Scope and arrangement
The Ellis Rabb papers comprise both papers documenting Rabb’s life and career, as well as papers for the repertory company he founded in 1960, the Association of Producing Artists (APA). The papers contain correspondence, clippings, financial papers, contracts, programs, publicity material, scripts and manuscripts, photographs, scrapbooks, blueprints, and designs for productions relating to both Rabb and APA.
The bulk of the papers chronicle the activities of the APA (later APA-Phoenix) from just prior to its inception in 1960 to its final production, Private Lives(1969-1970); also included are financial papers and other materials relating to the company in subsequent years. The papers provide a valuable window into the day-to-day issues that the APA faced while trying to build and maintain a repertory company as a viable entity. There are also papers documenting Rabb’s career in the theater, independent of APA.
APA’s papers are filed chronologically, with correspondence and general administrative papers filed at the beginning of each year. Papers for specific engagements follow. Files for APA’s earliest activities are more comprehensive than those for the company’s final years. Most of the company’s seven fall seasons (1962-1968) with the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor are well-documented.
Scripts for many of APA’s productions, from A Penny for a Song (1962) to The Cocktail Party (1969), are contained in the papers. They are mostly blocking and stage managers’ scripts. However, there are also a few of Rabb’s scripts, most notably War and Peace (1964), which contains numerous handwritten notes and revisions.
Papers in the Ellis Rabb series pertain mostly to his career outside of APA and include a small number of general items such as biographies, clippings, and a sketch. Materials relating to his productions and professional projects range from his early days as an actor and director for the Antioch Shakespeare Festival (Yellow Springs, Ohio) in the 1950s, to his portrayal of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest at the John Drew Theater, East Hampton, N.Y. in 1983. Rabb’s work for the Dallas Civic Opera and the Performing Arts Foundation of Kansas City (Missouri) is also documented. Several projects, such as Clap Your Hands (written with Nicholas Martin) (1983), So Many Women (with music by Claibe Richardson), and Unlikely: But Not Impossible, are included in the Productions and Professional Projects series.
Many of Rabb’s unproduced and unpublished plays, screenplays, treatments, works of fiction and non-fiction, poems, and general observations are found in the Writings series. Photographs are mostly related to both APA and Rabb’s professional projects, although there are also some portraits of Rabb and APA members. Additional photos are contained in the Scrapbooks and Oversized series.
The papers contain six scrapbooks that range from 1930 to 1986. Five of these appear to have been compiled by Rabb’s mother; the sixth contains material for the 1952 Antioch Shakespeare Festival (Shakespeare under-the-Stars) and include handwritten commentary by Rabb. The scrapbooks include some unique material (such as correspondence, photos, and ephemera documenting Rabb’s childhood and family), not otherwise found in the papers. Supplemental materials documenting Rabb’s career and APA can also be found in the scrapbooks.
Oversized materials include costume and set sketches (mostly by Rabb), ground plans and blue prints, photos, publicity materials, and a few window cards. Of special interest are Oliver Smith’s blueprints for the opera, Dido and Aeneas, directed by Rabb for the Performing Arts Foundation of Kansas City (Missouri) in 1966.
The Ellis Rabb papers are arranged in five series:
- 1959 - 198235 boxes
This series includes correspondence, financial papers, scripts, production and publicity materials, clippings, programs, and other ephemera documenting the repertory company founded by Ellis Rabb in 1960, the APA, until its demise in 1970.
This series consists of administrative records for APA, as well as materials documenting its decade of productions, from 1960 to 1970. Materials include correspondence, financial papers, contracts, clippings, programs, publicity materials, production materials, and ephemera. Correspondence and general administrative papers are filed at the beginning of each year. Papers for specific engagements follow. A few materials for the Portable Phoenix, the company’s educational project, as well as workshops run by APA, are also included in the series.
Much of the correspondence was written by Rabb (some never sent), although a significant number of letters and memos are from Robert Alan Gold, APA’s business manager. Of particular interest is a 1960 prospectus for the company, as well as membership and attendance lists. Some notables represented in the correspondence include Katharine Hepburn, Arthur Laurents, Norman Rosten, Alan Schneider, Gale Sondergaard, Thornton Wilder, and Blanche Yurka.
The company’s early years through 1966, are more thoroughly documented than its later seasons, 1968-1969 and 1969-1970. Correspondence with the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, where APA played each fall from 1962 to 1968, is extensive. There are also applications for fellowships, including one from Karen Lynne Gorney.
Productions were sometimes first presented in Ann Arbor, including one of APA’s biggest successes, You Can’t Take It with You (1965). Of note are stage managers’ humorous reports regarding the cats used for this production (September 29, 30 and October 3, 1965). The company also made its successful 1965 Broadway debut at the Lyceum Theatre with the Kaufman and Hart comedy.
APA’s affiliation with the Phoenix Theatre, from its first engagement at its East 74th Street theater in 1964, to its seasons at the Lyceum Theatre (1965-1966 to 1968-1969) as the APA-Phoenix, is also well-represented in the papers. There is some overlap between the APA-Phoenix and University of Michigan correspondence.
Summer tours are also documented, including two summers at the Huntington Hartford Theatre (Los Angeles, 1966 and 1967). For APA’s final production, Private Lives, there are only copies of a November 18, 1969 contract with producer David Merrick. Some financial papers and other materials relating to APA in the years following its dissolution can also be found in this series.
- 1952 - 199516.5 boxes
This series is comprised of papers relating mostly to Rabb’s professional work outside of APA and includes correspondence, scripts and manuscripts, clippings, production materials, programs, and other ephemera.
- Sub-series 1: General Files A-Z
- Sub-series 2: Productions and Professional Projects
- Sub-series 3: Writings
- 1946 - 19835.5 boxes
This series comprises both photos for Ellis Rabb’s career, as well as photos specifically related to the APA and APA-Phoenix. There are also contact sheets, a number of negatives, and a few slides.
The APA photos span almost the entire decade of the company’s existence (1960-1970) and consist mostly of studio and production photos, but also include some publicity and rehearsal photos. For example, there are numerous publicity photos for the APA’s first professional engagement in Bermuda, as well as for the APA-Phoenix’s trip to Montreal in 1967. A number of head shots for individuals, (such as Keene Curtis and Rosemary Harris), and “members and friends” (such as Barry Bostwick, Morris Carnovsky, Eva Le Gallienne, Will Geer, and Cathleen Nesbitt) can also be found in this series. Of particular note are several photos of Princess Grace and Prince Ranier of Monaco visiting after a performance of The Show-Off (Huntington Hartford Theatre, Los Angeles, 1967).
The Ellis Rabb photos include portraits from the 1950s to the 1980s, and photos documenting his theater work both as director and performer, from the Wellesley Summer Theatre and School (1946-1947), to his portrayal of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnestat the Old Globe Theatre (1982) and at the John Drew Theater (1983). Portraits include a photo of a sketch of Rabb by Russel [sic] Redmond. There are also several photos of Rabb receiving awards, such the Clarence Derwent Award in 1957, and an Honorary Doctorate from Southwestern (College) at Memphis in 1977.
- 1930 - 19863 boxes
This series consists of six scrapbooks, five of which appear to have been compiled by Rabb’s mother; the sixth is coverless and chronicles the 1952 season for the Antioch Shakespeare Festival (Shakespeare-under-the-Stars). It also contains handwritten comments by Rabb.
The five numbered scrapbooks contain mostly clippings, but also photos, correspondence, programs, publicity material, and other ephemera relating to Rabb’s life and career. Often, materials are not in exact chronological order, although the scrapbooks are organized by year. Moreover, the dates listed on the front covers do not always correspond exactly to the dates of the materials in the scrapbook, especially in scrapbook “#V – 1978 - 1986” which has some material (on the last pages) dating back to 1945. Materials found in these scrapbooks provide a valuable supplement to the other papers in the collection, especially for several of Rabb’s productions including Jolly’s Progress (1959) and The Dain Curse (television, 1978).
The first scrapbook, “#I: 1930 – 1963,” contains the only materials in the collection documenting Rabb’s early years, education, and some materials relating to his family life. For example, it includes some childhood and family photos, notes from family and friends, and certificates for activities such as horsemanship. Of particular note are the invitation to, clippings about, and photo of Rabb’s wedding to Rosemary Harris, December 4, 1959, at the Church of the Ascension in New York City. Also of interest in Scrapbook #II is a typed short note from Katharine Hepburn re: unnamed production, Dec. 30, 1976, as well as a note from Kirk Douglas congratulating Rabb on his Tony Award, Apr. 20, 1976. Scrapbook #V includes a 1984 obituary for Rabb’s father. The unnumbered scrapbook documenting the Antioch Shakespeare Festival’s 1952 season is in fragile condition and includes a number of photos that have become detached from the scrapbook pages.
- 1952 - 19835 boxes
This series contains photos and contact sheets, costume and set sketches (many by Rabb), ground plans and blueprints, a few publicity materials, and window cards relating to both Rabb and APA. There are also music scores for The Hostage (probably for the APA production at University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, 1964), a print of a Russel [sic] Redmond drawing of Rabb in the Old Globe Theatre production of The Tempest, 1982, and a hand-printed humorous “definition” of “The Rabb” (undated).
Photos include productions in which Rabb acted or directed, such as Hamlet (ca. 1956), The Misanthrope (Theatre East, 1956), The Philadelphia Story(contact sheets) (Vivian Beaumont Theater, 1980), King Lear (Antioch Shakespeare Festival, 1956), and contact sheets for The Importance of Being Earnest(Old Globe Theatre, 1982). Many of the costume and set sketches found in Scrapbook #IV were done by Rabb for Antioch Shakespeare Festival productions, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1956), Othello, and Romeo and Juliet. However, other productions such as Philoctetes (Theatre de Lys, 1959) and a proposed production of The Tempest (for Missouri Repertory Theatre, 1979) are also represented. Of particular note is a costume design possibly by Nancy Potts, possibly for The Philadelphia Story at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, 1980.
Ground plans and blueprints include those for Hamilton City Hall (1959); APA’s first repertory engagement was in Hamilton, Bermuda in 1960. Other ground plans and blueprints for APA and APA-Phoenix include two for the Phoenix Theatre (one by Esther Scott), ca. 1964, and James Tilton’s blueprints for The Cherry Orchard(1967), Three Mysteries for Two Clowns(1966), and Right You Are (1966 and 1967). Ground plans and blueprints for Rabb’s productions outside of APA include Douglas W. Schmidt’s blueprint for Veronica’s Room (1973), and Oliver Smith’s blueprints for the Performing Arts Foundation of Kansas City, Missouri production of the opera Dido and Aeneas (1966). There are posters for Enemies (Vivian Beaumont Theater, 1972) and The Merchant of Venice(Vivian Beaumont Theater, 1973), and window cards for the APA-Phoenix productions of Exit the King and The Show-Off (Lyceum Theatre, 1968).