Scope and arrangement
The Margaret Mayo papers are arranged into four series: Correspondence, Personal Papers, Professional Papers, and Real Estate Materials. The papers document her professional life as an actress, playwright, and screenwriter; her position as head of the Scenario Department of Goldwyn Pictures Corporation; her work overseas entertaining the troops during World War I; her real estate holdings in the Hudson Valley; her marriage to actor, director, playwright, and dramatist Edgar Selwyn; and her interests in spiritualism and animal welfare.
The majority of the collection documents Mayo's professional work as a dramatist through scripts, notes, drafts, scenarios, professional correspondence, posters and programs, publicity materials, box office and royalty statements, contracts and copyright filings, and legal action taken (or threatened) when Mayo believed her copyright was violated. These materials provide rich documentation on the entertainment industry in the early twentieth century and Mayo's unique role as a woman in the largely male-dominated field. Other writings, not related to the entertainment industry, include articles, short stories, letters to the editors, and text and illustrations for her book, A Dog's Life.
Mayo's personal life is documented through autobiographical materials; correspondence to and from friends and acquaintances; financial and legal records, including a deposition for her divorce in 1919; and automatic, or spirit, writing. After retiring from the entertainment industry in 1919, Mayo became interested in real estate in the Hudson Valley; her properties, the various legal actions surrounding them, and their eventual financial drain are well documented in the collection through maps, blueprints, photographs, boarder ledgers, research files, legal documents, and correspondence.
The Margaret Mayo papers are arranged in four series:
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The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by correspondent. The correspondence is both personal and professional and documents Mayo's work as an actress and dramatist, her real estate holdings, her various legal cases, and financial issues. A recurring theme in the correspondence is the constant work Mayo undertook to protect the copyright of her plays, film scripts, and scenarios, and to ensure that she received proper payment from producers and publishing companies.
There is a significant amount of correspondence with Upton Sinclair and his second wife, Mary Craig Kimbrough, and with the playwright Aubrey Kennedy. Mayo's correspondence with the Sinclairs documents their friendship, and includes Mayo's comments on Sinclairs' Sylvia novels. Mayo's correspondence with Kennedy spans three decades and regards their collaborative writing projects and Kennedy's late life-in-life decline due to alcoholism. Other notable correspondents include Blanche Bates, Alexandra Carlisle, Irwin Cobb, Constance Collier, Jane Cowl, Bob Davis, Max Dearly, Cecil B. DeMille, Charles Dillingham, Father Divine ( M. J. Divine), Max Eastman, Maxine Elliott, Eva Moore Esmond, William Faversham, Minnie Maddern Fiske, James Forbes, Daniel Frohman, Avery Hopwood, Salisbury Field, Donald Calthrop, Edith Ellis, Julie Herne, Clara Lippman Man, and Sewell Collins.
Correspondence with the law firm O'Brien, Malevinsky, and Driscoll represent a suit against Mayo by Aubrey Kennedy's wife Agnes Kennedy for alienation of affection and contracts for Baby Mine, Bridal Night, Seeing Things, Twin Beds, and the Ziegfeld production of Polly of the Circus.
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The personal papers are arranged in alphabetical order by file title. These files document Mayo's turbulent marriage (1899-1919) to actor, director, producer, and dramatist Edgar Selwyn, its continuing effects, largely financial, upon her life, and her interest in automatic writing. Mayo's autobiographical materials consist of a 124 page epistle to Edgar Selwyn detailing the entirety of their relationship, from their courtship to divorce, notes on Mayo's youth, and comments on women as playwrights. Financial records consist of two bank account books and royalty statements. Legal files regard divorce proceedings, alimony payments, and Mayo's controlling interest in Selwyn & Co. For legal and financial material regarding specific plays and productions, see Series III: Professional Files.
Mayo's automatic writing spans two decades, from 1924 to 1943, and consists of messages she believed were directed by spirits. Although many of the messages simply contain yes or no answers to undocumented questions, some contain the written questions as well, or Mayo's explanations. The conception of the play Woman's World is represented in the writing as well as unidentified dialog and scenarios. The file on business ideas include a dress making venture and materials related to the Character Autograph Book, an autograph book where one could preserve the characteristics and the autographs of friends and acquaintances. Inventions consist of a sound-proof, dust proof ventilator, sound reproduction mechanism for radio, a nicotine catcher, a bed chair, and a telephone earpiece, and a patent by Aubrey Kennedy for an airplane stabilizer. Miscellaneous papers include a report on blackmailers (1920) and medical physical by the Life Extension Institute. The photographs are all professional studio portraits of other entertainers and most are signed to Mayo.
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Professional files are grouped by general professional files regarding companies and studios; theater and film materials; World War I material; and other writings. General professional files are arranged in alphabetical order. The American Play Company and Century Company files contain contracts and royalty statements regarding Mayo's works, and the Selwyn & Co. files represent Mayo's inquest into the company's accounts in order to collect monies owed to her. Selwyn & Co. sold stock rights of some of Mayo's plays to the American Play Company when they merged in 1914 and these sales are also partially documented. The files on Hugh Massie & Company represent the negotiation of the foreign rights of Mayo's works. The company files represent most of Mayo's major and minor works including Baby Mine, Commencement Days, Divorcons, Naughty Wife, Polly of the Circus, Snake Bite, and Twin Beds.
The Authors League Fund file concerns her request for financial assistance prior to her death and the posthumous management of her estate including renewal of copyright and royalty statements. The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer files consist of early management documents and policies, initial stock distributions, and Mayo's working files from her position as Head of the Scenario Department. The studio is represented in its three iterations: Goldwyn Pictures Corporation; Metro-Goldwyn; and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Submissions contain letters, often with scenarios, sent to Mayo from writers and production studios requesting that Mayo read their scripts.
Film and theater files are arranged alphabetically by title followed by general files arranged by format. These files can include scripts, box office statements, plot books, blocking instructions, and set designs; submission, rejection, and acceptance letters; and legal files. Additionally, some files contain posthumous contracts and royalties. Mayo usually used multiple titles for her plays and she would often revisit and resubmit a play under a new title, sometimes working on the same play over a decade or two. Folders in this series retain Mayo's designation and below is a list of titles and their various iterations:
- Baby Mine: Rock-A-Bye-Baby (musical version)
- The Cheat: The Flirt, Infatuation, and Zella
- Dear Debtors: The Dorrits, Mister Dorrit, A Little Matter of Business, Room 60, and Take Your Husband's Word for It
- His Bridal Night: The Stolen Honey Moon
- Lovelight: All Lit Up
- Marie Antoinette: Every Inch a Queen and Queen Gambles
- Sorry: Behind the Scenes, Bright Lights, Dolly Love, Estranged, and The White Way Polly of the Circus: Peg of the Circus and Spangles (musical version)
- Poor Boob: Poor Simp
- Seeing Things: Mousey and Loving Ladies
- Tom Cat: The Darlings, Pettie Darling, Say It with Flowers, and Scared Cats
- The Transgressors: The Acting Governor
Productions most represented include Baby Mine, Crippled Hearts, Polly of the Circus, and The Tom Cat. Files for Baby Mine, Divorcons, Polly of the Circus, and Twin Beds contain material regarding the film versions of the plays. Baby Mine also contains extensive files of royalty statements and contracts including domestic and European productions. Mayo dramatized many novels and short stories-files for Belshazzar and The Marriage of William Ashe contain correspondence with their respective authors, William Stearns Davis and Mary Augusta Ward. The Aubrey Kennedy files contain the scripts God Laughed, The Billion Dollar Mystery, The Power of the Cross, That's That, and Wings of Victory.
General theater and film files include an incomplete alphabetical folio that contains the names of plays and scenarios, the dates they were submitted to and returned, and additional comments. The file titled 'Play Letters to be filed,' Mayo's designation, consists of unsorted correspondence regarding particular productions.
World War I files represent Mayo's booth at the Allied Bazaar Theater and her participation overseas in the Over There Theatre League. The files contain posters for performances, news clippings, and scripts, as well as correspondence regarding a reunion of performers Mayo attempted to organize in 1945. The files also hold typescript drafts of Trouping for the Troops, Mayo's account of her work during World War I. The miscellaneous files includes printed matter such as The World's Battle Fronts at a Glance (maps, 1918) and Caption A. R. Gercken's Military Tips and Pointers (1918).
Writings consist of newspaper submissions; short stories, some under pseudonyms; and drafts for her book A Dog's Life with illustrations by Bert Cobb. Mayo wrote letters to newspaper editors often, and newspapers submissions contain numerous articles and letters on the role of the arts and artists in society, remedies for the Great Depression, Hudson Valley land ordinances and local politics, and the Lindbergh Trial.
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Real estate files are grouped by the Croton Point Company, the Gomay Realty Corporation, and Sunny Acres, Mayo's estate on the Hudson River. All reflect Mayo's interest in the Hudson Valley and preserving its character. Sunny Acres files represent her legal cases against the City of New York and against the New York Central Railroad. Files regarding the latter contain Mayo's research into the history of the property including the field book of surveyor and civil engineer James Kirby from 1882 on various properties. Entries regarding Sunny Acres are under the owner at that time, J. M. Cockroft (James). Other papers consist of deeds, mortgage papers, maps, and blueprints. The Gomay Realty Corporation files contain rental correspondence and receipts, records of sale, blueprint and maps regarding various rental properties as well as undeveloped lots of land-in 1932 the Corporation listed 14 buildings for sale and 86 lots. Also included is an unsuccessful attempt to interest the Y.M.C.A. to purchase property for their headquarters.