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Jill "Billy" Rainsford Papers

Call Number



1922-1991, inclusive


Rainsford, Jill (Marguerite), 1905-1994


4 Linear Feet in 2 record cartons and 3 flat boxes.

Language of Materials

Materials primarily in English.


Jill Rainsford (1905-1994) was born Marguerite Rainsford (known as Billy), in Brooklyn. She was an actress, songwriter, painter and author, and was prominent in New York's Vaudeville theater and motion picture industry during the 1920s both as an actress and songwriter. The collection includes an unpublished autobiography, correspondence, sheet music and a large number of photographs and memorabilia.

Biographical Note

Jill Rainsford (1905-1994) born Marguerite Rainsford and known as Billy, was an actress, songwriter, painter and author. Born in Brooklyn, she was the second child of Henry and Julia Rainsford and from an early age aspired to a career on the stage beginning violin and dance lessons at age 8. Her sister Doris, 4 years her senior was devoted to Billy and was her nearly constant companion throughout her life.

Billy was a member of New York's famous Kiddie Klub and performed with such stars as Paulette Goddard, Gene Raymond, and Arlin Riggin, the former Olympic champion. She honed her dance techniques in Rutherford High School Productions, and by 1922, at the age of 17, she had joined Pat Rooney's "Rings of Smoke" Vaudeville act portraying the "French girl" on a cross-country tour.

The tour gave her valuable Vaudeville experience which led her to the nascent film industry and the D.W. Griffith Company in Mamaroneck, New York. She landed the role of the dancing Indian Princess in Griffith's classic film "America," and appeared in "Sally of the Sawdust." In addition she worked with Griffith plotting scenes for his leading actress Carol Dempster.

When the Griffith Studio closed, Billy continued her silent film career at other New York studios including: the Spitz, Pathe, Famous Players-Lasky, and Tech Art starring with Dexter McReynolds, Charley Bowers, Fatty Lehman, and Duncan Renaldo. She also did some modeling during this period, most notably for the artist Bradshaw Crandell, who painted several magazine and calendar covers of Billy, as well as, the pastel portrait in the collection.

When the film industry moved to the west coast, Billy remained in New York with her mother and her sister and began appearing in nightclub acts in many of New York's famous nightclubs including Don Dickerman's Pirate's Den and Country Fair Clubs in Greenwich Village.

Following a brief marriage and the birth of her son Richard Rainsford, she performed on the cruise ship circuit to Havana. Wanting to spend more time with her only child, Billy began a profitable business of writing song lyrics for notable song writers such as Arthur Gutman, Gilbert Wall, Ray Dallas, and performers such as Spivy LeVoe, Florence Herbert, Harriet Hutchins, Beth Challis, and Irene Bordoni.

Later in life Billy went on to own a wholesale antiques shop in upstate New York which she ran with her son and her sister. Billy and Doris then followed Richard's academic career and eventually ended up in Ohio where Billy painted miniature landscapes and wrote her unpublished autobiography 'I Was There Charlie'.

Jill "Billy" Rainsford died on July 5, 1994 at the age of 89.


Folders are generally arranged alphabetically.

The files are grouped into seven series.

  1. Series I: Correspondence, 1922-1991
  2. Series II: Music
  3. Series III: Memorabilia
  4. Series IV: Photographic Material
  5. Series V: Julia S. Rainsford Papers
  6. Series VI: 'I Was There Charlie' Manuscript
  7. Series VII: Oversize Material

Scope and Contents

The small but rich collection of materials which comprises the Jill "Billy" Rainsford Papers, 1905-1994, in New York University's Fales Library reflects the many aspects of her life: actress, songwriter, painter and author.

The papers offer a glance into New York's Vaudeville theatre and motion picture industry during the 1920s. Lyrics and music scores document Rainsford's career as a songwriter in the 1930s. A large portion of the collection consists of photographs and memorabilia which adds a visual dimension to the collection. Rainsford's unpublished autobiography provides her own, often witty, insights on her life.

The papers of Julia D. Rainsford, mother of Jill "Billy" Rainsford provide information on turn of the century New York and include a variety of playbills from New York theaters and opera houses. A trip diary provides information on cross-country travel in the early 1900s.

The seven series which comprise the Papers of Jill "Billy" Rainsford are measured in linear feet. Each series has a descriptive note and a container list. Following the container lists for the series is a list of oversize materials separated from the rest of the collection. Oversize materials are cross-referenced from their originating series.

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright (or related rights to publicity and privacy) for materials in this collection, created by Jill "Billy" Rainsford was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date (if known); The Jill "Billy" Rainsford Papers ; MSS 030; box number; folder number; Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University Libraries.

Location of Materials

Some materials are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. Please contact at least two business days prior to your research visit to coordinate access.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Jill "Billy" Rainsford Papers were donated to New York University in 1995 by her sister Doris Rainsford of Athens, Ohio. The accession number associated with this gift is 1994.030

Separated Materials

There is no information about materials that are associated by provenance to the described materials that have been physically separated or removed.

Collection processed by

Colleen Eklow.

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-20 17:04:26 -0400.
Language: Description is in English.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Colleen Eklow. Decisions regarding arrangement, description, and physical interventions for this collection prior to 2019 are unknown. The Jill "Billy" Rainsford framed pastel drawing was processed and moved to Series III in January 2019.

Revisions to this Guide

March 2019: Updated by Jennifer E. Neal to incorporate artwork being sent to offsite art storage in April 2019

Edition of this Guide

This version was derived from PRINTAID.wpd


Fales Library and Special Collections
Fales Library and Special Collections
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012