Elizabeth Dribben collection on Katharine Cornell
Scope and Contents
The records consist of paper records, including clippings, reviews, journals, booklets, notes, and letters. Audiovisual materials include VHS and audio tape recordings. Various physical ephemera are contained in the collection, including wallets, busts, and framed photographs.
- Dribben, Elizabeth (Person)
Terms of Access and Use
The Elizabeth Dribben collection on Katharine Cornell, 1890-1975 is open to researchers.
Copyright of papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright and University Archives before requesting photocopies and/or publishing quotations from materials in the collection. Once permission is obtained, most papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures unless otherwise specified.
Katharine Cornell was a respected theater actor, writer, and producer. Cornell established a rich and respected career and remains one of the most well-known performers exclusive to theater work.
Cornell was born February 16, 1893 in Buffalo, NY. She developed an avid interest in performance from an early age, staging plays for her family and friends. Throughout her adolescence, the city of Buffalo provided an outlet for acting ambitions. At the age of 23 she began performing in theater companies in New York City and Detroit, and established herself as up-and-coming actor with favorable reviews. Cornell’s Broadway debut occurred shortly after meeting director Guthrie McClintic, with whom she would act, produce, and collaborate for her entire career. In 1921, Cornell and McClintic were married, though it was widely understood that this was a marriage of convenience. That year marked the beginning of her ascent to fame on the stage, a period of time that lasted 40 years.
Cornell’s career experiences showed a wide range of genres, with both comedy and drama in her repertoire. Noteworthy roles included the eponymous Candida in George Bernard Shaw’s play of the same title, a role she revisited four times; Countess Ellen Olenska in a stage adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence (1928); and Juliet in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1933). Though Shaw and Shakespeare were considered unfashionable by early 20th century American theater standards, Cornell demonstrated a formidable sense of independence as an actor and in turn persuaded audiences to embrace these authors again. Arguably her most famed and praised role was as poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning in The Barretts of Wimpole Street; Cornell played this role to critical acclaim in Cleveland, Buffalo, and finally New York for a total of 370 shows. She also played this role for American soldiers stationed overseas during World War II.
Cornell’s last role was in Jermone Kilty’s Dear Liar. Though she avoided film work, Cornell was briefly featured in the 1954 film Stage Door Canteen and narrated The Unconquered, a documentary about friend Helen Keller. She retired at the age of 68 in 1961, shortly after McClintic passed away. Katharine Cornell passed away on June 9, 1974 at the age of 81.
8.5 Linear Feet (3 manuscript boxes, 3 oversize boxes, 2 artifact boxes)
Language of Materials
The Elizabeth Dribben collection on Katharine Cornell contains papers and physical ephemera associated with Cornell’s career and life, and Dribben’s production of the documentary “Katharine Cornell: A Lady of the Theater.”
The collection is arranged in six series.
- Clippings, 1947-2010
- Theater Publications, 1931-2010
- Photographs, circa 1921-1961
- Katharine Cornell: A Lady of the American Theater, 1949-1990
- Audiovisual Materials, 1986
- Artifacts, circa 1893-1974
This collection was donated to the University Archives by the estate of Elizabeth Dribben in January 2011.
Accruals and Additions
No further accruals are expected.
Processed by Elizabeth Stengel, March 2011; finding aid encoded by Grace Trimper, May 2022.
- Audiotapes Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Black-and-white photographs Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Books Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Clippings (information artifacts) Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Cornell, Katharine, 1893-1974
- Letters (correspondence) Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Playbills Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Theater -- United States -- 20th century Subject Source: Local sources
- Women in the theater -- New York (State) -- New York -- History -- 20th Century Subject Source: Local sources
- Finding Aid for the Elizabeth Dribben collection on Katharine Cornell
- Finding aid prepared by Elizabeth Stengel
- November 2011
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description