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A Day at the Archives… Warner Bros. Archive

Jennifer Voss, De Montfort University

17 April 2018

In the summer of 2017, I embarked on a 12-day archival research trip to the film libraries and studios in Los Angeles, along with a cohort of PhD students and supervisors from the Cinema and Television History (CATH) Research Centre and Drama Research Group at De Montfort University, Leicester. Having developed connections with various libraries and archives in Hollywood (such as the Margaret Herrick Library and Warner Bros. Archives) via email prior to the trip, we were able to discuss our requirements and request our materials well in advance. We were also fortunate enough to be able to arrange some additional activities to enhance our experiences within the archives, such as tours of the archives and vaults, as well as a meet and greet with a number of librarians and archivists working as part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

With my PhD thesis addressing actor training processes and women’s experiences working as actresses within the film industry during the transition from silent to sound, I spent my time in LA divided between the Margaret Herrick Library, and the Warner Bros. Archives at the University of Southern California, School of Cinematic Arts. The Margaret Herrick Library reminded me somewhat of the British Library; in terms of the formalities, securities, and hushed reading rooms, as well as a sense of prestige and legacy. The Warner Bros. Archive, however, was a much more unfamiliar research environment, but one I was eager to immerse myself in.

Located in an industrial area of University Park, across the road from the Los Angeles DMV, the Warner Bros. Archive is housed in a large but unassuming, white painted building. There are no visible windows, just a small door at the front, with ‘3716 S. HOPE RESEARCH ANNEX UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA’ printed above it. After being buzzed in via the intercom, my colleague and I were lead through to a set of big double doors with the words ‘USC WARNER BROS ARCHIVES’ stencilled above it (had it not been my colleague’s second day in the archive, I would not have been confident we were in the right place until seeing this sign!). We were then taken through the archive, beyond rows and rows of shelves stacked high with boxes, to a small study area tucked in the back corner of the archive. The Archive Curator, Brett, set me up at one of the 6 or so research desks, and presented me with my single box of requested items.

Prior to the trip, there were some issues accessing the Warner Bros. Archive index, and so there was not a centralised online catalogue or system to search and request. However, this was not a problem as I spoke to Brett via email, and he was quick to offer assistance. I sent him a list of actresses and films I was interested in, as well as the HR information I might find useful, and he sent me a list of potential items to look through and request.

Here are a few examples of some of my exciting finds at the Warner Bros. Archive:

  • Contract files for Dialogue Directors and Dramatic Coaches; detailing the films they were contracted for. Particular highlight: business card/pamphlet for Malvina Dunn, Dramatic Coach, revealing her connection with the Paris Conservatoire.
  • Legal papers and contracts for Colleen Moore from 1928-1928, showing additional clauses for her first three ‘talkies’.
  • Production file for Footlights and Fools (1929); Colleen Moore’s third sound film

On the third day of the trip, the whole group met up at the Warner Bros. Archive, where we were given a tour. The tour began with a brief overview of the history of the archive. Brett explained how the archive was donated by Warner Bros. to the University of Southern California in 1978, and that the archive holds a vast range of Warner Bros. film, television and music material dating between 1918 and 1968. Due to a number of reasons, including the condition of the items, as well as copyright restrictions, the items held in the archive have not been digitised, and are therefore only available to access by researchers on-site. Moving through to the shelved unit situated right next to the study area, we were told that in order to make accessing documents relating the most popular/most frequently requested films easier for both staff and researchers, the archive has ready made-up boxes of records/documents for certain film titles. Brett had set-out one of these boxes for us to look through, to see the sorts of material held in the archive; the film was The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) starring Humphrey Bogart. The file included correspondence from the research department file, script/story developments, legal files, set department stills, budget and other financial statements, press releases, wardrobe and make-up files, as well as more general inter-office memos and correspondence. After taking time as a group to move around and look through the documents, Brett took us on a tour of the building to see where the different files are pulled from, in order to make up the boxes for each individual researcher’s requests. It was a unique opportunity to be able explore the cataloguing and curating side of the archive, and we also got to see some incredibly exciting items, including an original animation drawing of Daffy Duck!

The extensive knowledge of the archive curator was invaluable throughout my time in the archive; he was keen to know what was useful and what wasn’t, and he was more than happy to dig out any additional material while I was working on my pre-ordered items. Similarly, the relaxed and informal atmosphere of the study space creates a really calm and comfortable working environment. The ‘thank you’ messages from students and academics alike which completely cover the partition wall is a testament to the great support offered at this fascinating archive.

This blog post has been adapted from my short blog series documenting my 12-day research trip to the film archives and studios in Los Angeles:

Jennifer Voss is a PhD candidate in Drama Studies and Film History at De Montfort University, and is funded by the AHRC in partnership with Midlands 3 Cities. Jennifer’s doctoral research, which uses performance theory to build upon a traditional film studies approach to cinema history, focuses on actresses’ performance of emotion during the transition from silent to sound cinema in Britain and America.

Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

IAMHIST Blog Archive

April 2017:

Who Owns History? Notes on Cultural Appropriation, Authenticity and the Historical Film, Mattias Frey

I Read It For The Articles: James Bond and Playboy Magazine, Claire Hines

Swingeing London 67 – Fifty Years On And Still ‘We Love You’, Justin Smith

May 2017:

Of Presidents and Impersonators, Nicholas J. Cull

Meet the Trumps: From Immigrant to President, Office Cat

What Is Archiveology?, Catherine Russell

Meeting Muffin & Friends – An afternoon with Will McNally, Gabrielle Smith

Publish or be Damned…, James Chapman (IAMHIST Advice Blog)

June 2017:

The Hollywood Glamour Photograph, Ellen Wright

The Big CON? How Theresa and ‘Her Team’ failed to mobilise the media of the age, Llewella Chapman

Utilitarian Filmmaking, Deane Williams

Letters from Baghdad, Office Cat

To Review or Not To Review…?, Ciara Chambers (IAMHIST Advice Blog)

July 2017:

Film Finances: Making Hollywood Happen, Charles Drazin

Pedagogies of Re-Enactment: Bystanding and the Media of Re-Experiencing Violence, Carrie Rentschler

Performing Historical Data, Lydia Nicholson

Queen Victoria on Screen, Jeffrey Richards

August 2017:

The Boundaries of Genre: History, Impedance and Flow, Sue Harper

IAMHIST Challenge Event – ‘Extras, Bit-Players, and Historical Consultants in Media History’, Anna Luise Kiss

How to get Published in an Academic Journal, Emma Grylls (IAMHIST Advice Blog)

Not The British New Wave: 5 ‘Kitchen Sink’ Dramas The Critics Never Talk About, Laura Mayne

‘I am sick of films’ – James Mason on the British Film Industry of the 1940s, Adrian Garvey

‘Mr Bond, the Doctor will see you now…’ Applying for Academic Posts in Film and Media, James Chapman

September 2017

Tracing German Post-War Newsreels in Archives, Sigrun Lehnert

Trouble at Sea: The Perilous Journey of The Voyage of Charles Darwin (1978), Mark Fryers

Cinema City: A Medieval Movie House, Anna Blagrove

A Day at the Archives… The German National Archive (Bundesarchiv) in Berlin, Tobias Hochscherf and Roel Vande Winkel (IAMHIST Blog ‘A Day at the Archives…’ series)

October 2017

‘I want to tell the world!’ The Soho Fair, Belinda Lee and Miracle in Soho (Julian Amyes, 1957), Jingan Young

Zarah Leander and the Dream of a (Nazi) European Cinema, Benjamin G. Martin

Happy Halloween: Monsters, Final Girls and Gay Fans, Adam Bingham-Scales

November 2017

‘A Day at the Archives…’ The National Archives at Kew (UK), Llewella Chapman

‘Does it have Hitler in the title?’: Broadcasting History on Television, Michael Cove

Researching World War I on Film, Ron van Dopperen

December 2017

‘A Day at the Archives…’ The Stanley Kubrick Archives, University of Arts London (UAL), James Fenwick

The City Archive: Expect the Unexpected, Leen Engelen

Christmas on the Radio, Chris Deacy

January 2018

‘A Day, well two Days at the Archives…’ Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Toronto Public Library, Katharina Niemeyer and Chloé Tremblay-Goyette

Love and Revenge in The Eagle (1925), Agata Frymus

Trans, Inter, Hybrid, or Entangled? – The Multifold Concepts of Interlaced Media and History, Sigrun Lehnert

April 2018

Lois Weber’s Shoes (1916), Shelley Stamp

‘A Day at the Archives…’ Warner Bros. Archive, Jennifer Voss

‘A Day at the Archives…’ The Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Los Angeles, James Chapman

May 2018

Korea, The Cold War and the end of American Journalism’s ‘Golden Age’, Oliver Elliott

Beyond the ‘1945 Divide’: Reassembling Radio Histories in Wrocław, formerly Breslau, Carolyn Birdsall and Joanna Walewska

Researching the History of Queen’s Film Theatre, Belfast, Sam Manning

Did Britain Really Invent Film Sound?, Geoff Brown

June 2018

Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Television Crusade, Andrew Salvati

‘A Day at the Archives…’: Life Writing in the Swedish Film Institute Archive, Emil Stjernholm

How to Prepare for your Viva: 8 Useful Tips, Agata Frymus

July 2018

Cinemas and Soldiers, 1914-1918: Reflections upon my doctoral research during the final year of centenary commemorations for the First World War, Chris Grosvenor

September 2018

Three archives in two weeks: Where is digitisation?, Sigrun Lehnert

October 2018

American movie-maker Harold Shaw as an agent of British influence, 1916-1920, Neil Parsons

A Day at the Archives… Centre National de l’Audiovisuel (CNA), Alessandra Luciano

A Day at the Archives… The Kirk Douglas papers, Wisconsin Historical Society, James Fenwick

They Shall Not Grow Old (Peter Jackson, 2018), and the elephant in the room, Lawrence Napper

November 2018

The Office Cat swipes its final paw(s)…, The Office Cat and Jerry Kuehl

A Day at the Archives… The Howard Gotleib Archival Research Center, Boston University, Anthony T. McKenna

Why the British elites were determined to suppress ‘pirate’ radio, Richard Rudin

A Day at the Archives… The IFI Irish Film Institute, Dublin, Ciara Chambers

December 2018

‘Our Day Out’ – Memories from the Keith Medley Archive, Ian Bradley and Sue Potts

‘I don’t suppose you’ve read my monograph on cigars and cigar ash?’ A rough guide to academic publishing for early career researchers in film and media studies, James Chapman

February 2019

A Day at the Archives… Film & Diplomacy in Rome’s state archives (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Central State Archives), Carla Mereu Keating

Technology in the Archives: Some principles, Nash Sibanda

March 2019

Hands on TV history, John Ellis

A cockney coster and his asinine companion, Christina Hink

April 2019

A Day at the Archives… William H. Hannon Library, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, Erin Wiegand


CFP: Popular Music Fandom and the Public Sphere: A One Day Symposium

University of Chester,
Friday, 10th April 2015

Keynote speaker: Dr Cornel Sandvoss, University of Surrey

In the mainstream media, postwar popular music fandom has traditionally been associated with collective displays of emotion. Yet fandom is actually about a range of things: shared tastes and personal convictions, individual subjectivity and wider community. Fandom does not exist entirely in private nor entirely in public, but is characterized a process of continual mediation between the two. Jürgen Habermas’s concept of the public sphere suggests that shared spaces of discussion have political consequences, making the crossing of the private/public boundary a political act. It is possible for fans to have relatively public experiences in private and private experiences in public. What new forms of public sphere does popular music fandom create? Edward Comentale suggested that Elvis Presley created a “public sphere within the public sphere.” Furthermore, both ‘the public’ and ‘the private’ are transforming in a networked society and neoliberal era. As communities of imagination, fan bases are providing new models for public activism based on shared values. Fandom can therefore help to indicate where conceptions of the private and public might require some reformulation. We invite papers associated with this subject on specific topics such as the following:

•    Closet popular music fandom
•    Fandom and intimacy
•    Music fan diaries and confessionals
•    Voyeurism and fandom
•    Fan mail and its representation
•    ‘Masses’ and ‘manias’ – collective fandom in the mass broadcast era
•    Fan communities as their own public spheres
•    Fandom, festivals and spectacles
•    Collecting, exhibiting and curating and music fandom
•    Genre fandom and the public sphere
•    Fan philanthropy and activism
•    Fan productivity as social commentary
•    ‘Drive by’ media, news and documentary portrayals
•    Interaction on social media
•    Fandom, affect and the public display of emotion
•    The public/private boundary and historical fan studies
•    Abject heroes and music fan shame

Papers will be 20 minutes in length with 10 minutes for questions. Please send an abstract of no more than 300 words and a bio of no more than 50 words to: before Wednesday, 19th November, 2014.

Organized by:

Dr Mark Duffett, University of Chester
and Dr Koos Zwaan, InHolland University of Applied Sciences.

This event is free to staff and students from any university – please visit the following link for tickets.

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