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Series I: Stage and Television Scripts, circa 1948-1956
At a Glance
This collection is arranged in three series.
By the far the largest types of material in the Louis Dropkin Papers are scripts for radio, stage, and television shows dating from the 1940s and 1950s. Many of these scripts appear in multiple drafts and contain handwritten corrections. Some of them have note cards indicating which producers they were distributed to. The Louis Dropkin Papers also include some short prose pieces, songs, manuscripts by authors other than Dropkin, and a small collection of correspondence related to his professional life.
Using the Collection
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Restrictions on Access
This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.
This collection has no restrictions.
Terms Governing Use and Reproduction
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.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Louis Dropkin papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
No additions are expected
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Papers processed Nicholas Patrick Osborne (GSAS 2012).
Finding aid written Nicholas Patrick Osborne April 2008.
Collection is processed to folder level.
2008-11-07 File created.
2009/01/13 xml document instange created by Patrick Lawlor
2009/05/28 xml document instange created by Catherine N. Carson
2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.
History / Biographical Note
Louis "Lou" Dropkin pursued a career in the entertainment industry at a particularly interesting time in its history. In 1948, there were fewer than one million television sets in the United States; by the mid-1950s, there were more than thirty-five times that number. The 1940s and 1950s saw television become a fixture in United States homes while radio's claim to being America's dominant national entertainment medium had its denouement. As a writer and producer for both radio and television during these years, Lou Dropkin was right in the middle of this transition.
Though much of Dropkin's early writing experience appears to have consisted of short essays, by the mid-1940s he had found both a talent for writing dramatic scripts and a professional partnership with his fellow New Yorker, Felix Leon. Their early collaborations focused on radio scripts that ranged from dark looks at topical events such as the drama "Is Hitler Dead" to the sentimental and somewhat tongue-in-cheek "By a Nose," a story of the strong bond between a carousel horse and his young rider, both of which were produced in 1946.
The Dropkin and Leon partnership was suspended briefly from 1946-1947, when Dropkin left New York to take a job writing, editing, directing, and producing radio programs for WBAL in Baltimore. According to one of his former employers at WBAL, while there Dropkin focused on "dramatic, public service and those special last minute shows which seem to be a part of radio," and his extant scripts from that period demonstrate a particular focus on documentary and public service programs that ranged from histories of Baltimore to an examination of the dangers of tuberculosis.
Dropkin continued his radio work after he returned to New York in late 1947, most notably helping to produce WNEW's weekly "The American Spirit!" series. Airing in the early 1950s, this program--in the words of the introduction to each episode--sought "to illustrate musically and dramatically various aspects of the American spirit" and "to provide a hearing for young actors" by adapting plays by some of America's most famous playwrights (including Eugene O'Neill, Robert E. Sherwood, and Maxwell Anderson) and having them performed on the radio by aspiring actors from the Professional Training Program of the American Theatre Wing.
It was during this period, however, that Dropkin also began to focus his creative efforts on the emerging medium of television. His training in documentary work from his radio days undoubtedly helped this endeavor, netting him opportunities at NBC's New York affiliate, WNBT, in the early 1950s for which Dropkin produced several short nonfiction pieces. At least one of these programs--about the state of New York City's disaster preparedness plans--was hosted by the noted early television personality Ben Grauer, and was the type of show that proved instrumental in solidifying Grauer's transition from radio to television. Nevertheless, it appears that Dropkin's real creative passion after his return to New York was writing the short vaudeville-style sketches which characterized many early television offerings of the time. In this pursuit, he found the revival of his partnership with Felix Leon to be particularly fruitful.
Though they occasionally tried their hands at other genres--such as the three-act stage play "An Eagle in the House," or comic songs like "I Dillied When I Should Have Dallied"--Dropkin and Leon's bread-and-butter pieces were short farces that revolved around misunderstandings, counterintuitive situations, and physical gags. In "The Second Report," for example, Dropkin and Leon poked fun at a Kinsey-esque sex researcher who seemingly had interest in the sexual habits of every woman but his wife. "The Child is the Father of the Man" featured a son and daughter telling off their curfew-breaking parents, while "The Home Life of an Eskimo" found its punch line in a polar bear who, having eaten the husband and assumed his place in the family igloo, finds himself beholden to the same nagging wife that drove the husband outside and into the bear's clutches in the first place.
Dropkin and Leon found some success in television with their sketches, getting at least one ("The Missing Check") performed by Sid Caesar on the Admiral Broadway Revue--a variety show better-known by its later name, Your Show of Shows--in 1949. (They would later write several pieces specifically with the emerging comic star Caesar in mind.) But Dropkin's and Leon's sketches also show signs of the transitioning nature of the television industry in the late 1940s and early 1950s. For example, many of their scripts appear to have been written with either stage or television in mind, sometimes with multiple versions apparently intended for one medium or the other. Equally telling, the pair seems to have curtailed their writing of vaudeville-style sketches after producing a flurry of them in the late 1940s, indicating that Dropkin and Leon were adapting to the general trend of television in the 1950s to eschew the variety shows that characterized its initial years in favor of programming such as game shows, news and public service programs, and serial dramas and comedies. Indeed, as the 1950s wore on and television programming became more regularized, Dropkin and Leon collaborated on screen treatments and longer scripts and appear to have abandoned the sketch format entirely.
Lou Dropkin was a writer who came of age in a time of tremendous technological and cultural change, and he seems to have been keenly aware of the opportunities of his moment. Even while making a career in radio, he kept an eye on other media, as indicated by a copy of a 1945 essay by the filmmaker Leo Hurwitz that Dropkin saved along with the drafts of his scripts. Titled "The Director's Job," it set out to analyze the different tasks of and creative potentials for directors in radio, stage, film, and television productions. "The television medium is at the beginning of a long road," wrote Hurwitz, and it turned out to be a road that Lou Dropkin and others like him were instrumental in paving. While Dropkin's work is largely forgotten today, it seems safe to say that without writers, producers, and directors like him, radio and television in the 1940s and 1950s would not have existed as they did. Little is known about Dropkin's life after this period, though he died in late 1997 at the age of 82.