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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Thr 531

Theodore Komisarjevsky correspondence with Phillada Sewell


Correspondence of theatrical director Theodore Komisarjevsky and his student and close friend, actress Phillada Sewell.


  • Creation: 1929-1968
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1934-1954

Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material.


1.5 linear feet (4 boxes)

Includes personal correspondence between Theodore Komisarjevsky and Phillada Sewell, letters to Sewell from Komisarjevsky's wife, Ernestine Stodelle, and his sons, Christopher and Benedict, programs of Komisarjevsky's and Sewell's productions, and a few photographs.

Biographical / Historical

Theodore Komisarjevsky was a leading 20th century theatrical director and designer, particularly known for his productions of plays by Anton Chekhov and William Shakespeare in England in the 1930s.

Born into a theatrical Russian family, he was raised in Italy and Russia. In 1919 he left Soviet Russia and shortly afterwards settled in England.

In the 1930s, his productions of King Lear and Macbeth for the Stratford-upon-Avon Shakespeare Memorial Company were widely acclaimed as the most innovative of his time. He also published a study of theatrical costumes, translated and wrote plays, and gave lectures at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

Komisarjevsky moved to the United States in 1939 together with a young American dancer Ernestine Stodelle, who became his wife. In the United States, he staged a number of productions at the New York City Opera, gave lectures on theatre, and opened Komisarjevsky Theatre Studio in New Haven, where he taught summer courses and staged versions of Russian classics with his students. He died in Darien, Connecticut in 1954.

Phillada Sewell (1910-1998) was an English stage, television and screen actress. She became Komisarjevsky's student and friend in 1930. She was later instrumental in raising funds for Komisarjevsky to go to America to found a school for acting. Over the years, Sewell became Komisarjevsky's most trusted friend and confidant.


Arranged alphabetically by correspondent and chronologically within. Photographs and programs are at the end.

Physical Location


Immediate Source of Acquisition

2003MT-0197. Purchased from Golden Legend, Inc.; received: 2004 January 13.

Separated Materials

Transcription of the correspondence created by Dr. Richard Thompson (Surrey, England) acquired with the collection, was separated and moved to the curatorial files.

Processing Information

Processed by: Irina Klyagin

Komisarjevsky, Theodore, 1882-1954. Theodore Komisarjevsky correspondence with Phillada Sewell, 1929-1968: Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
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Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, archives, and more. Houghton Library's collections represent the scope of human experience from ancient Egypt to twenty-first century Cambridge. With strengths primarily in North American and European history, literature, and culture, collections range in media from printed books and handwritten manuscripts to maps, drawings and paintings, prints, posters, photographs, film and audio recordings, and digital media, as well as costumes, theater props, and a wide range of other objects. Houghton Library has historically focused on collecting the written record of European and Eurocentric North American culture, yet it holds a large and diverse number of primary sources valuable for research on the languages, culture and history of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Houghton Library’s Reading Room is free and open to all who wish to use the library’s collections.

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