A Guide to the

Thomas H. Arthur Papers, 1921-1982 and undated

SC# 2023

Compiled by: Scott DeNoon, April 1988, Updated by Alison Giroux April 2009

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University

Title: Thomas H. Arthur Papers, 1921-1982

Collection No.: SC# 2023

Creator: Thomas H. Arthur

Extent: 1 Holllinger boxes; .417 linear feet

Language: English



The Thomas H. Arthur Papers, 1921-1982, consists of one Hollinger box (.417 linear feet) of personal correspondence, manuscripts, theater programs, photographs, and notes written by Thomas H. Arthur and pertaining to the actor, Melvyn Douglas.

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions:


Collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions:


The copyright interests in this collection have been transferred to the James Madison University Special Collections Library. For more information, contact the Special Collections Library Reference Desk. (library-special@jmu.edu).

Preferred Citation: 


The Thomas H. Arthur Papers, 1921-1982, SC# 2023, Special Collections, Carrier Library, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va.

Acquisition Information:


Donated by Dr. Thomas H. Arthur in 1987.


Biographical/Historical Note

Thomas H. Arthur was hired as a professor in 1973 to develop the theater program at James Madison University. Arthur was a personal friend of Melvyn Douglas and his family, and wrote his doctoral thesis about Douglas' involvement in politics.  In 1971, Arthur also collaborated with Douglas, at Douglas' request, to write his autobiography, See You at the Movies: The Autobiography of Melvyn Douglas. Arthur retired from JMU in 2007.

Melvyn Douglas was born Melvyn Hesselberg, on April 5, 1901 in Macon, Georgia. He began his theatrical career in 1917, and adopted the name 'Douglas' some time prior to his movie debut.  During his career he was a star of the screen, stage and television.  He was the first male actor to win a Tony Award, an Emmy Award, and an Oscar. In addition to acting, Douglas served in both world wars, and was active in politics. In 1940 he became the first actor to serve as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. He was married in 1931 and died in New York City on August 4, 1981. This collection consists primarily of letters and notes relating to Dr. Arthur's book, See You at the Movies: The Autobiography of Melvyn Douglas (Lanham, Md. University Press of America, 1986).


Scope and Content

The Thomas H. Arthur Papers, 1921-1982 and undated, consists of one Hollinger box (.417 linear feet). The collection consists of four series: Correspondence, Notes and Manuscripts, Programs from Early Performances and Photographs.

Series I, Correspondence, 1970-1982, consists of three folders containing letters, mainly from Thomas H. Arthur to Melvyn Douglas regarding his biography, Arthur's dissertation on Douglas' involvement in politics and planned visits for Douglas at James Madison University and Indiana State University (where Arthur taught previous to JMU).  Of special interest is a letter sent February 10, 1972 from actor Robert Redford to Melvyn Douglas.

Series II, Notes and Manuscripts, undated, consists of four folders containing a copy of Douglas' outline on acting, Douglas' handwritten notes for Arthur's book, and Arthur's manuscripts, which have been split into two folders.

Series III, Programs from early performances, 1921-1925, consists of six folders containing programs for productions from various theaters in the Midwest, including the Rialto Theatre, New Grand Theatre, Orpheum Theatre and Fisher's Majestic Theatre. Also included are copies of newspaper clippings detailing the activities of Playmongers, a theatrical troupe which included Douglas, and their activities at the Chicago Festival in 1921. Folder 8 is primarily copies of newspaper clippings, centered around Chicago and the Playmongers.  Folder 9 contain programs mainly from the Rialto Theatre.  Folders 10, 11, 12, and 13 contain programs mainly from the New Grand, Orpheum and Fisher's Majestic Theaters. Folders are arranged chronologically, when dates are known.

Series IV, Photographs, undated, consists of three folders containing photographs of Melvyn Douglas (or family members of Douglas) that Thomas H. Arthur used in his biography of Arthur. Photographs are mostly undated but are arranged in semi-chronological order. The photographs are reprints and some predate 1921, including a Civil War era photograph, presumably of a family member of Melvyn Douglas.


The collection is arranged topically into four series:


I.  Correspondence, 1970-1982

II.  Notes and Manuscripts, undated

III.  Programs from Early Performances, 1921-1925

IV.  Photographs, undated



Related Material/Collections

See also Wisconsin Historical Society, Melvyn Douglas Papers



Series I: Correspondence, 1970-1982

Series II: Notes and Manuscripts, undated

     Copy of Douglas' outline on acting
     Douglas' handwritten notes for biography
     Arthur's manuscripts  
          Part I
          Part II
Series III: Programs from Early Performances, 1921-1925  
     c. 1921-1922
     c. 1922
     c. 1923-1924
     c. 1924
     c. 1924
     c. 1924-1925
Series IV: Photographs, undated  
     Part I
     Part II
     Part III