Scope and arrangement
The Walter Slezak Papers span the period from 1905-1983 (one letter dates from 1878) and contain correspondence, personal papers, and ephemera (in the form of photographs, clippings, a photo scrapbook, and sheet music).
Of the more than 150 documents included in Walter Slezak's correspondence (many of them written in German), over 90 percent are messages to Slezak from a wide range of important figures in the arts: composers such as Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, and Erich Korngold; playwrights such as Lillian Hellman, George S. Kaufman, and S.N. Behrman; actors such as Lynn Fontanne, Charles Boyer, andKatharine Cornell; singers such as Lotte Lehmann, Geraldine Farrar, and Ezio Pinza; writers such as Phyllis McGinley, Sinclair Lewis, and Dorothy Parker; also orchestra conductors, theater critics, and artists. There are even two letters from astronauts.
The collective portrait of Slezak that emerges from these letters is that of an admired actor, a charming host, a proud parent, a witty raconteur, a devoted custodian of his father's legacy, and a gourmet chef. Slezak was also an avid collector of original manuscripts: included in the correspondence are a ribald poem by Dorothy Parker; a handwritten Shakespearean sonnet by Phyllis McGinley(dedicated to Slezak); a handwritten copy of Lillian Hellman's favorite speech from her favorite play (The Autumn Garden, 1951); a type-written manuscript (replete with penciled revisions) of Sinclair Lewis's introduction to a biography of Henry Ward Beecher; and a number of letters relating to Slezak's acquisition of original musical scores.
Walter Slezak's Personal Papers fall into several categories: 1. A group of letters to Leo Slezak, dating from the first two decades of this century; 2. "Agaloo": a humorous story (comprising 13 manuscript pages and 4 illustrations) which Walter Slezakwrote for his grandchildren Toby and Alexander; 3.25 Jahre Lubitsch: a manuscript (in German) for a satirical skit written by Friedrich Hollanderin honor of Ernst Lubitsch; 4. An untitled, hand-written manuscript - probably by Walter Slezak - that seems to be part of a play or allegory.
The bulk of the ephemera in this collection are photographs, falling into five categories: 1. Personal photos of Slezak and/or various celebrities and friends; 2. Family photos - mostly from Slezak's childhood family; 3. Family photos with celebrities; 4. Head shots of Slezak; 5. A scrapbook composed mostly of publicity photos from Slezak's acting career in Germany and Austria during the 1920's. Also in the ephemera series are 13 clippings, which include American and Austrian newspaper articles about Slezak's private life, along with photographs, interviews, a cartoon, a playbill, an article by Slezak, and an excerpt from What Time's the Next Swan? in Theatre ArtsMagazine. The final category of ephemera is original sheet music: Harold Rome's song "Panisse and Son" for the Broadway musical Fanny, and Alec Wilder's song "Pinocchio's Lullaby" for a television production of Pinocchio.
The Walter Slezak Papers consist of three series. They are:
- Series I: Walter Slezak Correspondence
- Series II: Personal Papers
- Series III: Ephemera