Margaret Barker papers

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Collection Data

This collection of personal and family papers, correspondence, production files, scripts, writings, and ephemera provide a wealth of documents on the life of actress, producer and director, Margaret Barker, a founding member of the Group Theatre, and her family.
Barker, Margaret, 1908-1992 (Creator)
Barker, Lewellys F. (Lewellys Franklin), 1867-1943 (Addressee)
Baxter, Alan, 1908-1976 (Correspondent)
De Wilde, Brandon, 1942-1972 (Contributor)
Green, Paul, 1894-1981 (Contributor)
Lemay, Harding (Contributor)
Mall, Franklin P. (Franklin Paine), 1862-1917 (Contributor)
Odets, Clifford, 1906-1963 (Correspondent)
Osler, William, Sir, 1849-1919 (Contributor)
Purdy, James (Author)
Weingarten, Romain (Contributor)
Welch, William Henry, 1850-1934 (Contributor)
Barker family (Creator)
Halsey family (Creator)
Alcoholics Anonymous (Contributor)
Analytical Psychology Club of New York (Contributor)
Group Theatre (U.S.) (Contributor)
Johns Hopkins Hospital (Contributor)
Studio Workshop Theatre (Contributor)
Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1800 - 1989 (Approximate)
Library locations
Billy Rose Theatre Division
Shelf locator: *T-Mss 1992-003
Acting -- Study and teaching -- New York (State) -- New York
Actresses -- United States
Physicians -- United States
Barker, Margaret, 1908-1992
Records (Documents)
scripts (documents)
Biographical/historical: Actress, director, writer, and producer, Margaret Taylor Barker was born in Baltimore, Maryland on October 10, 1908. The daughter of a prominent physician, Dr. Lewellys Franklin Barker, and Lillian Halsey Barker, she had two siblings, John H. Barker, who was institutionalized after a disease left him mentally retarded, and William “Halsey” Barker, who became a physician. “Beany,” as she was nicknamed, attended the Calvert and Bryn Mawr Schools in Baltimore. Her classmates at the Bryn Mawr School included Mildred Natwick and Eleanor Phelps. Ms. Barker attended Bryn Mawr College for two years, where her Dramatic Club contemporaries included Katharine Hepburn. Ms. Barker made her debut at the Bachelor’s Cotillion in Baltimore in 1926. Margaret Barker made her Broadway debut in The Age of Innocence, starring Katharine Cornell in 1928. She performed in George Cukor’s company in Rochester, New York in 1929 and went on to train and perform at Jessie Bonstelle’s Detroit Civic Theatre for forty-two weeks in such plays as Oscar Wilde’s Salome and Ten Nights in a Barroom. 1930 saw her return to Broadway where she was an understudy in Arthur Hopkins’s production of So This Is New York. Ms. Barker then landed the role of Henrietta Moulton Barrett in the Katharine Cornell production of The Barretts of Wimpole Street by Rudolf Besier. After six months, she left The Barretts of Wimpole Street to become a founding member of the Group Theatre in 1931. Ms. Barker appeared in four of the Group’s productions: The House of Connelly by Paul Green (1931), Men in White by Sidney Kingsley (1933), Till the Day I Die by Clifford Odets (1935), Gold Eagle Guy by Melvin Levy (1934), and The Case of Clyde Griffiths by Erwin Piscator and Lena Goldschmidt (1936). Other appearances while a Group Theatre member included Black Diamondby Stanley Kimmel at the Provincetown Playhouse (1933), Hilda Cassidy by Henry and Sylvia Lieferant at the Martin Beck Theatre (1933), and Weep for the Virgins by Nellise Child at the Forty-Sixth St. Theatre (1935). In the Group’s early years, Ms. Barker received love letters from Alan Baxter and Clifford Odets. She traveled to Russia in the spring of 1937, with a tour led by Norris Houghton, and returned to New York to learn that the Group Theatre had reorganized and that she had been dismissed. Faced with the need to find employment, she performed in summer stock and directed the Summer Apprentice Program at the Southampton Playhouse in 1938. With dancer Felicia Sorel and actor and teacher Frank Westbrook, Ms. Barker started the Studio Workshop Theatre in New York City in 1938. It lasted until 1941. Among her students was Jerome Robbins. Around 1940, Margaret Barker toured playing in the role of Alice Fordyce in The Man Who Came to Dinner, starring Taylor Holmes. She returned to Baltimore in the summer of 1941 to perform with and direct the apprentice program for the Hilltop Theatre in Ellicott City, Maryland. Plays at the Hilltop Theatre included Love from a Stranger by Frank Vosper, Divorçonsby Victorien Sardou and Emile de Najac, Biography by S.N. Behrman, The Night of January 16th by Ayn Rand, and Private Lives by Noel Coward. Letters from Ms. Barker’s mother indicate that Margaret Barker planned to marry actor and director, Alexander (“Billy”) Kirkland in 1942, but the marriage did not take place. As part of the war effort, she applied to the WAVES and was accepted in 1943. However, she was dismissed shortly after joining because of a drinking problem. She was sent to a sanitorium for eighteen months. Ms. Barker then worked at the Bendix Radio Factory in Baltimore for the duration of World War II. She returned to New York in 1946 and worked at the ANTA Experimental Theatre with Robert Schnitzer from approximately 1947 to1949. She performed in The WanhopeBuildingby John Finch in 1947. In 1949, Ms. Barker directed the ANTA production of Iris Tree’s play Cock-a-Doodle-Dooat the Lenox Hill Playhouse. Among the cast members were Charlton Heston, Darren McGavin, and Margaret Feury. Also in 1947, Ms. Barker performed the role of Arabella in the last cross-country tour of The Barretts of Wimpole Street. The cast included Tony Randall, Anne Jackson and Maureen Stapleton. With Helen Thompson, Ms. Barker produced a summer season, including All the Way Home by Lynn Riggs at the Hunterdon Hills Playhouse in Jutland, New Jersey in the summer of 1948. Ms. Barker’s other Broadway appearances included The Leading Lady written by and starring Ruth Gordon (1948), The Member of the Weddingby Carson McCullers (1950), Lillian Hellman’s The AutumnGarden(1951) See the Jaguarby N. Richard Nash, with James Dean (1952), and The Ladies of the Corridorby Dorothy Parker and Arnold D’Usseau, directed by Harold Clurman (1953). She performed at the Williamstown Theatre Festival for approximately ten summers from the late 1950s to the 1960s in such plays as After the Fall by Arthur Miller (1965), Becketby Jean Anouilh (1961) The Dark at the Top of the Stairs by William Inge (1960), A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee (1967), Peer Gyntby Henrik Ibsen (1967), TheThree Sistersby Anton Chekhov (1965), and Our Town (1959), with playwright Thornton Wilder as the Stage Manager. Early live television appearances include programs such as Danger, Camera Three, Crime Syndicated, and PhilcoTelevision Playhouse in the 1950s. Ms. Barker also appeared in soap operas such as Another World for over a year, The Doctors, Edge of Night and Love of Life. She also appeared in several films including Lost Boundaries (1949), Power(1986), and Fathers and Sons (1992). In 1954, she studied with Cicely Berry at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama. She also studied with Bobby Lewis in the early 1950’s and was coached in Shakespeare by Helen Hayes. Ms. Barker made numerous trips to Europe during her lifetime. She maintained a home in Fairfield Connecticut and in the late 1970s and early 1980s, had a house in Vers, France for an unknown number of years. Ms. Barker attended Columbia University’s School of General Studies in 1957 and in the late 1960s, she studied painting at the New School for Social Research with Minoru Kawabata. Sometime in the 1950s, Ms. Barker became involved with Alcoholics Anonymous and the Analytical Psychology Club of New York. She was also in analysis and kept a diary of her dreams in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Ms. Barker directed annual holiday programs for the APC and in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, she wrote a number of articles for the Analytical Psychology Club Bulletin, including a review of the film My Dinner with Andre. She also directed Maybelline, or, Everybody’s Shadow by Vernon E. Brooks, a marionette play (with additional dialogue by Ms. Barker), in 1960. For the Cosmopolitan Club of New York, of which she was a member, she also chaired the Drama Committee and presented numerous shows in the 1950s and 1960s. She directed a production of Jean Giraudoux’s The Enchanted in 1960 for the club. Off-Broadway, she produced Color of Darkness: An Evening in the World of James Purdy, at the Writer’s Stage Theatre, where it opened on Sept. 27, 1963. The cast featured Doris Roberts and Eleanor Phelps. It closed after a brief run. Ms. Barker was associate producer for Stanley Mann’s one-act plays, Rooms, at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 1966. In 1973, with Shepperd Strudwick III, she translated the play L’Ete (Summer) by Romain Weingarten. It opened April 9, 1973 and it also closed quickly after poor notices. Her writings include plays, short stories, poetry, and non-fiction pieces written mostly from the 1920’s through the 1950’s. The Unpossessed, a play she wrote with Mary Hamman and presented to the Group Theatre for consideration around 1936 was rejected. Ms. Barker also wrote a satirical skit for the Group that was performed at one of its summer sessions at Dover Furnace in 1932. Another of her plays, A Moonlit Dome, was performed at the Shirley Broughton Studio in New York City in 1962. William Francisco directed a cast that included Charles Kimbrough. In later years, Ms. Barker appeared in plays such as The Wayside Motor Inn by A.R. Gurney at Manhattan Theatre Club Stage II (1977), Close Ties by Elizabeth Diggs both at the Lexington Conservatory Theatre in Lexington, New York (1980) and at the Long Wharf Theatre’s Stage II in New Haven for eighteen weeks in 1981, and Simon Gray’s adaptation of Moliere’s Tartuffe at the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C. with Brian Bedford, Barnard Hughes, and Carole Shelley (1982). She performed at Off-Off Broadway theatres such as Circle Repertory Company, The Mirror Theatre, New Dramatists, and Playwrights Horizons. She also performed at Eugene O’Neill Center in New London, Connecticut in the summers of 1980 and 1981. Ms. Barker also served on the board of Manhattan Punch Line from about 1979 to1982. Margaret Barker died of lung cancer at the age of 83 in 1992.
Biographical/historical: Barker's drinking, which had been a problem at least as early as 1941, lead to her involvement with Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1950s, which, in turn, lead to her three decade long association with the Analytical Psychology Club of New York. She also wrote articles for the Analytical Psychology Club Bulletin and directed several of their holiday programs. Margaret Barker died of lung cancer at the age of 83 in 1992.
Content: The papers of Margaret Barker consist of personal papers, family papers, diaries, datebooks, correspondence, including letters from family, friends and business associates, legal and financial documents, writings, programs, scripts, photographs, scrapbooks, and ephemera relating to productions in which she appeared, directed or produced. The personal and family papers provide an in-depth insight into Ms. Barker’s life and work. The personal papers contain Ms. Barker’s datebooks and diaries, including a journal of her dreams. Financial papers include bank statements for trusts, personal bills, receipts, income ledger sheets, and papers for several theatrical investments. Her personal files span much of her life—from the Bryn Mawr School she attended as a girl in Baltimore, to her pension statements from Actors’ Equity Association, and relate to many aspects of her life—homes, notebooks, recipes, sketches, theater memorabilia, and travel, to name a few. Family papers are rich in correspondence, especially from Ms. Barker’s parents, but also from other family members. The papers of the Barker and Halsey families date back to the early 1800s and include a letter from the Baron de Stael to T.T.Wilder. Correspondence consists largely of letters from friends, admirers and business associates in the 1930s. Some of Ms. Barker’s more notable correspondents include Alan Baxter, Harold Clurman, Katharine Cornell, Clifford Odets, and Jerome Robbins. The Group Theatre papers offer an insider’s perspective on its productions and activities, including several of its summer sessions, from 1931 until 1937, when the Group reorganized and Ms. Barker was no longer a member. The organization series’ papers consist of newsletters, correspondence, fliers, booklets, and advisory board materials for groups with which Ms. Barker was personally or professionally involved. Scripts and production materials are also contained in the files for the Analytical Psychology Club of New York, Inc. and the Cosmopolitan Club for which Ms. Barker directed productions. Productions comprise the largest part of the papers and contain scripts, correspondence, contracts, programs, production materials, and ephemera largely for shows in which Ms. Barker appeared. Color of Darkness and L’Ete, produced by Ms. Barker, and A Moonlit Dome, written by Ms. Barker, are the best-documented productions. Color of Darkness and L’Ete include financial and casting materials as well. Her writings consist of plays, short stories, poetry, non-fiction, and speeches. None of these writings appear to have been produced or published, with the exception of the concert reading of A Moonlit Dome at the Shirley Broughton Studio in 1962. Scripts received by Ms. Barker range from works by unknown playwrights to authors such as S.N. Behrman, Max Frisch, Arthur Kopit, and Megan Terry. As with the papers, the production photographs make up the largest part of the Photographs series. Photographs in the collection include informal, personal and professional portraits of Ms Barker and of her family. There are informal photographs of the Group Theatre summer sessions. Organization photographs consist mostly of the productions Ms. Barker did for the Analytical Psychology Club of New York, Inc. and for the Cosmopolitan Club. Two scrapbooks document Ms. Barker’s work in the summer of 1941 at the Hilltop Theatre in Maryland and her production of The Color of Darkness in 1963. (The latter, oversized scrapbook contains only eight pages of material.) Oversized materials are an unidentified piece of music and the British publication, Band of Hope Review (1865).
Ownership: THE Mss 1992-003
Acquisition: 1992 Barker, Lewellys F., II and Laura Fernandez. Gift
Ownership: This collection was donated to the Billy Rose Theatre Division by Laura Fernandez and Lewellys F. Barker, II in 1992.
Physical Description
Extent: 19.61 linear feet (46 boxes)
Type of Resource
Still image
Other local Identifier: *T-Mss 1992-003
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b15958392
MSS Unit ID: 21722
Archives collections id: archives_collections_21722
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): 57c16ac0-10d0-0139-d6c2-0242ac110005
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