Scope and arrangement
The Mary Ellis papers span the years 1897 to 2003, from a newspaper published on the date of her birth to the obituaries following her death. The collection, which consists of correspondence and personal papers, production files, photographs, scrapbooks, clippings, and a few items of ephemera, documents the singer-actress' life and career in opera, theatre, film, and television, both in her native United States and in her adopted home of England.
The correspondence series of the collection is particularly strong, containing hundreds of items of a predominantly personal nature from many friends and colleagues, including Peggy Ashcroft, Noel Coward, John Gielgud, Helen Hayes, Gertrude Lawrence, Vivien Leigh, and Laurence Olivier, over a period spanning more than eight decades. Dozens of letters from opera singer and longtime friend Geraldine Farrar; from actor and friend Romney Brent; and from actress Mary Morris, who lived with Ms. Ellis for a time in the 1950s, are characterized by their use of pet names and their affectionate tone. Ivor Novello, who wrote and composed three musical plays for her, is also well represented. Not contained in the collection is correspondence from any of Ms. Ellis' four husbands, with the possible exception of a letter from third husband Basil Sydney. There is also a smattering of professional correspondence from various stages of Ms. Ellis' career, including her time at the Metropolitan Opera.
Highlights of Ms. Ellis' personal papers include a copy of the "Rhapsody in Blue" score personally inscribed by George Gershwin, a signed portrait of Ivor Novello, and a number of items relating to Novello's death. Also included are stray pieces of artwork, souvenirs, and news items. Financial records are mostly absent from the collection.
Production files include scripts and programs, some with annotations or autographs, along with a few pieces of sheet music that were kept with the collection; a number of bound vocal scores were moved to the Music Division. There are also a few pieces of ephemera related to specific productions, notably a lace fan Ms. Ellis carried in Rose Marie .
Another strength of the collection is the photographs series. Portraits and snapshots cover Ms. Ellis' lifespan with few gaps, and also encompass a number of friends and family members. In addition, the actress' theatre and Hollywood film credits are particularly well represented by hundreds of black and white production stills.
Two volumes in the scrapbooks series provide excellent coverage of Ms. Ellis' time at the Metropolitan Opera, and of her largely American-based acting career through 1932. Another scrapbook contains some information about the actress' activities during the 1930s in London and Hollywood, while a fourth volume documents the 1935 production of Glamorous Night, mostly through photographs. The bulk of Ms. Ellis' career in England is not represented here, although it is well documented in the clippings series. Finally, two printed photocollages among the collection's oversized materials demonstrate at a glance the breadth of the subject's life.
Some material was removed from the collection in October 2004 by Joshua Liveright, Ms. Ellis' nephew, and shipped to the Theatre Museum, London. These transferred items relate primarily to Ms. Ellis' career in England, and include mostly duplicate photographs, clippings, serials, scripts, scrapbook, and programs.
The Mary Ellis papers are arranged in seven series:
- 1912-20013 boxes
Includes both purely personal and purely professional correspondence, and a considerable amount of correspondence that straddles the two categories. In such cases, more weight was given to the personal.
- 1897-2003, undated1 box
Contains a variety of items, including correspondence, photographs, programs, and clippings, that overlap to some extent with other series, but that hold a position of particular personal significance in Ms. Ellis' life.
- 1918-19963 boxes
This series charts the course of Mary Ellis' career primarily as a live performer, both in opera and theatre. It is divided into three subseries: scripts, sheet music and songbooks, and programs and souvenirs.
- 1901-1990s3 boxes
The photographs series includes nearly a century's worth of portraits and personal photos both of Mary Ellis and the people in her life, as well as numerous stills from theatre and film productions. Almost all of the photographs are black and white.
- 1913-19364 scrapbooks and 1 songbook
The five volumes in this series include four scrapbooks of clippings, photos, and other materials, and one oversized songbook.
- 1918-20001 box
Includes reviews and feature articles from American and British publications.
- 1897-1952, undated3 oversized boxes
Includes a number of oversized black and white photographs along with an assortment of other oversized materials.