Jo Mielziner, set and lighting designer, theater architect and consultant. The collection consists of personal papers, personal and professional correspondence, production materials, office and financial files, writings, professional appearance and exhibition files, photographs, scrapbooks and subject files documenting the life and career of Jo Mielziner.
Biographical/historical: Born in Paris in 1901, Jo (born Joseph) Mielziner became in adulthood the quintessential New Yorker, leaving for short periods of time only when it was necessary in his work. His father Leo, of middle-European Jewish ancestry, was an artist in Paris at the time of his birth; his mother Ella Friend, of mixed colonial and recent Irish immigrant heritage, was a correspondent for Vogue Magazine and a freelance journalist. The family returned to America in 1909. Jo and his older brother Leo, Jr. attended the Ethical Culture School in New York but were never graduated. Jo turned to art study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Art in Philadelphia and Leo, Jr. became an actor under the name Kenneth MacKenna.
It was Kenneth who introduced Jo to the theater and urged him to follow a career as a scene designer. He worked as an apprentice and assistant to Robert Edmond Jones and Lee Simonson, both leading exponents of the New Stagecraft, a movement that emphasized the importance of scenery in the interpretation of a play or musical. Their insistence on making the designer a full collaborator in the production process brought a new day to stage art in America. Mielziner struck out on his own, gaining confidence in his ability to ferret out the right scenic metaphor for the production. He soon outstripped his mentors. His first real success was his designing for The Guardsman (1924), an early Theatre Guild production that brought attention to both the producing company and the designer. Between 1924 and his death in 1976, he designed some 270 plays, musicals, revues, and an occasional opera, movie and ballet. Among them were such memorable successes as Strange Interlude, Death of a Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire, Carousel, The King and I, South Pacific, Of Thee I Sing, the Little Shows, Look Homeward, Angel, Tea and Sympathy, Picnic, the motion picture Picnic, the ballet Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, and the opera The Emperor Jones.
Midway in his career, he turned his attention to the architecture of theaters out of his own displeasure in working in small, cramped and under-equipped stages and auditoriums. Although many of the projects on which he worked never came to fruition, his most notable achievements were the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, the Wake Forest University Theatre, the Power Center at the University of Michigan, Denver Theatre Center, and the Mark Taper Forum. From time to time, he also designed for such special projects as the Vatican display of the Pieta at the New York World's Fair, the White House East Room stage, and the convocation of the United Nations organization in San Francisco in 1945.
Mielziner lived and worked most of his life at the Dakota apartment house in New York, and died suddenly in a taxicab four days short of his 75th birthday.
Content: The Jo Mielziner papers span the years 1903-1976, reflecting his long and varied career as set and lighting designer, theater architect and consultant, writer, and speaker. The largest parts of the collection are the production files and architectural and design projects which consist of fifty-six boxes. The oversized designs have been cataloged as *T-VIM 1993-002, Jo Mielziner Designs and Technical Drawings, and have a separate finding aid. Both production and architectural project files include extensive amounts of technical drawings, painter's elevations, rough sketches, renderings, materials samples, notes, and correspondence. Almost every play, musical, ballet, opera or project Mielziner worked on is represented and, for the most part, can be followed from inception to finished technical drawings.
Mielziner corresponded with notable theater people of his time, many of them not only colleagues but friends, as well. Twenty-one boxes of correspondence include letters from Brooks Atkinson, Lucinda Ballard, Harold Clurman, Henry Fonda, Leland Hayward, Elia Kazan, Joshua Logan, Mary Martin, Laurence Olivier, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, Rosalind Russell, Irene Selznick, and Tennessee Williams among many others. Letters and memos noting his active participation in American National Theatre and Academy (ANTA), United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT), United Scenic Artists Local 807, and other organizations are also part of the collection.
Family correspondence is included with personal papers, which also house a book of sketches by Mielziner when he was twelve, notes about his childhood by his mother, and papers related to his residences and studios.
The remainder of the collection consists of office and financial files, drafts and notes for his books Designing for the Theatreand The Shapes of Our Theatre, notes for many of his personal appearances and lists of exhibitions of his designs. The photograph series is largely production related but does include some portraits and snapshots of Mielziner and photos from his time in the military. Clippings in an oversized scrapbook give insight into the early days of the young designer.
Content: Forms part of: Jo Mielziner papers, designs and technical drawings