Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Leo Lerman papers, 1893-2012, bulk 1937-1994

Summary Information


Personal and Professional papers of writer and magazine editor Leo Lerman. The papers include correspondence, professional papers, topical files, research files, and photographs.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#1547
Bib ID 6881813 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Lerman, Leo, 1914-1994
Title Leo Lerman papers, 1893-2012, bulk 1937-1994
Physical Description 105.54 linear feet (108 boxes: 91 record storage cartons 8 document boxes 1 oversized document box)
Language(s) English .
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

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.



This collection is arranged in 6 series.


Scope and Content

Collection contains papers related to Leo Lerman's professional life as a writer, magazine editor-- including a long-time editor with Condé Nast. Nast working with publications such as Vogue, House & Garden, and Vanity Fair. The collection contains correspondence, subject files, editorial and professional files, and research notes as well as personal materials photographs.

Much of the material was preliminarily organized and annotated by Stephen Pascal, Lerman's long-time assistant and the editor of The Grand Surprise: The Journals of Leo Lerman. Mr. Pascal has provided dates and contextual information for much material in the collection, and any such notes found in the papers should be assumed to have been generated by him, with the assistance of Gray Foy and Richard Hunter.

  • Series I: Correspondence, 1923-1995

    The correspondence file includes correspondence between Leo Lerman and a number of his personal and professional contacts. The files primarily contain incoming correspondence, but occasionally also have copies of outgoing correspondence drafted by Lerman, notably copies of his outgoing telegrams. The correspondence files are arranged alphabetically by correspondent's last name. As a general rule, if there are three or more letters from an individual Lerman's assistant or the archivist has created a file for that individual; if there are fewer pieces of correspondence the letters are in a general alphabetical file. The name of the file generally represents correspondence between Lerman and the individual, though occasionally the file contains correspondence pertaining to, rather than with, an individual or a combination of correspondence with and about an individual.

    Correspondence relating to major professional projects are often filed with Lerman's career files rather than with correspondence. For example, Lerman's correspondence with Dorsha Hayes is filed with the professional files for the book Chicago: Crossroads of American Enterprise, a book by Hayes that Lerman edited.

  • Series II: Topical Files, 1950s-1990s

    This series contains files related to a number of Lerman's personal and professional interests. He kept topical files on subjects ranging from artists, his friends and associates, travel destinations, and collectibles. A typical topical file contains clippings related to the subject, as well as possibly a small amount of correspondence or memos related to the subject at hand.

  • Series III: Professional Files, 1922-1994

    Lerman's professional files relate to his career as an editor and writer, and contain editorial files (including, notably, those from his stint as Editor-in-Chief of Vanity Fair), office memos, articles that he wrote and research notes and manucripts related to his various book and publishing projects

  • Series IV: Personal Files, 1936-1994

    This series is comprised of Lerman's personal files, including juvenalia, personal documents, journals, and datebooks. Also included are a small number of books that had personal significance to Lerman.

  • Series V: Photographs, 1893-1994

    The photographs series includes photographs of Lerman and his friends, family, and professional contacts-- both formal portraits and candid snapshots. Many of the photographs filed as "Work and Professional" include images that accompanied articles written or edited by Lerman for publication in magazines. The "Personalities" file is comprised, primarily, of formal headshots, often signed, collected by Lerman.

  • Series VI: Gray Foy Papers, 1953-2012

    The papers kept by Gray Foy relating to his long life with Leo Lerman. The papers are not extensive but do conatain the bulk of Foy's letter to Lerman, as well as letters to Gray Foy; Anita Loos letters; inscribed books and memorabilia.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

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.

Preferred Citation

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


Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Correspondence, Manuscripts, Papers: Source of acquisition--Leo Lerman. Method of acquisition--Bequest; Date of acquisition--2008.

Photographs: Source of acquisition--Gray Foy. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--12/18/2008.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Papers processed 2010-2011 Carrie Hintz

Finding aid written 04/18/2011 Carrie Hintz

Gray Foy Papers processed by Patrick Lawlor 10/31/2013

Revision Description

2011-04-20 xml document instance created by Carrie Hintz

2016-02-03 xml document instance revised by Catherine C. Ricciardi

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

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.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Correspondence Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Photographs Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Picture postcards Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Playbills Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Programs (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Telegrams Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Ballet Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Beatrice, consort of Lodovico Sforza il Moro, Duke of Milan, 1475-1497 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Callas, Maria, 1923-1977 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Capote, Truman, 1924-1984 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Collectors and collecting Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Condé Nast Press Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Dietrich, Marlene Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Entertaining -- New York (State) -- New York Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Fashion -- Periodicals Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Foy, Gray, 1922-2012 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Hunter, Richard Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Isabella d'Este, consort of Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, 1474-1539 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Lerman, Leo, 1914-1994 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Mendelssohn, Eleonora von Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Opera Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Periodical editors -- United States -- Correspondence Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Periodical editors -- United States -- Diaries Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Periodicals -- Publishing -- 20th century -- New York (State) -- New York Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Sotheby's (Firm) -- History Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Theater -- New York (State) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Trilling, Diana Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Trilling, Lionel, 1905-1975 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Venice (Italy) -- Description and travel Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Yaddo (Artists' colony) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Yorck, Ruth, 1909-1966 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical Note

Leo Lerman was a major figure in post-war New York City arts and letters who wrote and edited for publications such as Mademoiselle, Vogue, Playbill, and Vanity Fair. He loved the theater, opera, and dance, and this interest in the arts led him to have friends across the performing and fine arts. His famous parties were dotted with major literary figures, publishers, actors, opera singers, ballet dancers, and artists.

Lerman was born in East Harlem to Russian and German Jewish immigrants (Samuel Lerman and Ida Lerman, nee Goldwasser) in 1914. He spent his youth in Harlem and the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens surrounded by his tightly-knit family which formed part of a community of Eastern European Jewish émigrés in New York at the time.

His life-long interest in theatre and the arts began as a child, and he spent most of his time growing up writing poetry and reading novels. He attended Newtown High School in Elmhurst, Queens and, upon graduating, decided to pursue a career in theatrical design and management. The 19 year old Lerman won a scholarship to the Feagin School of Dramatic Arts in 1933. He spent a year at the Feagin School before leaving to pursue theatrical work, but while he was there he made a number of lasting friendships, including Richard Hunter who, a few years later, in 1936, would become his lover, and who remained a life-long friend.

After leaving the Feagin School, Lerman took a job at Grossinger's Playhouse in the Catskills for three summers. At Grossinger's, a summer resort, Leo performed theatrical duties that ranged from managing the stage to sweeping it. This experience whetted his appetite for theatrical work, and Lerman soon began to work on Broadway where he was a fixture for nearly a decade, acting, stage managing, and designing sets and costumes. He was President of the Scenic Artists Division of America, Costume Division for two years from 1938-1939. In addition to his theatrical work he had a brief movie career with a part in the film The Troublemaker.

Lerman loved the theatre, but had always harbored literary ambitions. He began writing for magazines in the early 1940s, writing his first piece for Vogue in 1942. He soon became a contributing editor at the magazine, a title he would keep until 1972 when he was promoted to features editor. While Lerman was working as a contributing editor for Vogue, he was also writing for, among other publications, Harper's Bazaar, Dance Magazine, House & Garden, The Atlantic Monthly, New York Times Book Review, and The American Scholar, and acting as the children's book editor at the Saturday Review of Literature. Despite his ongoing relationship with Vogue, Lerman remained a free-lance writer during this period, as, indeed, he would for the rest of his career.

In 1948, Lerman accepted a position as a contributing editor for Mademoiselle-- a job that he kept for the next 26 years. While working for Mademoiselle he wrote the influential "Something to Talk About" column that solidified his reputation, which he had been building as a writer for Vogue, as a cultural tastemaker with a keen sense for emerging trends and new talent.

Condé Nast bought Mademoiselle in 1960, formalizing and strengthening Lerman's long-standing relationship with the media organization. Though he continued to work on non-Condé Nast publications (notably, he was editor in chief of Playbill from 1950-1982) most of his magazine work centered around Condé Nast publications where he continued to work as a contributing editor for Mademoiselle and took in the role of features editor at Vogue-- a position he held for eleven years from 1971-1983. It was in 1981, while working as features editor at Vogue, that Lerman hired Stephen Pascal as his assistant; Pascal worked for Lerman and as an editor and writer for Condé Nast for years, and edited Lerman's journals for publication after Leo's death.

Lerman left Vogue in April of 1983 to take the helm of the newly revived Vanity Fair. Condé Nast had revived the publication, out of print since 1935, in February of 1983 under the leadership of Richard Locke. However, after three issues it was clear that the magazine was not headed in the direction Condé Nast had hoped and they brought Lerman on as editor. The position was, in some ways, a dream job for Lerman, and he reinvigorated the magazine focusing on arts and culture coverage and publishing high-caliber literary fiction. The time and effort of running a magazine, however, coupled with his recurring health problems, proved too burdensome for Lerman and he only remained the editor-in-chief until December of 1983.

His departure from Vanity Fair occasioned a transition to a position as editorial advisor at Condé Nast-- a position he would keep for the rest of his career, and one that suited Lerman exquisitely. In this capacity he was able to draw upon his far-reaching interests and talents and his impressive social network to guide work on all of Condé Nast's publications. This also gave him the time and freedom to do more of his own writing, including writing profiles for House & Garden, as well as signing a deal with Random House to pen his memoirs, an ambitious project that was never completed.

His memoirs were not the only book project that Lerman undertook over the course of his career. Early in his writing life he penned two children's books--Leonardo da Vinci: Artist and Scientist in 1938 and Michelangelo: A Renaissance Profile in 1942. He spent years working on an unrealized history of Sotheby's auction house, and authored the massive history of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum, 100 Years of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1969, for which he won a Lotus Club Award. He spent a summer at Yaddo in 1946 working on a biography of Isabella and Beatrice D'Este. Though that book never came to fruition, he made many lasting friends at Yaddo, including Truman Capote and Carson McCullers.

His interest in the arts led to a number of projects throughout his career. He served as consultant on theatre to the National Arts Council and to the New York State Council on the Arts; and, for seven seasons, he wrote the program notes for the New York Philharmonic Symphony's Saturday Morning concerts.

As prolific and impressive as Lerman's professional work was, in many ways he is best remembered for his social life. He started hosting weekly Sunday night parties as a young man at the apartment he shared with his partner Richard Hunter on E. 88th St., and later at his flat at 1453 Lexington. Though these events were by no means lavish affairs, Lerman's wit, expansive personality, and graciousness as a host drew crowds that read like a who's who of New York at the time. Leo entertained often, and almost always with his partner, artist Gray Foy, by his side.

Lerman and Gray Foy first met at one of Leo's famous parties in 1948 while Foy was an art student at Columbia. Shortly after meeting Gray moved into Leo's beloved brownstone at 1453 Lexington, a home that they shared until 1967 when their landlords sold the building. They then moved, along with their collections of books, furniture, ceramics, and objets d'art, to an apartment in the Osborne in Midtown Manhattan. Lerman and Foy remained together until Leo's death of pulmonary failure on August 22, 1994.