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Jack Gelber Papers

Call Number



1938-2002, inclusive
; 1957-1999, bulk


Gelber, Jack


31 Linear Feet
(50 boxes)

Language of Materials

Materials are in English.


The Jack Gelber Papers reflect their creator's career as a writer, director and teacher of American theatre. Much of the collection is composed of Gelber's correspondence and writing, particularly his plays. The collection also holds a smaller amount of records dedicated to a number of the theatre productions and workshops he directed which included performances of his own works. However there are few documents concerning his career as an instructor. As a whole the collection contains substantial quantities of correspondence, typescript drafts, handwritten notes, printed advertisements, and clippings along with a few journal entries, audiotapes, awards, and videocassettes.

Biographical Note

Jack Gelber, a writer, director, and teacher of drama, was born April 12, 1932 in Chicago, Illinois to Harold and Molly Gelber. Harold Gelber was a sheetmetal worker, a trade the younger Gelber would briefly adopt to finance his education at the University of Illinois. While at the university, he developed an interest in fiction and began to write short stories. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism in 1953, Gelber travelled to San Francisco where he found work as a shipfitter's helper. He met Carol Westenberg, whose own writing career produced a number of children's books, and the two married December 23, 1957. In 1955 Gelber moved to New York City and became a mimeograph operator for the United Nations.

Jack Gelber began writing his first play, "The Connection," in late 1957. Two years later, acting upon a friend's advice, he offered the script to Judith Malina and Julian Beck of the Living Theatre. Malina directed the production, while Gelber participated in casting, the direction of rehearsals, and the sale of tickets. When performances began on July 15, 1959 the play quickly attracted controversy. Several theatre critics, particularly those writing for the daily newspapers, objected to the play's graphic depiction of heroin addiction and its unorthodox performance methods. However, the play also attracted supporters such as Kenneth Tynan, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Henry Hewes, Harold Clurman, and Jerry Tallmer, who lauded what they perceived as its innovative style, authentic language, and realism.

"The Connection" became the Living Theatre's first great success, and some hold that it established both Gelber and the Living Theatre as significant players in American theatre. It won the Village Voice's Obie Awards for Best New Play, Best Production, and Best Actor (Warren Finnerty in the role of Leach) of the 1959-1960 season. Gelber also received the Vernon Rice Award (now known as the Drama Desk Award). In 1961 the Living Theatre took its production to Europe where it earned the Grand Prix at the Théâtre des Nations Festival in Paris. Ultimately the Living Theatre performed "The Connection" a total of seven hundred twenty-two times in the first years of the 1960s. "The Connection" has since been translated into five languages and performed in ten countries as well as throughout the United States. A film version of the play produced by Lewis Allen and directed by Shirley Clarke in 1961 also proved to be controversial.

Though Gelber's subsequent plays did not have the same level of success as "The Connection" he enjoyed a long and active career writing, directing, and teaching drama. His second play, "The Apple," opened at the Living Theatre in 1961. It was the last of Gelber's works produced by that company; not long after the production closed the Living Theatre moved overseas. In 1963 the Guggenheim Foundation awarded Gelber a fellowship (which it renewed three years later) to support his writing, and in 1964 he published his novel On Ice. The following year the City College of New York offered Gelber the position of writer-in-residence. His third play, "Square in the Eye" (also known as "Let's Face It") was produced by the Establishment Theatre Company at the Theatre De Lys shortly thereafter.

In 1967 Columbia University appointed Gelber as a part time adjunct professor of drama. In 1968 he completed the script for, and directed a production of, his fourth play "The Cuban Thing." This work, which drew upon Gelber's travels in Cuba as a journalist during the 1950s, along with more recent visits in 1964 and 1967, depicted a middle class family's experience of the 1959 revolution. The production, which took place at Henry Miller's Theatre, attracted controversy over what was perceived to be a favorable portrayal of Fidel Castro. This interpretation sparked large and sometimes violent protests against the production and the play ended its run after only one night.

In 1972 the Rockefeller Foundation awarded Gelber a fellowship, which funded a residency at the American Place Theatre where his next play, "Sleep," was performed. That same year Gelber become a full time Professor of Drama at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. He remained at Brooklyn College for roughly thirty years, balancing his teaching career alongside directing professional and student productions and teaching theatre workshops, and received the Obie Award for Distinguished Direction in 1973 when he oversaw the American Place Theatre's production of "The Kid" by Robert Coover. Gelber's writing was supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and a CBS Fellowship from Yale University. During 1973 "Barbary Shore," Gelber's adaptation of a novel written in 1951 by Norman Mailer, was produced by the New York Shakespeare Festival. His next production, entitled "Farmyard" and staged by the Yale Repertory Theatre in 1975, was an adaptation of Franz Xaver Kroetz' 1971 play "Stallerhof". Gelber then returned to creating original plays, directing a production of his drama "Jack Gelber's New Play: Rehearsal" at the American Place Theatre and "Starters" at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center. Eight years would pass before his tenth play, "Big Shot," was produced at Wildcliff Theatre by the East Coast Arts company. In the 1990s three more of Gelber's plays were produced: "Magic Valley" in 1990, and "Rio Preserved" and "Chambers" in 1998. In 1999 he received the Edward Albee Last Frontier Playwright Award in recognition of his lifetime of achievements in theatre. Gelber's last play to be produced was "Dylan's Line." Gelber completed the script in 2000 and performed a portion of it at the Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez, Alaska that same year. It premiered at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey during 2003, not long after Gelber's death on May 9, 2003 in New York City due to Waldentrom's macroglobulinemia, a cancer of the blood.

In addition to his plays Gelber was the author of several short stories and screenplays. Among the latter were adaptations of his own dramas along with several original scripts, such as the 1976 television program "Charlie Siringo". On two occasions he appeared on the screen as an actor, portraying himself in the 1968 Cuban film "Memories of Underdevelopment" and making a cameo appearance in Woody Allen's "Another Woman". Several of his short stories were published in periodicals such as The Evergreen Review and Playboy. He also wrote non-fiction articles which appeared in the New York Times, The Nation, and The Drama Review, among others.


Archer, Eugene. "Court Upsets State's Obscenity Ban on 'Connection.'" The New York Times, July 3, 1962

Brooks, Robert E. "Jack Gelber, American Writer (1932-2003)." In Twentieth-Century American Dramatists. Ed. Christopher J. Wheatley. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 228. Detroit: Gale Group, 2000, 2007

"Gelber, Jack." Contemporary Dramatists 1993. Ed. Kate Berney. London: St. James Press, 1993. Jack Gelber Papers, MSS 146, Box 4, Folder 237, Fales Library and Special Collections, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library

Gussow, Mel. "Jack Gelber, 71, 'Connection' Playwright." The New York Times, May 10, 2003.

Iachetta, Michael. "Perils of a Playwright." Sunday News, March 11, 1962. Jack Gelber Papers, MSS 146, Box 44, Folder 1168, Fales Library and Special Collections, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library

"Jack Gelber." In International Dictionary of Theatre, Volume 2: Playwrights. St James Press, 1993. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale, 2009 ( (March 10, 2009)

"Jack Gelber, 1932-2003." In Contemporary Authors Online. Gale, 2004. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale, 2009 ( (March 10, 2009)

Jack Gelber's Resume, 1974. Jack Gelber Papers, MSS 146, Box 15, Folder 880, Fales Library and Special Collections, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library

Little, Stuart. Off Broadway: The Prophetic Theatre. New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, 1972

"Living Theatre, The." In Encyclopedia Britannica, 2009. Encyclopedia Britannica Online ( (March 6, 2009)

Martin, Carol. "Jack Gelber, 1932-2003." TDR: The Drama Review, Volume 47, Number 4, (Winter 2003), pp. 13-16

Richie, Donald. "Letter from Cannes." The Nation, Volume 192 Issue 24 (June 17, 1961), 526-527

Smith, Michael. "The Living Theatre at Cooper Union: A Symposium with William Coco, Jack Gelber, Karen Malpede, Richard Schechner, and Michael Smith." TDR: The Drama Review, Volume 31, Number 3, (Autumn, 1987), pp.103-119

Wilcox, Agnes. "Jack Gelber." In Twentieth Century American Dramatists. Ed John MacNicholas. Dictionary of Literary Biography Volume 7. Detroit: Gale Research, 1981. Reproduced in Literature Resource Center. Gale, 2009. New York University. (March 10, 2009)



"The Connection" (produced New York, 1959; London, 1961). Published by Grove Press, New York, 1960; Faber, London, 1961

"The Apple" (produced New York,1961). Published by Grove Press, New York, 1961

"Square in the Eye" (produced New York, 1965). Published by Grove Press, New York, 1966

"The Cuban Thing" (also director: produced New York,1968). Published by Grove Press, New York, 1969

"Sleep" (produced New York and Edinburgh, 1972). Published by Hill and Wang, New York,1972

"Barbary Shore," adapted from the novel by Norman Mailer (also director: produced New York, 1973). Unpublished

"Farmyard," adaptation of the play "Stallerhof" by Franz X. Kroetz (also director: produced New Have, Connecticut ,1975). Published in Farmyard and Four Other Plays, by Kroetz, New York, Urizen, 1976

"Rehearsal," (also director: produced New York, 1976). Unpublished

"Starters" (produced New Haven Connecticut, 1980). Unpublished

"Big Shot" (also director: produced New Rochelle, New York, 1988). Unpublished

"Magic Valley" (produced New York, 1990). Unpublished

"Chambers" (produced New York, 1998). Unpublished

"Rio Preserved" (produced 1998). Unpublished

"Dylan's Line" (produced Princeton, New Jersey, 2003). Unpublished


"The Connection," 1962


On Ice. New York: Macmillan,1964; London: Deutsch, 1965

Plays Directed Include

"The Kitchen" by Arnold Wesker, 1966

"Indians" by Arthur Kopit, 1968

"Pinky" by Jack Temchin, 1970

"Remember the Alamo" by Barry Livwak, 1970

"Kool Aid" by Merle Molofsky, 1971

"The Chickencoop Chinaman" by Frank Chin, 1972

"The Kid" by Robert Coover, 1972

"Eulogy for a Small Time Thief" by Miguel Pinero, 1977

"Seduced" by Sam Shepard, 1979

"The Man and the Fly" by Jose Ruibal, 1982

"The House of Ramon Iglesia" by Jose Rivera, 1983

"The Dolphin Position" by Percy Granger, 1983

"Mink on a Gold Hook" by James Ryan, 1986

"The Independence of Eddy Rose" by William Yellow Robe, Jr., 1989

"The Stalwarts" by OyamO, 1990

"Chinese Coffee" by Ira Lewis, 1990

"George Washington Dances" by David Margulies, 1992

"If Only I Could Remember My Name" by Robert Siegel, 1992

"Born Guilty" by Ari Roth, 1993

"I'm With Ya, Duke" by Herb Gardner, 1994


"Another Woman," directed by Woody Allen, 1988


Series I. Subseries A - Alphabetical by Sender is arranged alphabetically by correspondent and then chronologically within each file, with undated material placed at the end. During the arrangement of this subseries individuals were weighted more heavily than corporate entities; thus, the correspondence of individuals like Robert Brustein and Joe Cacai who wrote to Gelber on behalf of several institutions over the years will be grouped under their personal names rather than divided among the files devoted to those corporations. "See Also" references are provided to connect the institutions' files to the personal ones in such instances. Subseries B - First Name Only and Unsigned is arranged alphabetically with the anonymous messages placed at the end of the subseries. Subseries C - Biographical Clippings and Tickets Stubs is arranged in chronological order with undated items at the end.

Series II. The first fifteen subseries (A through O) represent Gelber's plays in order of production. Within each subseries folders tend to be grouped according to format and then in a rough chronological order. The contents of Subseries P - Plays Directed are arranged chronologically by production. Subseries Q - Screenplays is arranged chronologically by script, with undated scripts and materials related to them placed at the end. Subseries R - Other Manuscripts is arranged alphabetically by title. Subseries S - Biographical Materials is generally grouped by format and then arranged chronologically.

Series III is arranged in chronological order.

Series IV: Video and Series V: Audio are arranged alphabetically.

Missing Title

  1. Series I: Correspondence
  2. Series II: Production Files
  3. Series III: Calendars and Datebooks
  4. Series IV: Video
  5. Series V: Audio
  6. Oversize

Scope and Content Note

The Jack Gelber Papers reflect their creator's career as a writer, director, and, to a lesser extent, a teacher of drama. The collection spans the years 1938 to 2002, but the bulk of the material is from 1957 to 1999. The majority of the collection is made up of correspondence and typescript drafts of his plays, short stories, articles, and screenplays, along with handwritten notes regarding them. Another substantial component of the collection is clippings, which usually contain reviews, printed advertisements such as posters, postcards, printed ads clipped from newspapers, and flyers regarding productions of plays he wrote or directed. All of the material prior to 1957 is news articles gathered or received by Gelber. The collection is organized into five series.

There is very little material documenting Gelber's career as an instructor; however, most of the teaching-related documents are in Series I and include contracts, correspondence with his colleagues and employers, and a small number of clippings and regarding conferences and academic programs. The rarest and most dispersed form of material in the collection is Gelber's "journal entries." These documents appear to be pages of a diary, and appear sporadically throughout Series II. The diary pages in Subseries S: Biographical Material appear to be more autobiographical than those housed elsewhere. While most of the material in the collection is text documents, there are some photographs, the majority of which are in the scrapbooks in Series II.

Series I: Correspondence. The majority of the correspondence series relates to Gelber's professional activities, including the publication of his writings and production of his plays, but also includes some personal letters. There are numerous letters from legal agents he employed over the years, such as Seymour Litvinoff, Peregrine Whittlesley, and Ronald Konecky, regarding his scripts. The series also contains contracts and letters of agreement sent by theaters, producers, and production companies, and performance rights to his plays (which are often present only as unsigned copies or drafts). Other enclosures include clipped reviews of plays written or directed by Gelber, as well as materials Gelber received, such as posters, pamphlets, and programs regarding conferences; an exception is the Festival de Teatro Latinoamericano organized by Casa de las Americas which can be found in Series IIE, the subseries devoted to Gelber's "The Cuban Thing." The Correspondence series contains a considerable, though far from complete, number of letters sent by Gelber, which include among their enclosures a pair of typescript copies of a short story and a proposal for a television program. A few letters also appear in Series II in instances where they were used to record notes or form part of a scrapbook. When the collection was processed roughly half the correspondence was arranged chronologically, and several newspaper clippings, ticket stubs, and receipts were found interspersed with, but not connected to, items of correspondence. These may have originally been enclosed with letters but were later separated, and are now in Subseries C.

Series II: Production Files is the largest in the collection and contains material regarding Gelber's writing and directing. The bulk of this series (Subseries A through O) concerns Gelber's plays and his published novel, On Ice. The series is largely composed of typescript drafts and notes, as well as reviews of his productions clipped from newspapers and periodicals. For some of Gelber's later projects, such as the plays "Barbary Shore" and "Big Shot," there are also records created as part of the process of staging the play. These include casting materials, such as actor's resumes, notes regarding auditions, and annotated copies of pages from the script, as well as other production materials like sketches of the set, contact sheets, rehearsal schedules, documents describing the contents of absent audiotapes, and notes regarding the set. While there are drafts of short stories and articles and screenplay adaptations in this series, most of such items are found in Subseries R: Other Manuscripts. These documents often appear only as typescript drafts or copies of their published form, but some have multiple versions and notes associated with them. Materials regarding the plays Gelber directed are collected in Subseries P, though they are less strongly represented. Often these files consist only of a typescript copy of the play's script or clipped reviews of its performance. Subseries Q: Film Scripts consists of Gelber's screenplays and related documents. Subseries R holds typescript and manuscript versions of several short stories, though some appear in the form of clippings from the periodical in which they were published. This subseries also includes two scripts, one untitled and the other called "The Marilyn Project." Subseries S:Biographical Clippings includes clippings, a notebook, "journal entries," notes, typescript drafts of biographical articles about Gelber, and a folder entitled "Ideas."

Series III:Calendars and Datebooks. The bulk of the materials concern the 1980s and 1990s. All bear notations for events and appointments connected to Gelber's personal and professional activities, such as auditions, rehearsals, and deadlines.

Series IV: Video contains two three-quarter inch Umatic tapes labeled as recordings of Charlie Siringo, a television program scripted by Gelber. Access copies of these tapes are not currently available.

Series V: Audio holds two reels of audiotape. Access copies are not currently available.


Access Restrictions

Materials are open to researchers. Please contact the Fales Library and Special Collections,, 212-998-2596.

Use Restrictions

Any rights (including copyright and related rights to publicity and privacy) held by Jack Gelber, were transferred to New York University in January 17, 2013. Permission to publish or reproduce materials in this collection must be secured from the Fales Library and Special Collections. Please contact, 212-998-2596.

Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Identification of item, date (if known); The Jack Gelber Papers; MSS 146; 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 request materials at least two business days prior to your research visit to coordinate access.


The collection was donated to Fales Library by Carol Gelber in October of 2003.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Access copies for some materials are available by appointment for reading room viewing and listening only. Please contact, 212-998-2596.

Separated Material

Selected printed materials have been removed and individually catalogued in Fales Special Collections. Records for these items can be retrieved through Bobcat.

Colombo, Furio. Nuovo Teatro Americano. Milano: Bompiani, 1963

Gelber, Jack. La Connection. Translated by Fernanda Pivano. Milano: Ubulibri, 1983

Gelber, Jack. Il Contatto; La Mela. Translated by Furio Colombo. Milano: Feltrinelli, 1963

Gelber, Jack. De Schakel. Translated by Gerard Pijfers. Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij, 1961

Gelber, Jack. Sleep. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972

Gelber, Jack. Spojenie. Translated by Juraj Vojtek. [Bratislava]: Taltran, 1967

Modern Era Plays, Volume 1. [Tanundo Publishers], 1967

Sonderdruk Aus Das Amerikanische Drama. Dusseldorf: August Bagel Verlag, [1974]

Related Material

Living Theatre Records 1945-1991, *T-Mss 1988-005, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Joseph Papp / New York Shakespeare Festival Collection, *T-Mss 1993-028, Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

Arthur Kopit Papers; MSS 141; Fales Library and Special Collections

Jeffry, Alix. Photographs, Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University

Collection processed by

Zachary Dabbs

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2024-02-06 14:14:09 -0500.
Language: Description is in English.

Processing Information

In February 2019, some materials from Unprocessed Accretion 2012.146 - Awards, 1972-1973 were rehoused in a new 20 x 24 box and were refoldered.


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