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   Gertrude Lawrence Papers, 1925-1986 Bulk: 1925-1952

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Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Gertrude Lawrence Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

COinS Metadata available (e.g., for Zotero).

Summary Information


This collection contains documents relating to Broadway actress Gertrude Lawrence (1898-1952), a British-born international star of musical theatre and film. The collection primarily consists of correspondences, and also includes manuscripts, photographs, diaries, and a notebook from her position teaching an acting course at Columbia University.

At a Glance

Call No.:MS#1917
Bib ID:10720982 View CLIO record
Creator(s):Lawrence, Gertrude
Title:Gertrude Lawrence Papers, 1925-1986 Bulk: 1925-1952
Physical description:1.5 linear feet (3.5 document boxes and 5 oversized folders)
Language(s): In English.
Access: This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least two business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. The 1934 diary is locked, and cannot be accessed until it is opened by a specialist. This collection has no restrictions.  More information »



This collection is arranged in six series:

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Scope and Content

This collection consists primarily of correspondences between Lawrence and her husband Richard S. Aldrich, as well as letters to and from notables of the theatre world including Brooks Atkinson, P.G. Wodehouse, Michael Arlen, Noel Coward, Somerset Maugham, Peter Arno, Beverly Nichols, and Charles B. Cochran. It also includes several manuscripts of articles and poems, two of Lawrence’s diaries, and a notebook detailing her experience teaching an acting course at Columbia University in 1951-1952.

Series I: Correspondences 1926-1952

This series contains over 150 individual letters, telegrams, and other forms of correspondence both to and from Gertrude Lawrence. Some letters include transcriptions created by the original collector, Doris Harris, which are arranged adjacent to the original documents. Most letters also have annotations from Harris of dates and correspondents’ names, written in pencil on the original documents.

Subseries I.1: Correspondence between Lawrence and her husband Richard Aldrich 1939-1948

This subseries of correspondences between Gertrude Lawrence and her husband, Richard Aldrich, consists of letters, postmarked envelopes, telegrams, and notes. The correspondences are arranged chronologically, if dated. Many of them date to the 1940s, while Aldrich was serving in World War II and Lawrence was traveling with the Entertainments National Service Association (E.N.S.A.). A majority of these correspondences are written by Lawrence to Aldrich, signed “Mrs. A.,” and are penned on letterhead from hotels throughout the United States. Slips of paper with annotations from Doris Harris accompany some letters in this subseries.

Subseries I.2: Letters from Lawrence to others 1945-1952

This subseries includes several folders of letters from Gertrude Lawrence to others, which are arranged alphabetically by name of recipient. Some letters are accompanied by separate slips of paper with annotations from Doris Harris. Highlights of this subseries include two letters to Lawrence’s agent Fanny Holtzmann, in which Lawrence comments on the ending of World War II, and two letters to the King of Thailand, in which Lawrence defends the portrayal of the Siamese monarchy in The King and I .

Subseries I.3: Letters to Lawrence 1926-1946

This subseries includes approximately 150 letters addressed to Gertrude Lawrence from 133 identified correspondents, most of whom are involved in the British and American theatre industry as actors, producers, writers, or critics. The letters are arranged alphabetically by name of recipient. While the collection contains multiple letters from some correspondents, it only contains a single letter for most correspondents. Many letters are undated, although some include the month and day of the week that the letter was written. Most letters praise Lawrence on a recent performance. Other topics include thanking Lawrence for an invitation to a show, declining an invitation to a performance, offering her a role in an upcoming production, and sending Christmas and New Year’s greetings. Notable correspondents include Brooks Atkinson, Jack Buchanan, Charles B. Cochran, Noël Coward and his secretary Lorn Loraine, James Laver, Jessie Matthews, Muriel du Maurier, Will Rogers, G.B. Stern, May Whitty, and P.G. Wodehouse.

Series II: Manuscripts 1941-1951

This series includes manuscripts by Gertrude Lawrence, including a poem, book chapter, undelivered speech, and several articles including one for The New York Times . Topics include “Women and Beauty,” “Mother v. Career Woman,” and a reflection on her acting career. Some manuscripts include a transcription by Doris Harris. The book chapter is accompanied by a letter from Lawrence’s editor, Edward Stasheff, and a table of contents for the entire proposed book can be found in Series III at the front of Lawrence’s Columbia notebook.

Series III: Columbia University 1951-1952

This series includes materials relating to Gertrude Lawrence’s position teaching a course on acting at Columbia University during the 1951-1952 academic year. Documents include a letter inviting Lawrence to join the Women’s Faculty Club, a list of students registered in Acting 107 and Acting 108, a list of assignments for scenes in Acting 107, and a letter from impresario André Charlot offering Lawrence his thoughts on the pedagogy of acting. The highlight of the series is Lawrence’s personal notebook containing her professorial notes and the notebook’s black zipper casing with Lawrence’s name embossed in gold.

Series IV: Personal 1925-1955

The series includes items and documents relating to Gertrude Lawrence’s personal life. The first subseries contains two diaries from 1934 and 1945, and the second contains clippings, certificates, receipts, identification cards, and other miscellaneous documents from throughout her life.

Subseries IV.1: Diaries 1934, 1945

This subseries includes two diaries belonging to Gertrude Lawrence. The first dates from 1934, is bound in floral paper, and is sealed with a lock. It contains twelve dividers separating the pages by month. The second diary dates from 1945 and chronicles Lawrence’s time on the USO (United Service Organizations) Pacific Tour. The original composition book has been bound in green fabricoid by Doris Harris, who also created a partial transcription of the diary. The contents of Lawrence’s 1945 diary are addressed to her husband, Richard Aldrich. Also included are newspaper clippings, a letter from the National War Finance Committee, a photograph, and a document detailing travel orders for the USO tour.

Subseries IV.2: Miscellaneous documents 1925-1955

This subseries contains miscellaneous items pertaining to Lawrence’s personal life. Highlights include Lawrence’s baptism certificate, Immigrant Identification Card with photograph, X-rays of elbow and knee joints, and a 47-page horoscope by R. H. Naylor from 1931 predicting that Lawrence “will go far in your profession” and “have a musical or artistic genius.”

Series V: Photographs 1934-1951

This series contains 52 photographs of Gertrude Lawrence, including headshots, performances stills, and personal photos. Most of the photos are undated, but some have a date on the reverse written in pencil or typed and pasted. Most publicity photos also have a copyright stamp on the reverse. Many performance stills have pencil annotations listing the title of the show. Photographs range in size from 3 ½” by 2 ½” to 13 ¼” x 10 ½”. Five oversized photographs are located separately from the main collection, in Map Case 15-H-13.

Subseries V.1: Headshots and publicity photos 1943, undated

This subseries contains two folders of headshots of Gertrude Lawrence. All are undated but one, which is also signed. Three headshots are marked “publicity” on the reverse and display copyright stamps from Dorothy Wilding and Cannons of Hollywood. Two folders of oversized headshots are located in Map Case 15-H-13, Folders 1 and 2.

Subseries V.2: Photos with Noël Coward 1935-1948

This subseries contains three folders of photos of Gertrude Lawrence with longtime friend and collaborator, Noël Coward, ranging in date from 1935 to 1948. Includes photos from Coward’s plays Tonight at 8:30 , Red Peppers , and Family Album , and at a press interview in 1947 and 1948.

Subseries V.3: Photos with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. 1934-1935

This subseries contains two folders of photos of Gertrude Lawrence with actor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., with whom she was romantically involved. The photos range from 1934-1935, and includes photos from 1934 production of Philip Leader’s The Winding Road (listed as The Winding Journey on reverse of photo) and Clemence Dane’s Moonlight Silver , as well as a photo of the couple on holiday to Cornwall in 1935.

Subseries V.4: Other performance photos 1941-1951

This subseries contains several photos, arranged chronologically when dated, of Gertrude Lawrence in performance. Shows with multiple photos, specifically Lady in the Dark (1941) and The King and I (1951), are arranged in separate folders. Other shows represented in this subseries are the 1946 revival of Tonight at 8:30 , Susan and God , and Pygmalion . Copyright stamps include Will Rapport, Vandamm Studio, Daily Herald, Condé Nast, John Meredith, Holtzmann & Holtzmann, Talbot, and Lucas & Pritchard. Three folders of oversized photographs, one of Lawrence with Bea Lille and two of Lawrence in dresses for Condé Nast, are located in Map Case 15-H-13, Folders 3-5.

Subseries V.5: Personal photos 1933-1948

The subseries contains one folder of personal photos relating to Gertrude Lawrence. Many have annotation on the reverse or are accompanied by a slip of paper with annotations, presumably by Doris Harris. Includes a photograph of Lawrence and her daughter Pamela.

Series VI: Collection materials 1968-1986

This series contains items compiled by the original owner of the collection, Doris Harris, after Gertrude Lawrence’s death. Items include a series of letters responding to invitations to a screening of Star! , the 1968 film about Lawrence starring Julie Andrews, as well as two copies of journals from 1981 with an illustration of Gertrude Lawrence in Charlot’s Revue of 1926 on the cover. Also included are tables of contents and collection descriptions compiled by Doris Harris, printed on letterhead from Doris Harris Autographs.

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Using the Collection


Access Restrictions

 This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least two business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

The 1934 diary is locked, and cannot be accessed until it is opened by a specialist.

This collection has no restrictions.

Restrictions on Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Gertrude Lawrence Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Selected Related Material-- Other Repositories

Gertrude Lawrence Papers, 1910-1952, New York Public Library

Gertrude Lawrence Scrapbook, 1952-1953, New York Public Library

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About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries. Rare Book and Manuscript Library; machine readable finding aid created by Columbia University Libraries Digital Library Program Division

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Emily A. Hawk (GSAS 2022).

Finding aid written by Emily A. Hawk (GSAS 2022) in June 2018.

Machine readable finding aid generated from MARC-AMC source via XSLT conversion August 22, 2018 Finding aid written in English.
    2018-08-22 File created.
    2018-08-27 XML document instance created by Catherine C. Ricciardi
    2018-07-02 Updated record after processing. CCR.

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Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Actresses--Great BritainPortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Aldrich, Richard Stoddard, 1902-1986PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Cochran, C. B (Charles Blake), 1872-1951PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Columbia University. School of General StudiesPortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Coward, Noel 1899-1973PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Fairbanks, Douglas Jr., 1909-2000PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Lawrence, GertrudePortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Motion picture actingPortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Musical theaterPortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Wodehouse, P. G. (Pelham Grenville), 1881-1975PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

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History / Biographical Note


Gertrude Lawrence (1898-1952), born Gertrud Alexandra Dagmar Lawrence Klasen, was a British theatrical performer remembered as one of the first international superstars. She had a successful career both in London and on Broadway, earning her adoring fans on both sides of the Atlantic. She performed in plays, musicals, and movies, having roles created for her by the Gershwins, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Noel Coward, and Cole Porter. Her most notable performances include the role of Kay in the Gershwins’ Oh, Kay! (1926) and Anna Leonowens in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I (1951). Her 1952 death from undetected liver cancer brought on the first dimming of theatre lights both on Broadway and in the West End. In that same year, Lawrence also taught a course on acting at Columbia University.

She had one child, Pamela Howley (1918-2005), with her first husband, Francis Gordon-Howley. She later married theatrical producer Richard S. Aldrich in 1940, who served in World War II as Lawrence toured with the Entertainments National Service Association (E.N.S.A.). Professionally, she is known for her long-term friendship with Noel Coward, with whom she performed in many notable productions such as Private Lives (1931) and Tonight at 8:30 (1935).

After her death, Lawrence was memorialized in a biography by Aldrich, Gertrude Lawrence as Mrs. A: An Intimate Biography of a Great Star (1955), as well as in the film Star! (1968) featuring Julie Andrews as Gertrude Lawrence.

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