A Day at the Archives… The Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University

Anthony T. McKenna, University of Derby

6 November 2018


Fifteen years ago, I was struggling to decide what the focus of my PhD thesis would be. A lifelong obsession with 1950s and 60s Americana had led me to the name Joseph E. Levine, one of American cinema’s great showmen. Scanning the internet for information about him, I happened across the website of the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University, which informed me that the center held some Levine-related items. The website is now much improved, but it was rather rudimentary then, so I contacted the center for some more information. Alex Rankin, assistant director for acquisitions, replied that they had forty-three boxes of Levine’s personal papers. The focus of my PhD research was thus decided, and I visited the centre seven times over the next thirteen years, researching my PhD thesis and subsequent monograph on Levine.

Levine was the most versatile movie promoter of his generation, and certainly the most diverse. He promoted a dizzying inventory of juxtaposing film forms, from European arthouse to cheap exploitation to teen weirdies to Hollywood blockbusters. It is therefore fitting that his papers should be housed in an archive bearing the name of Howard Gotlieb, who was a considerable showman in his own right. Gotlieb’s unaffected eclecticism and terrier-like tenacity is imprinted on the archive. It holds more than 2000 collections and is a tribute to the indiscriminate appetites and acquisitive nature of Gotlieb, who saw archival acquisitions as a combative, zero-sum contest.

Gotlieb struggled, strategized and schemed to create BU’s archive. Lacking the funds to build a prestigious collection from scratch following his appointment in 1962, Gotlieb asked promising or up-and-coming figures to donate their papers to the archive in the hope that they would one day become eminent. Many remained unknown, but others became significant figures in American culture, including James Clavell, David Halberstam, Dan Rather, and Martin Luther King. Collections belonging to the already notable required a different approach. Gotlieb was relentless in pursuit of his quarry, and would charm, flatter, cajole, grovel, or simply exasperate his targets. He emerged victorious in securing the personal papers of Fred Astaire, Rex Harrison, and Bette Davis; but was battle-scarred and defeated when he lost a prize, such as when Gloria Swanson donated her papers to the opposition at the University of Texas, despite Gotlieb’s persistent pestering campaign.

The Joseph E. Levine collection was acquired through more traditional means. Levine was a native Bostonian, and the collection was donated to the center by his son, Richard. The collection spans Levine’s entire career in the movie business but, as with most collections, there are many frustrating gaps. Of interest to even the most casual observer are letters from the likes of Spiro Agnew, Richard M. Nixon, and Jimmy Carter, who ask Levine for advice or thank him for campaign contributions. Horror buffs would be thrilled to meet Fats, the ventriloquist’s dummy that drives his owner to murder in Levine’s production of Magic (1978).  For the Levine researcher, there are many more treasures.

Levine may have corresponded with presidents in the 1960s and 70s, but in the 1930s he was hawking exploitation films around New England. The financial ledger for one of these, The Body Beautiful (c. 1938), a long-forgotten sex-hygiene film, provides insights into Levine’s operation at this stage in his career, and the appetite New Englanders had for disreputable films. The files relating to another of Levine’s early career ventures, a feature-length compilation of silent film clips entitled Gaslight Follies (1945), are especially fascinating. The files contain press clippings from local newspapers, along with press and publicity materials, and photographs of Levine on the road. The portrait of a tyro-showman that emerges from these papers, of Levine promoting his own film in the provinces and proudly mounting related reports in a scrapbook, gives wonderful insights into Levine’s early days as a promoter.

The real gold of this archive lies at the opposite end of Levine’s career, in the wealth of information related to A Bridge Too Far (1977), his biggest production. These files contain letters and telexes to and from the key players: the director Richard Attenborough, screenwriter William Goldman, members of the cast, crew, and many others. The detailed correspondence takes the researcher from casting to completion and is supplemented by the personal diary of Levine’s wife, Rosalie, which provides further detail. Researchers are usually only given glimpses of a film’s production in the archives. It is rare indeed to be given so many pieces of a jigsaw just waiting to be put together.

Other films well represented in the collection include Magic – preview cards reveal that test audiences felt that the evil ventriloquist’s dummy trope was pretty hackneyed back then; Gandhi (1981) – Levine was deeply involved in casting before he abruptly pulled out of the project in 1979; and Tattoo (1981) – Maud Adams was cast as the female lead after Nastassja Kinski failed to show up for a meeting in Paris. Levine’s 1960s heyday is, however, poorly represented. But his appointment book from 1965 reveals many meetings with the then editor of Variety, Abel Green, which may go some way to explaining the paper’s positive accounts of Levine’s antics during this time. There is also Levine’s personal copy of the October 1961 issue of Mad magazine, which contains a strip entitled ‘Mad Visits Joe LeVenal: Hollywood’s Latest Producing Genius’, and it would be interesting to know what Levine thought of seeing himself ridiculed in this manner. One suspects he would have approved, given that the Mad lampoon was only a slight exaggeration of Levine’s own exaggerations – and it was free publicity.

I’ll wrap up with a few pointers. The Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center is free to use by appointment, and easy to find – just get the T to Boston University Central Station, and it is on the fifth floor of the Mugar Library Building. The archivists are knowledgeable and keen to discuss their collections. No cameras or electronic equipment is allowed in the reading room – pencil and paper only (and white handling gloves, of course).

Finally, no report on the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center would be complete without a mention of the grand and ornate reading room, one of the most beautiful I have ever worked in. It is such a beautiful place to work in that you may wish to plan your next research project according to the archive’s holdings. Perhaps I might write that book about Leonard Nimoy after all …


Anthony T. McKenna is a senior lecturer in film and television studies at the University of Derby. He is the author of Showman of the Screen: Joseph E. Levine and his Revolutions in Film Promotion, co-author of The Man Who Got Carter: Michael Klinger, Independent Film Production and the British Film Industry, and co-editor of Beyond the Bottom Line: The Producer in Film and Television Studies.


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.

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

Emil Stjernholm, Lund University, Sweden

12 June 2018


For the past four and a half years, I have been doing a PhD in film studies, spending most of my time tracing the biography of the enigmatic Swedish cinephile, filmmaker and historian Gösta Werner (1908-2009). During this period, I have visited a range of archives––from the makeshift archive of the Lund Film Society which is stored in boxes in the cellar of the arthouse cinema Kino a stones throw from my office at Lund University to the all but complete company archive of Universum Film AG (Ufa) at Bundesarchiv in Berlin. In this piece, however, I would like to focus on my experiences working with Gösta Werner’s large personal archive, which is deposited at the Swedish Film Institute (SFI) in Stockholm.

Gösta Werner was an omnipresent figure in Swedish film history––as a theorist, filmmaker, and scholar. In the postwar period, he gained recognition as a director of sponsored films and next to the well-known documentarian Arne Sucksdorff he was probably Sweden’s best-known short film director during this period. In Werner’s own narrative about his career, the war years are glossed over. Instead, the canonized experimental short film The Sacrifice (Midvinterblot, 1945) has habitually (and wrongly) been labeled as the director’s debut film. However, long before the release of this film, Werner began to pursue filmmaking under the auspices of the Nazi controlled German company Ufa and he participated in the shooting and editing of the German Swedish-language newsreel Ufa-journalen that was distributed in Sweden between 1941-1945. Accordingly, one of the main aims of my dissertation is to investigate what Werner’s role was in the production of German propaganda and how these transnational film practices affected the authorial discourse surrounding him during and after the war. After his filmmaking career, Werner became a scholar and prominent film historian. In fact, he became the first to earn a PhD in the newly instated subject filmvetenskap (film studies) in 1971. In this sense, I argue, his life and work shines light on the formation of Swedish film culture.

The archive and its origins

Gösta Werner’s personal archive is deposited at the Swedish Film Institute in Stockholm so let me first say a few words about the place where it is being held. The film archive at the SFI is one of the oldest in the world and the foundation also holds a number of special collections. The special collections range from a number of major company archives, like the silent film company Svenska Biografteatern’s archive, parts of the major film company Europafilm’s archive and Svenska Biografägarförbundet’s (Swedish Association of Cinema Proprietors) archive, to the personal collections of filmmakers like Victor Sjöström, Arne Mattsson and Sven Nykvist. A big part of both the film archive and the special collections comes from an organization called Svenska Filmsamfundet (“The Swedish Film Society”) which was founded in October 1933 with the ambition to preserve the legacy of Swedish silent film, an era oftentimes referred to as the Swedish golden age of cinema. Like many other European countries, Sweden had a large film society movement in the 1920s and 30s, and a number of leading critics, filmmakers and cinephiles active in Stockholm film society aimed to promote the standing of film, release publications and create a forum for public debate and to establish an award for outstanding work within the film industry. From a scholarly point-of-view, however, one of their most important initiatives was the creation of an archive where they collected manuscripts, press clippings, photos and other types of film paraphernalia. In 1940, the archive became a more independent entity and it was given the name Filmhistoriska samlingarna (The Film Historic Collections), and the collections were transferred to Tekniska museet (The National Museum of Science and Technology). In 1964, the collections were taken over by the then newly established Swedish Film Institute (founded in 1963).

The Swedish Film Institute is located in the Film House on the borough Östermalm in Stockholm. From T-Centralen, which forms the heart of the Stockholm metro system, it is just a five-minute train ride followed by a ten-minute walk from the metro station Karlaplan. The archive is located in a large Brutalist building which was designed by the architect Peter Celsing. During one of the early meetings planning the house, the founder Harry Schein allegedly said that he did not want “no ordinary bloody building”, and the Film House indeed catches the eye of the passers-by. Besides the SFI, the Film House caters to a number of film production companies and also has two major cinemas where Cinemateket screens films daily.

The Swedish Film Institute in Stockholm, author’s own photo.

The personal archive and beyond

The material that my dissertation builds on chiefly consists of two components: the personal archive that which the filmmaker deposited at the SFI in 1993 (and later complemented with additional material in 2005) and Gösta Werner’s films. The well-organized archive – approximately 20 running meters of documentation from his career – was structured by the filmmaker himself and deposited at the age of 85.  It encompasses a great range of materials –manuscripts, drafts, contracts, drawings, photographs, correspondences and financial records – of which a majority is annotated. These materials range from notes from his earliest assignments as an assistant director on the drama film Skepparkärlek (Ivar Johansson, 1931) to his research on the work of Victor Sjöström and Mauritz Stiller in the late 1980s and 90s. One particularly interesting feature is the carbon copies of letters, which documents the director’s relationship to producers, critics and other filmmakers. Regarding Werner’s films, one must note that a number of them, more specifically 6 out of 45, are considered lost films, while the rest are held in the Swedish Film Institute’s film archive and have been made available to me digitally with the help of the National Library of Sweden’s Division for Audiovisual Media.

When I began this project I was not fully aware of the controversies that surrounded Gösta Werner’s persona. Even though rumors about his past political sympathies have been persistent throughout his career, Werner’s connections to Nazi Germany have never been explored in-depth. Here, one should note that the personal archive contains relatively few traces of his activities during World War II. Instead, the starting point for my investigation into this topic was a five-page dossier on Gösta Werner assembled by the Swedish intelligence agency (Allmänna säkerhetstjänsten). The fact that I discovered this file, more than two years into my research education, led me to explore other sources of archival material and research literature. This has been challenging because there is no comprehensive archival collection from Ufa’s Stockholm branch, neither in Germany nor in Sweden. Moreover, there is little information overall concerning Ufa’s operations abroad because the so-called ”UFA-Zentrale“ located at Dönhoffplatz in Berlin, was badly damaged by Allied bombs in February 1945, whereupon a large part of the archive material was destroyed in a fire. Given this, it is impossible to fully reconstruct to what extent the German company controlled the Swedish branch, and also to know exactly what Werner’s duties were at Ufa.

Given that he became a scholar himself and published biographies on several Swedish authors and filmmakers––such as the author Stig Dagerman, playwright Hjalmar Bergman and director Mauritz Stiller––I would argue that Werner could be seen as a particularly self-assured agent when it comes to the organization of the personal archive. Therefore, the personal archive that I am working with is in itself not a neutral place but actively constructed. Art historian Joan M. Schwartz and Archive scholar Terry Cook has argued that: ”Whether over ideas or feelings, actions or transactions, the choice of what to record and the decision over what to preserve, and thereby privilege, occur within socially constructed, but now naturalized frameworks that determine the significance of what becomes archives.” The gaps and absences concerning the most controversial and vexing period in his life – the war years – raises questions about what is included and what is excluded in the archive. While research in the Military Archives in Stockholm, the Swedish secret service archive (Allmänna säkerhetstjänstens arkiv) at The Swedish National Archives and at the Bundesarchiv in Berlin have helped me piece some parts of the puzzle together, many questions remain unanswered.

Even though Werner and his contemporary Ingmar Bergman are on opposite spectrums of the Swedish film canon, one being an appreciated legend and the other being marginalized, stigmatized and forgotten, their archives bear a striking resemblance in terms of the collector’s meticulousness and eagerness to save for posterity. Today, Bergman’s massive personal archive, also located at the Swedish Film Institute, attracts scholars, journalists and filmmakers from all over the world whereas Werner’s archive is full of unopened folders and envelopes. In other words, Werner took his artistic process seriously and considered himself a figure worthy of serious academic study, even though his filmmaking career never lived up to his own expectations.

Gösta Werner’s archive, The Swedish Film Institute in Stockholm, author’s own photo.

The Swedish Film Institute in Stockholm, author’s own photo.


Emil Stjernholm is a PhD Student in Film Studies at the Centre for Languages and Literature, Lund University, Sweden. His areas of research include documentary film, propaganda studies and media history. His doctoral dissertation focuses on the Swedish film pioneer Gösta Werner (forthcoming in the book series Mediehistoriskt arkiv (Media History Archives), http://mediehistorisktarkiv.se, in 2018). He has published articles in journals like Journal of Media, Cognition and Communication, Studies in European Cinema and BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies.


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.


 

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: https://vpp.midlands3cities.ac.uk/pages/viewrecentblogposts.action?key=P10513638dmuacuk


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.

https://vpp.midlands3cities.ac.uk/display/P10513638dmuacuk/Welcome


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.

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