wanted to adapt a novel to the screen, a PCA staff member would read the novel and write a summary for the file that would indicate those areas of the novel which violated the PCA code. This information would sometimes be sent to the studio so the screen writers could "write it out" and lessen censorship problems. When the first draft of the script was submitted, the PCA staff-usually Joseph Breen-maintained contact with the studio until the script was finally approved. This process often required meetings with the producer, director and writers, and the PCA staff wrote summaries of these meetings for the file.
Once the film was completed, PCA staffers went to the studio to preview the film. If it was a controversial film, representatives from the studio would join them and the negotiations continued. PCA files contain details of these agreements as well as correspondence documenting material deleted or added to the script. When the film went into release the PCA kept track of its reception-especially if any censorship problems arose at the state level or with foreign governments.
The PCA files offer film scholars a fascinating opportunity to see how films were made during the thirty or so years this system of self-regulated censorship ruled Hollywood. Recent studies that have mined the materials in the Herrick Library include Leonard Leff and Jerold Simmons, The Dame in the Kimono: Hollywood, Censorship, & The Production Code From the 1920s to the 1960s (1990), which uses eight films as case studies to illustrate how the PCA interacted with the studios. Leff and Simmons are generally supportive of the censorship system, which they see as a necessary control of the Hollywood moguls. Lea Jacobs made extensive use of archival sources including PCA materials in her study The Wages of Sin: Censorship and the Fallen Woman Film, 1928-1942 (1991). She concluded that it was the Production Code that forced filmmakers to insert "dire warnings" to the heroines in fallen woman genre films: "The hollow, perfunctory quality of the endings of many early thirties fallen woman films follows directly not from the studio's original script but rather from the pattern of narrative development put in place by self-regulation itself." Richard Maltby's "The Production Code and the Hays Office," in Tino Balio's Grand Design: Hollywood As A Modem Business Enterprise, 1930-1939 (1993) argues that it is necessary to see self-regulation and the censors as an integral part of the film production process rather than as "its philistine and picayunish villains." My own Hollywood Censored: Morality Codes, Catholics and the Movies (1994) is much more critical of the PCA. Drawing on PCA and Catholic Legion of Decency archives I argue that "censorship prevented Hollywood from interpreting the morals and manners, the economics and politics, and the social and ethical issues facing American society in direct and honest terms. The industry chose instead to interpret all social and political themes through the restrictive lens of the code." It is apparent from the studies just cited that access to archival sources does not mean that everyone who reads the material will interpret it in the same way. This material, will, however, over a period of time provide film scholars with a much broader and deeper understanding of how movies were made and how those who made them interpreted them.
Scholars interested in using the PCA collection or any other material in the Academy Library should write and schedule research time. Be warned that the library is closed on Wednesdays and weekends and severely limits the amount of photocopying researchers can do. For some reason the research room was built without access to electricity, so take lots of extra batteries if you expect to use a laptop.
The Doheny Library at the University of Southern California holds a number of valuable collections. Production files from Warner Bros., MGM, and 20th Century-Fox as well as individual collections from a large number of Hollywood figures including Joseph Cotton, William C. de Mille, William Dieterle, Philip Dunne, King Vidor, Robert Wise, and Fay Wray are available.3 Some of the most interesting material at USC is in the story conference records from MGM and 20th Century-Fox. Producers and writers often spent months working out plot details, character motivations, and censorship problems. Transcripts of these discussions are available and offer an insight into the process of script development. The production records contain everything from scripts to the amount of money spent on set construction and offer a fascinating look at how the studios functioned as entertainment factories. Research space is very limited and access to the some of the collections is restricted so it is necessary to schedule appointments.4
In Westwood, UCLA has a massive amount of material-so much so that the film collection has been divided into two separate collections-one for film and the other for paper collections. Films and television programs are centered at The UCLA Film and Television Archive which contains over 200,000 films and television programs and has some 27 million feet of newsreel footage.5 The collection is broadly representative of the history of world cinema. From the silent era, key works by Griffith, DeMiIIe, Chaplin, Keaton, von Stroheim, and other pioneers are available. The classic Hollywood studio era is represented by films from every major studio as well as a large collection of animated cartoons. World cinema is represented by such directors as Eisenstein, Dreyer, Renoir, Rossellini, DeSica, Truffaut, Kurosawa, and others. The classic documentary films of Flaherty, Grierson, Lorenz, and series such as The March of Time and the Hearst Metrotone Newsreels are housed in this collection. On-site viewing is available at over ninety viewing stations. Most of the archive's collection can be researched through ORION, UCLA's on-line information system.
Another source at UCLA is the Arts Library/Special Collections department headed by Brigitte Kueppers.6 This collection contains scripts, photographs, personal papers, posters, and studio records. Included are scripts, stills, and legal records from 20th Century-Fox dating from the teens to the present; scripts and daily production records from RKO from 1929-56; and scripts from MGM from 1924-60. Professional papers from over 200 writers, producers, directors, and actors are housed in this collection. Included are the papers of directors Dorothy Arzner and William Wyler and writers Emmet Lavery, Robert Rosen, Michael Wilson, Waldo Salt, and Stirling Silliphant.
The Oral History Program at UCLA has also collected oral interviews with Hollywood personalities. A guide to the collection published by Vimala Jayanti, The UCLA Oral History Program: Catalog of the Collection (LA, 1992), is available.7
The Walt Disney Archives was established in 1970 to preserve historical materials relating to Walt Disney and is open to scholars. The archive has Disney's office correspondence, a complete collection of published materials relating to Disney, scripts and production files, films, and other materials dealing with the history of Disney. 8
The Louis B. Mayer Library at the American Film Institute is a repository for a huge collection of scripts and an excellent oral history collection featuring interviews with such Hollywood figures as George Cukor, Howard Koch, Donald Ogden Stewart, and Geoffrey Shurlock. The special collections area features the papers of Robert Aldrich, Leo McCarey, and Martin Scorsese among others.9
On the other coast, Washington, D.C., is also an excellent center for motion picture research. The Motion Picture Division of the Library of Congress holds a large collection of films, stills, and specialized research materials. Viewing rooms are limited and require an advance reservation. The Manuscript Division of the library houses the papers of Lillian Gish, Garson Kanin, Miriam Cooper, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, and others. 10
In addition to materials at the Library of Congress, the Special Collections Department at Georgetown University holds materials of interest to film scholars. 11 Martin Quigley, owner and publisher of the Motion Picture Herald and other trade publications, has deposited his papers at Georgetown.12
Quigley was actively involved in the film censorship movement. He initiated the drafting and adoption of the Production Code in 1930 and when it was not enforced to his satisfaction plotted with influential members of the Catholic hierarchy to establish the Catholic Legion of Decency. Quigley carried on an extensive correspondence with the Catholic Bishops and with PCA director Joseph Breen and MPAA czar Will Hays. His papers are essential for anyone interested in the issue of film censorship and the role the Catholic church played in controlling film content. The collection includes a complete run of Quigley's publications-The Motion Picture Herald, Motion Picture Daily, International Motion Picture (Television) Almanac and Fame.
Catholic University is also a rich source for information on the Catholic Church and film censorship. A Catholic priest, Father Daniel Lord, S.J., wrote the Production Code and a lay Catholic, Joseph Breen, enforced it.13 If church officials believed Breen too liberal in his interpretation of the code, the Catholic Legion of Decency, which classified films for Catholic audiences, would condemn the film as unfit for Catholic audiences. The history of this organization has been shrouded in mystery with most interpretative histories written by Catholics. The legion played an active role in censoring film and established a close working relationship with the PCA.
Catholic University has a large collection of materials on the Legion of Decency. The records of the Episcopal Committee for Motion Pictures from 1934-45 are housed at CU as well as the National Catholic Welfare Conference records, which contain a great deal of correspondence on the Legion of Decency. CU does not have adequate work space for researchers so advanced notification is required. Be prepared to work in less than ideal conditions. Electrical outlets are limited but the staff is friendly and has no restrictions on the amount of copying. 14
The Museum of Modern Art in New York is one of the most important collectors of film materials in the world. MOMA recognized, long before most museums and libraries, the importance of film to American culture. 15 The Museum has more than three million still photographs, 4,000 scripts, 35,000 posters, 4,500 press books, and special collections including those of D.W. Griffith, Jay Hay Whitney from Pioneer Pictures, and film importer Joseph Burstyn, who played a major role in the end of film censorship in this country.
In 1948, one of the most prominent American historians of his era, Alan Nevins, established The Columbia University Oral History Project at Columbia University. The Hollywood Film Industry is a sub-field for the Oral History project and includes such Hollywood personalities as Fred Astaire, Busby Berkeley, Pandro S. Berman, George Cukor, Bette Davis, Melvyn Douglas, Howard Hawks, Paul Henried, James Wang Howe, Nunnally Johnson, Fritz Lang, Anita Loos, Adela Rogers St. Johns, James Stewart, and William Wyler.
Columbia University Library can be accessed via Research Libraries Information Network (RLIN) database. Using the AMC format, type name of the person you are looking for (e.g., fin pn Wyler, William#) and then type "and fg oral histories." This will limit your search to the oral histories. Or if you want to search more widely, request the title of the project (e.g., fin tp Hollywood Film Industry #) and then add "and fg oral histories."!6
The New York State Archives also has a valuable collection of film materials. From 1921-65, the New York State Censorship Board reviewed some 73,000 films including more than 13,000 foreign films. The Records of the New York State Education Department/ Motion Picture Division contain 54,000 scripts as well as correspondence relating to the films. 17
One of the newest film archives is located at Wesleyan University, established in 1985 by film scholar Jeanine Basinger. The Wesleyan Cinema Archive contains the papers of Ingrid Bergman, Frank Capra, Clint Eastwood, Kay Francis, William Hornbeck, Frank Perry, Gene Tiemey, Raoul Walsh, and John Walters. The library also houses the David Mallery Poster Collection, which contains more than a thousand original Hollywood posters.18 Joseph McBride's new biography, Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success (1992), draws heavily upon material in the Capra Collection at Wesleyan. McBride's bibliographic essay is an excellent source for additional paper archival collections (657-715).
All is not lost for film scholars who do not live on either coast. Some of the best collections of manuscripts are located in Madison, Wisconsin; Austin, Texas; and Provo, Utah. The Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin Library on the campus of the University of Wisconsin has one of the finest collections of film materials in the United States. Among the many paper collections are The Warner Bros. Legal Files, which contain contracts and legal agreements on most Warner Bros, productions; United Artists Corporation, containing the corporate and financial records of UA to 1951 ; and a solid collection of papers dealing with The Hollywood Ten (Herbert Biberman, Gale Sondergaard, Ring Lardner, Jr., Emmet Lavery, Albert Maltz, Samuel B. Ornitz, Dalton Trumbo, and Nedrick Young), which offers a fascinating look at how individuals were blacklisted. These collections are complemented by papers from individuals such as Robert Altman, Kirk Douglas, Edith Head, Fredric March, Dore Schary, and Walter Wanger.19
One of the largest collections ever given by a single individual is the David O. Selznick Collection at the University of Texas-Austin. The Selznick Papers contain over one million items and offer a unique opportunity to study the role of a producer during the heyday of the studio era in Hollywood. Selznick was involved in every level of his productions and his papers are a testament to his inability to delegate authority. While he drove his employees crazy, this quirk in his personality has given film historians a rare opportunity to examine a film from inception to production, distribution, and exhibition. Selznick was as involved with distribution, exhibition, and marketing decisions as he was with production problems, which Thomas Schatz has so thoroughly illustrated in his Genius of the System (1988). David Thompson made extensive use of the Selznick papers in his biography Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick (1992). In his essay on sources, Thompson urged other scholars to use the material because it "is so rich and so detailed that nearly every aspect of Hollywood history can be pursued there."
Unfortunately, few scholars have used this incredibly rich collection.20 Part of the problem may be that as it is currently organized the materials are very difficult to access. Texas has imposed a computerized title key word search system on the collection that is more suited for books than manuscripts. However, the collection is so rich that scholars willing to spend the time will find the time spent rewarding.
A collection often ignored is the Arts and Communication Archives located at the Harold B. Lee Library on the campus of Brigham Young University.21 The collection houses the papers of Cecil B. DeMille, which consists of over one thousand archive boxes and ten thousand stills. The Lee Library also contains the papers of Howard Hawks, Andy Devine, and Dean Jagger.
Will Hays headed the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America Association from its creation in 1922 until his retirement in 1945. One could argue that no other single person exerted as much influence on the film industry during the heyday of studio production as did Hays. The Hays office, as the MPPDA was popularly known, is given little more than a passing, and often derisive comment, in most film books; and Hays, if not forgotten, has been ignored by film scholars. But the Will Hays Papers at the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis, Indiana, offer another view of a man and organization that worked efficiently to keep Hollywood and its products before a world audience. Ian Jarvie's recent study, Hollywood's Overseas Campaign: The North Atlantic Movie Trade, 1920-1950 (1992), made extensive use of the Hays Papers and is the type of detailed study of the economics of Hollywood that needs to be done if film scholars are going to truly understand the complex forces that drove the entertainment machine.22
The rich archival resources I have briefly described offer film scholars a wonderful opportunity to continue to enrich our knowledge and understanding of how the American film industry worked.23 While it is clear that in the last decade scholars have produced a large body of new work based on these archival sources, a great deal of work remains to be done. I would like to suggest a few areas that scholars using the archives described above could investigate.
We do not know enough, for example, about how the studios functioned. David Bordwell, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson's The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style & Mode of Production to 1960 (1985) is a major contribution in this area. However, we need more detailed studies like Thomas Schatz's The Genius of the System, which illustrates the power of the executive producer within the studio. What was the relationship between the New York offices and the Hollywood studios? The studios were first and foremost businesses designed to produce profit, not art. Did the studios function differently during different eras? What was the relationship between artistic and financial considerations? How did management control these large and complex operations? Did management style vary widely from one studio to the next?
In the same general area we know very little about the exhibition side of the industry. Douglas Gomery's Shared Pleasures: A History of Movie Presentation in the United States (1992) is the type of study that needs to be done for individual studios and theater chains. Marketing films was, and is, a key to box-office success. Were films marketed differently by different studios? Did they use different techniques in regional areas? How did the vertical monopoly enjoyed by the major studios impact marketing decisions? While we do know some answers to these questions, much of what we know is anecdotal.
The history of Hollywood involves more than just movies. The development of labor unions and artistic guilds has received little attention from film scholars. Detailed studies of the various guilds and technical unions would add much to our knowledge of the whole industry. A serious historical study of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would also be a major contribution to the field.
It is equally amazing that almost nothing has been written about the MPPA, which did much more than censor or regulate film content. Raymond Moley's tribute, The Hays Office (1945), remains the only study done on the MPPA during the tenure of Will Hays. A fresh look at Will Hays is certainly needed as are detailed studies of the organization under the leadership of Eric Johnson and Jack Valenti.
The possibilities are almost endless. Film has played, and continues to play, an important part in the interpretation and direction of American culture. The next decade should bring an explosion of new works to the field of film studies as scholars begin to use the rich resources that are now available to them.
1 There were, of course, more film history books than the few.I have mentioned. For an excellent discussion of the historiography of film see "A Selective Guide to Reading" in Robert C. Alien and Douglas Gomery, Film History: Theory and Practice (1985).
2 For more information contact Sam Gill, Archivist, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 333 South La Cienega, Beverly Hills, CA 90211, 310-247-3020.
3 Wamer Bros, records are in three major locations. In addition to the material under USC control, the Warner Bros. Legal Files are at the Wisconsin State Historical Society and the records of Warner Bros. New York office are in the William Seymour Theatre Collection at Princeton University.
4 Contact University of Southern California, Department of Special Collections, Doheny Library, Los Angeles, CA 90007, 213-743-6362.
5 For more information contact Lou Ellen Kramer, Reference and Outreach Coordinator, UCLA Film and Television Archive, 46 Powell Library, 405 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024-1517, 310-206-5388, FAX 310-206-5392.
6 For more information contact Brigitte Kueppers, Arts Library/Special Collections, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90024-1517, 310-825-7253, FAX 310-206-3374.
7 To order write The Editor, Department of Special Collections, UCLA Research Library, Los Angeles, CA 900241575.
8 Contact David R. Smith, Archivist, Walt Disney Archives, 500 South Buena Vista Street, Burbank, CA 91521-1200, 818-560-5424.
9 For more information write to The American Film Institute, Louis B. Mayer Library, 2021 North Western Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027, 213-856-7660.
10 Contact The Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540, 202-287-5000 for more information.
11 For a guide to all the collections available in Washington see Bonnie G. Rowan and Cynthia J. Wood, Scholars' Guide to Washington, D.C., Media Collections (1994).
12 Contact Nicholas B. Scheetz, Manuscripts Librarian, Georgetown University, 3700 O Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20057-1006 for more information.
13 See Stephen Vaughn, "Morality and Entertainment: The Origins of the Motion Picture Production Code," Journal of American History, 77 (June, 1990): 39-65. For information on Father Lord's Papers contact William B. Faherty, S.J., Jesuit Missouri Province Archives, 4517 West Pine Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108. Another Catholic archive that contains a large amount of material on the Catholic Legion of Decency is the Archival Center Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Contact Msgr. Francis Weber, San Fernando Mission, 15151 San Fernando Mission Blvd., Mission Hills, CA 91345.
14 Contact Anthony Zito, Director, The Catholic University Archives & Manuscripts, Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. 20064.
15 Access to materials is limited. For more information contact Charles Silver, Supervisor, Film Study Center, Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019, 212-708-9613; for information on film stills contact Mary Corliss (same address), 212-708-9830.
16 For additional information on materials available at Columbia write to Ronald J. Grele, Director, Columbia University Oral Research Office, Butler Library, New York, NY 10027.
17 See Guide to Records in the New York State Archives (1993) and Richard Angress, "Film Censorship in New York State," New York State Museum (Spring, 1992): 1-4. Contact James D. Foils, New York State Archives, State Education Department, Cultural Education Center, Albany, NY 12230,518-474-8955.
18 Contact Leith Johnson, Associate Director, Wesleyan Cinema Archive, 301 Washington Terrace, Middletown, CN 06457, 203-347-9411.
19 For more information see Sources for Mass Communications, Films and Theater Research: A Guide (1982) or write to the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, 816 State Street, Madison, WI53706,608-262-0585. For scholars interested in the Hollywood Ten and the John Howard Lawson Papers, see the Delyte W. Morris Library, University of Southern Illinois, Carbondale, IL 62901, 618-453-2522.
20 Curator Charles Bell recently told me that only a handful of film scholars have used the collection. Contact Bell at the Harry Ranson Humanities Research Center, University of Texas-Austin, Austin, TX 78713, 512-471-9122.
21 For more information on the collection contact James D'Arc, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602, 801-378-1211.
22 The Hays Papers are also available on microfilm from University Publications of America.
23 The International Federation of Film Archives (IFFA) has recently produced The International Film Archive CD-ROM (1994), which is a vital research tool for film scholars. The publication contains detailed descriptions of materials from every film archives in the world. For more information write to Ronald Magliozzi, The Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019.
McBride, Joseph. Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.
Schatz, Thomas. The Genius of the System.: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era. New York: Pantheon Books, 1988.
University of Missouri, Kansas City…
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Publication information: Article title: Film History and Film Archives. Contributors: Black, Gregory - Author. Journal title: Literature/Film Quarterly. Volume: 23. Issue: 2 Publication date: April 1, 1995. Page number: 102+. © Salisbury University 2008. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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