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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Thr 210

Robert Woodruff Anderson papers


Dramatic compositions, photographs, correspondence, programs and production reviews of the American playwright Robert Anderson.


  • Creation: 1931-1999
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1960-1980

Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English, French, Italian, German, Danish, Norwegian, and Portuguese.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material. Collection is open for research.

A portion of this collection is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. Retrieval requires advance notice. Readers should check with Houghton Public Services staff to determine what material is offsite and retrieval policies and times.


36 linear feet (59 boxes and 1 oversize folder)

The collection, consisting mainly of Anderson's manuscript and typescript plays and screenplays, covers the time period 1931 to the present day, with the bulk of the materials representing his work from the 1960s and 1970s. Of particular importance are the author's notes that accompany the drafts. These notes provide valuable insight into the activities and events surrounding the formation of the works. Such notes, provided by the author and attached to the drafts, offer a rare glimpse into the development of not only the individual plays, but into the development of Anderson as a playwright.

Also included are translations, correspondence, reviews, programs, photographs, and posters for many of the plays and their performances. The collection contains some published works of Anderson's as well: copies of his plays, contributions to newspapers, interviews, and an introduction to a book. There are, in addition, some references to Anderson's personal life; articles devoted to his late wife, Phyllis Anderson, and reviews of his former wife, Teresa Wright, the actress.

Biographical / Historical

Robert Woodruff Anderson was born in New York City on April 28, 1917, the son of Myra and James Anderson. He was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy (1931-35), and at Harvard University, where he received both his A.B. (magna cum laude) in 1939 and his M.A. in 1940. After completion of the latter, Anderson married Phyllis Stohl, a director at the Erskine School in Boston. Anderson's relationship with Stohl and his involvement in the theatrical productions at the Erskine, first as an actor and then as a teacher, shaped his years at Harvard.

From 1942 to 1946, Anderson served as a lieutenant in the United States Naval Reserve, earning a Bronze Star. It was there that his talent as a playwright was first recognized, and he was awarded First Prize in a National Theatre Conference for his play Come Marching Home. After World War II, Anderson taught playwriting at the American Theatre Wing in New York. During this time he continued to write, but is was not until the production of his play All Summer Long in 1952 that Anderson emerged as a serious talent.

In 1953 the play for which Anderson is most commonly remembered, Tea and Sympathy, was first produced. The play was a magnificent success and secured Anderson a distinguished place in the theater community. The years following this achievement were among Anderson's most prolific. Despite the difficulties often involved in getting his works produced, Anderson's plays once staged were consistently heralded as both a popular and critical success. Such plays include: Silent Night, Lonely Night, The Days Between, You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running, I Never Sang For My Father, and Solitaire and Double Solitaire.

During the height of his success as a playwright, Anderson suffered a tremendous personal loss. His wife Phyllis Stohl Anderson, perhaps the greatest influence on and supporter of his early work, died in 1956 of cancer. Anderson was remarried in 1959 to actress Teresa Wright. They were divorced in 1978.

In addition to his work as a playwright, Anderson also wrote a number of screenplays (many of which were based on his own plays), radio and television plays, and novels. He held and continues to hold various prestigious roles within the theater community, such as president of the New Dramatists Committee, 1955-56; president of the Dramatists Guild, 1971-73; and vice-president, Authors League of America, 1980-. Additionally, Anderson has been the recipient of a vast number of awards and prizes including a National Theatre Conference prize, 1945; Rockefeller fellowship, 1946; Writers Guild of America award, for screenplay, 1970; ACE award for television, 1991; and election to the Theater Hall of Fame, 1980.

More recently, Anderson has been the co-editor of a textbook series entitled Elements of Literature, published in 1988. He continues to contribute to the screen and stage with such works as The Last Act is a Solo, Absolute Strangers, and The Kissing Was Always the Best Part.


Organized into the following series:

  1. I. Manuscripts and Typescripts: Plays, Screenplays, and Adaptations
  2. II. Manuscripts and Typescripts: Non-Dramatic Works
  3. III. Translations of Dramatic Works
  4. IV. Notes
  5. V. Programs
  6. VI. Posters
  7. VII. Reviews
  8. VIII. Photographs
  9. ___A. Production Photographs
  10. ___B. Personal Photographs
  11. IX. Videotapes
  12. X. Correspondence
  13. XI. Contracts
  14. XII. Published Works: Books, Articles, Interviews, and Introductions
  15. XIII. Literature about Robert Anderson
  16. XIV. Phyllis Stohl Anderson
  17. XV. Letters to Curators of the Harvard Theatre Collection
  18. XVI. Printed Works Dedicated or Inscribed to Phyllis Stohl Anderson and Robert Anderson

Physical Location

Harvard Depository and onsite

Immediate Source of Acquisition

2003MT-192. Gift of Robert W. Anderson; received: 1963, 1985, 1990, and 1991.

Related Materials

Correspondence with Houghton Library curator Philip Hofer was transferred from the collection of Anderson's correspondence with his parents (MS Thr 210.1).

Processing Information

Many of the materials arrived at the library secured in envelopes or placed in folders with handwritten notes on them by Anderson. These items were removed from their original enclosures for preservation purposes. The envelopes and folders containing the notes, however, have been retained and are arranged at the end of the collection in Box 24.

Some materials that were included in earlier donations have been integrated into the present collection. These items consist of programs, reviews, and literature by and about Robert Anderson.

Processing Information

Please note that Box 25 was inadvertently skipped while numbering; there is no Box 25.

Anderson, Robert Woodruff, 1917-2009. Robert Woodruff Anderson papers, 1931-1999 (MS Thr 210): Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
Language of description

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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