Biography: Melvyn Douglas 1972-1980ohrc021

A Guide to the Collection of Oral History Interviews at Indiana University Bloomington


Finding aid created by: Finding aid prepared by the staff of the Center for the Study of History and Memory with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities Division of Preservation and Access, 2000-2002


Creator Indiana University Center for Documentary Research and Practice
Title: Biography: Melvyn Douglas
Dates: 1972-1980
Quantity: 35 interviewsAudio files, transcripts, and collateral materials
Abstract: The interviews contained in this project revolve around the life of Melvyn Douglas and include information about his biographical history, his family, his theatrical, motion picture, and television acting career, and his efforts during World War II. The interviewees include fellow actors and actresses, the man himself, former employees, and others who came into contact with Melvyn Douglas throughout his life.
Location: Interviews are housed in Franklin Hall, Room 0030B. Copies of interview transcripts are also held by the IU Libraries University Archives. Contact archives@indiana.edu for more information. For other locations housing the interviews from this project, please contact the Center for Documentary Research and Practice office.
Language: Materials are in English
Repository: Center for Documentary Research and Practice

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains thirty-five interviews conducted over the course of 8 years. A majority of the interviews range from 30 minutes to 3 hours, with one exception being 86 hours, 15 minutes. Most interviews contain reels and typed transcriptions. Consult individual interview descriptions for additional information.


Restrictions

Usage Restrictions: The archive of the Center for Documentary Research and Practice at Indiana University is open to the use of researchers. Copies of transcript pages are available only when such copies are permitted by the deed of gift. Scholars must honor any restrictions the interviewee placed on the use of the interview. Since some of our earlier (pre-computer) transcripts do not exist in final form, any editing marks in a transcript (deletions, additions, corrections) are to be quoted as marked. Audio files may not be copied for patrons unless the deed of gift permits it, and a transcript is unavailable for that interview. The same rules of use that apply to a transcript apply to the audio interview. Interviews may not be reproduced in full for any public use, but excerpted quotes may be used as long as researchers fully cite the data in their research, including accession number, interview date, interviewee's and interviewer's name, and page(s).


Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

[interviewee first name last name] interview, by [interviewer first name last name], [interview date(s)], [call number], [project name], Center for Documentary Research and Practice, Indiana University, Bloomington, [page number(s) or tape number and side if no transcript; if digital audio and no transcript, cite time when quote occurs].

Acquisition Information

Oral history interviews conducted by the Indiana University Center for the Study of History and Memory from 1968 to the present, with particular focus on the history of twentieth-century America and the Midwest.


Table of Contents


75-017 Arthur, Josephine H. December 30, 1974
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 30 pages; 1 reel, 3 3/4 ips, 1 hour 10 minutes; no index
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
Josephine Arthur, a family friend of Melvyn Douglas, knew the actor for the majority of his life. They met in Chicago and Douglas spent a lot of time with her family during the earlier days of his career. She discusses some of her childhood memories with Melvyn and his family, some of the plays that he acted in in Chicago, his visits to her college, and Douglas's feelings about Judaism.
75-004 Arthur, Thomas H. May, 1974 June, 1974 January, 1975 February, 1975 March, 1975
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 72 pages; 2 reels, 3 3/4 ips, 3 hours; no index
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
Thomas H. Arthur shares his personal impressions of many of the people he interviewed for his biography of Melvyn Douglas. He shares some off-the-record comments given and stories shared by these interviewees, which lend further insight into the personalities and personal lives of Melvyn Douglas and Douglas' wife, Helen Gahagan Douglas. In addition, Mr. Arthur comments on the growing friendship between himself and Melvyn Douglas.
80-037 Arthur, Thomas H. October 12, 1979
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. Not transcribed; 1 reel, 1 7/8 ips, 60 minutes
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
In this interview, Thomas H. Arthur records his impressions of the filming of Tell Me a Riddle, starring Melvyn Douglas, in the context of the biography and life of Melvyn Douglas.
75-021 Barrett, Edith January 1975
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 16 pages; 1 reel, 3 3/4 ips, 40 minutes; index
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
In this interview, Edith Barrett, veteran Broadway actress, recalls acting under the direction of Melvyn Douglas in the Broadway play, Moor Born. Barrett recalls Douglas' talent and sensitivity as a director and Helen Gahagan Douglas' strength as an actress in the same play.
75-019 Bellamy, Ralph January 4, 1975
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 33 pages; 1 reel, 3 3/4 ips, 1 hour 20 minutes; no index
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
Ralph Bellamy, born in 1904, was one of Melvyn Douglas's oldest friends. Bellamy discusses their early days together as actors in stock companies. He also talks about his own acting career as well and shares his thoughts on the state of the entertainment industry in first half of the twentieth century.
75-033 Bloomgarden, Kermit March 13, 1975
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 5 pages; 1 reel, 3 3/4 ips; no index
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
Kermit Bloomgarden worked with Melvyn Douglas on two plays. He briefly discusses these two works and his and others' impressions of Mr. Douglas.
75-016 Chavoor, Evelyn December 7, 1974
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 44 pages; 2 reels, 3 3/4 ips, 1 hour 45 minutes; no index
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
Evelyn Chavoor worked in the Douglas household, as household help, a stenographer, and secretary, for a major portion of her adult life. She discusses Douglas's acting career, his relationship with his wife and other family members, his interest in politics, and how the Douglas household functioned.
75-023 Clifton, Florence G. "Susie" January 6, 1975
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 76 pages; 2 reels, 3 3/4 ips, 180 minutes; no index
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
Florence G. "Susie" Clifton, a Democrat, volunteer, and active participant in California politics for over thirty years, beginning in the early nineteen thirties, discusses her association with Melvyn Douglas in this interview. Clifton speaks of many of Douglas' admirable personal characteristics, political activities, and general character, especially as they were revealed in the contexts of California politics, national politics, his family life, and his service in World War II. Clifton worked with Douglas, and later, his wife, Helen Gahagan Douglas, on several political campaigns in California in the nineteen forties.
75-031 Cohen, Myer March 12, 1975
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 45 pages; 2 reels, 3 3/4 ips, 1 hour 45 minutes; photocopy of photograph, black and white photograph, personal data sheet, biographical sketch
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
Myer Cohen, born in 1907, describes Melvyn and Helen Gahagan Douglas's involvement in politics from the nineteen thirties through the mid-nineteen seventies, as well as Melvyn Douglas's interest in the United Nations.
80-035 DeSalle, Peggy April 18, 1980
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. Not transcribed; 1 reel, 1 7/8 ips, 30 minutes
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
Peggy DeSalle discusses her relationship with Hollywood, television, and theater actor and political activist, Melvyn Douglas.
75-003 De Sola, Alis May 28, 1974
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 62 pages; 2 open reel tapes, 3 3/4 ips, no index
English
Scope Note
Alis DeSola,a writer and longtime friend of both Helen Gahagan Douglas and Melvyn Douglas, discusses how she came to be friends with each separately and her impressions of their personalities and fitness as a couple. She discusses at length her impressionis of Melvyn as an actor, his style, ability, and moral character. She also discusses his connection to his Jewish heitage.
75-018 Douglas, George January 3, 1975
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 37 pages; 2 reels, 3 3/4 ips, 1 hour, 30 minutes
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
George Douglas reflects on the career of his brother, Melvyn Douglas, their parents, the places they lived, and their relationship as adults.
73-002 Douglas, Helen Gahagan January 2, 1973
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 15 pages; 1 reel, 3 3/4 ips, 30 minutes
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
Helen Gahagan Douglas, born in 1900, interviewed for a biography of her husband, Melvyn Douglas, describes her work with migrant farm workers in California, her relationship with Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt, and her involvement in California and national Democratic Party politics. The transcript was changed substantially and significantly by the interviewee and thus no longer corresponds closely with the recorded interview.
72-005 Douglas, Melvyn December 22, 1973-December 26, 1973 July 2, 1974-July 24, 1974 May 13, 1974
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 2155 pages; 65 reels, 3 3/4 ips (except side 2, reel 15, 1 7/8 ips.), 86 hours, 15 minutes; no index
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
Melvyn Douglas, actor, director, and political activist, discusses his life. Douglas begins with his early childhood and touches on many of his life experiences, including his early acting days, his life in the United States Army, his travels, his involvement in politics, and the many interesting people he met along the way. Extensive attention is given to Douglas's acting career and he discusses the majority of films and plays with which he was involved.
75-022 Dunne, Philip 1975
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 47 pages; 2 reels, 3 3/4 ips, 1 hour, 50 minutes; black and white photograph
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
Philip Dunne, born in 1908, describes the activities of the Motional Picture Democratic Committee in the late nineteen thirties and at the outset of World War II.
75-032 Engel, Lehman March 12, 1975
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 35 pages; 2 reels, 3 3/4 ips, 80 minutes; no index; photo of interviewee
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
Lehman Engel, renowned composer and conductor, discusses his friendship and collaboration with Melvyn Douglas and Douglas' wife, Helen Gahagan Douglas. Engel enumerates Melvyn Douglas' positive characteristics, including creativity, personal warmth, and lack of pretension. He speaks of their enduring friendship, Douglas' political activities and the ways in which these activities related to the arts.
80-036 Gruber, Lester April 17, 1980
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. Not transcribed; 1 reel, 1 7/8 ips, 30 minutes
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
In this interview, Lester Gruber briefly describes his knowledge of and relations with the actor and political activist, Melvyn Douglas.
75-014 Hausman, Howard November 29, 1974
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 58 pages; 2 reels, 3 3/4 ips, 140 minutes; no index
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
Howard Hausman, Melvyn Douglas' acting agent beginning in the early Sixties, discusses Douglas' work in movies, television, and radio in the latter part of Douglas' career. Hausman speaks of Douglas' character, family, work ethic, and the effects of the health problems Douglas was beset with beginning in the early Sixties. In addition, Hausman comments on Douglas' talents as an actor, his incisive understanding of scripts and roles, and his strong political beliefs.
73-001 Hirsh, Selma G. January 2, 1973
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 22 pages; 1 reel, 3 3/4 ips, 50 minutes; no index; photo of interviewee
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
In this interview, Selma G. Hirsh discusses her experiences working as an administrative assistant under Melvyn Douglas in the Office of Civilian Defense during World War II. She speaks of Douglas' character, his actions as an administrator, and the goals of the Office of Civilian Defense. In addition, Hirsh recalls the press's hostility and anti-Semitic remarks directed towards Melvyn Douglas. She also comments on Douglas' political activism and beliefs.
75-028 Hogan, Charles A. January 10, 1975
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 15 pages; 1 reel, 3 3/4 ips, 40 minutes; no index
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
Charles A. Hogan, a friend of both Melvyn Douglas and his wife, Helen Gahagan Douglas, discusses his relationship with the couple. Hogan lived, at times, with the Douglases, writing speeches for Helen; Hogan and Melvyn Douglas engaged in long conversations, which revealed Douglas' intellectual nature and abilities. In addition, Hogan speaks of Gahagan Douglas' political career, and the political activities and beliefs of both the Douglases.
75-029 Hogan, Charles; Totheroh, Dan January 10, 1975
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 20 pages; 1 reel, 3 3/4 ips, 50 minutes; no index
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
In this interview, Charles Hogan and Dan Totheroh, both authors, discuss their knowledge of and relationships with Melvyn Douglas and his wife, Helen Gahagan Douglas. They discuss Douglas as both an actor and a director, and speak of how Melvyn and Helen Douglas were each politically active in different ways. In addition, Douglas' experience serving in World War II is discussed, as is the Hollywood blacklisting that occurred in the wake of the Red Scare.
74-010 Jennings, Rosa Lee Patrick; Morehead, Elizabeth Jennings April 18, 1974
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 34 pages; 1 reel, 3 3/4 ips, 80 minutes; no index
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
In this interview, Rosa Lee Patrick Jennings, assisted by her daughter, Elizabeth Jennings Morehead, recalls the tutelage she recieved under Melvyn Douglas' father, Edouard Hesselberg, around the turn of the century (ca. 1901). Jennings recalls the day that Hesselberg, an accomplished and acclaimed pianist who had performed throughout the world, announced the birth of his son, Melvyn, in class.
75-027 Leighter, Jackson January 8, 1975
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 27 pages; 2 reels, 3 3/4 ips, 65 minutes; no index
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
In this interview, Jackson Leighter speaks of his long-standing friendship with Melvyn Douglas, and his wife, Helen Gahagan Douglas. Leighter emphasizes Melvyn Douglas' intellectual nature and liberal political activism in such venues as Bundles for Britain and the Anti-Fascist League. In addition, Leighter describes Douglas' character, personality, sense of humor, and great acting ability.
75-034 Loy, Myrna March 13, 1975
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 28 pages; 1 reel, 3 3/4 ips, 65 minutes; no index; photo of interviewee
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
Myrna Loy, famed Hollywood actress of the silver screen, recalls working with Melvyn Douglas on a few films in the Thirties. She discusses his acting techniques, style, and ability, as well as the political activities of he and his wife, Helen Gahagan Douglas. Many of these activities took place in the context of blacklisting and McCarthyism, both of which Loy recalls and describes.
75-025 Malone, Nancy; Nuell, Fay January 7, 1975
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 29 pages; 1 reel, 3 3/4 ips, 1 hour, 10 minutes
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
Nancy Malone describes her relationship with Melvyn Douglas, which began in the early nineteen fifties when they were both in the Boradway show Time Out for Ginger. Malone talks about Douglas's influence on her acting and production career and their longtime friendship.
75-024 Pick, Walter R. January 7, 1975
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 36 pages; 1 reel, 3 3/4 ips, 1 hour, 25 minutes
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
Walter R. Pick, born in 1914, was a first cousin of Helen Gahagan Douglas and, for a short time, a secretary to her and her husband, Melvyn Douglas, during the late nineteen thirties. He describes his relationship to the Douglases as a family member and employee.
75-001 Randall, Tony July 24, 1974
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 42 pages; 2 reels, 3 3/4 ips, 100 minutes; no index; photo of interviewee
Access Status
Open (not for commercial use)
Scope and Content Note
In this interview, renowned actor Tony Randall recalls his collaboration with Melvyn Douglas in the acclaimed play, Inherit the Wind. Randall comments on Douglas' acting ability and techniques, his interpretation of the role in the play, and his political activism. In addition to discussing the play, Randall speaks of Douglas' character and personality, and of acting techniques in general.
75-026 Schaefer, George January 8, 1975
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 15 pages; 1 reel, 3 3/4 ips, 35 minutes; no index; photo of interviewee
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
George Schaefer, a successful Hollywood, television, and theater producer, speaks of his collaborations with Melvyn Douglas. The two worked together on three productions, one of which led to Douglas' winning of an Emmy award. Schaefer discusses Douglas' comedic and dramatic acting talent, his intellectual nature, his character and personality, and the health problems that later efffected his ability to work.
75-030 Schary, Dore March 10, 1975
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 20 pages; 1 reel, 3 3/4 ips, 50 minutes; no index
Access Status
Open (tapes not for commercial use)
Scope and Content Note
Dore Schary, former screen author and head of MGM Studios, recalls his past associations with Melvyn Douglas. Schary comments on the genuineness of Douglas' character, which came across in his performances. He cites some of Douglas' finest acting moments and describes his sense of comedic timing and the sensual aura that surrounded him. In addition, Schary discusses Douglas' political activism in the context of the Red Scare.
75-020 Seymour, Anne January 4, 1975
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 45 pages; 1 reel, 3 3/4 ips, 110 minutes; no index; photo of interviewee
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
In this interview, Anne Seymour discusses her admiration for and longstanding friendship with her fellow actor, Melvyn Douglas. Seymour relates examples of Douglas' kindness and character, and praises his acting abilities. She recalls her first play, The Husband Habit as the place where she made her first acquaintance with Melvyn Douglas.
75-002 Shumlin, Herman November 30, 1974
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 41 pages; 2 reels, 3 3/4 ips, 1 hour, 35 minutes
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
Herman Shumlin was a Broadway producer who worked with Melvyn Douglas in the show Inherit the Wind. He describes Douglas's work as an actor and provides insight into his personal life.
79-046 Sondergaard, Gale June 11, 1979
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 56 pages; 1 cassette, 1 7/8 ips, 1 hour, 30 minutes
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
Gale Sondergaard describes her career as an actress, with emphasis on the influence of politics on the profession, and the profession's influence on politics in the United States in the mid-twentieth century. She notes events of the World War II era and the Cold War era and talks about other actors and actresses of her day.
75-012 Stevens, Nan June 3, 1974
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 68 pages; 2 reels, 3 3/4 ips, 2 hours 45 minutes; no index
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
Nan Stevens, secretary and business manager to both Melvyn Douglas and his wife, Helen Gahagan Douglas, handled the correspondence and fan mail of the Douglases beginning in 1950. Over the years, Stevens came to know Melvyn, Helen, and their children quite well. In this interview, she relates her impressions of Melvyn Douglas' personality, character, connection to Judaism, and his marriage to Helen Gahagan Douglas. In addition, Stevens comments on the problems of the Douglas children as well as the individual strengths of both Melvyn and Helen Douglas.
75-015 Trivas, Irene November 30, 1974
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 41 pages; 2 reels, 3 3/4 ips, 95 minutes; no index
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
Irene Trivas, whose acquaintance with Melvyn Douglas, his wife, Helen Gahagan Douglas, and their children, began in her Hollywood youth, discusses her perceptions of the Douglases and the difference they made in her life. Trivas also speaks of their marriage, the role of politics in their lives, the blacklisting that resulted from the Red Scare, and family problems the Douglases experienced. In addition, she recalls the dirty campaign of 1950, in which Richard Nixon utilized the fear of communism that characterized the Red Scare to diminish Douglas' reputation.
72-006 Voorhis, Jerry; Voorhis, Louise August 22, 1972
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 21 pages; 1 reel, 3 3/4 ips, 45 minutes; index; hardcover bound copy of interview
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
Jerry and Louise Voorhis, longstanding political acquaintances of Melvyn Douglas and his wife, Helen Gahagan Douglas, discuss the political activities of the Douglases in the context of California, national, and international politics. In addition, the Douglases' political activism is discussed with regard to anti-Semitism, anti-communism, and Nazism, which characterized portions of politics for much of the middle of the twentieth century.
79-004 Williams, Hosea June 14, 1974
CreatorArthur, Thomas H. 57 pages; no tape; no index
Access Status
Open
Scope and Content Note
Reverend Hosea Williams, a close friend of Dr. King's, reflects on the Civil Rights Movement and offers many insights into the great leader's character. Reverend Williams discusses Dr. King's commitment to non-violence and his desire to serve the masses. He also shares many anecdotes and reflects on the remnants of the movement after Dr. King's death.