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The Max Reinhardt Archives

Identifier: 5749

Scope and Contents

The Max Reinhardt Library and Archives at Binghamton University is one of several notable collections worldwide of books and manuscripts dealing with the work of the Austro-German theatre director Max Reinhardt (1873-1943) and the largest such collection in North and South America. It contains approximately 15,000 books from Reinhardt’s personal library and over 10,000 manuscripts, items of correspondence, photographs, programs, critical reviews, directorial promptbooks, writings, and related supporting materials totaling approximately 100 cubic feet. This collection, which covers major but not all aspects of Reinhardt’s life and theater work, may be termed selective rather than comprehensive in nature, with particular strengths at three discrete stages in Reinhardt’s career: Imperial Berlin (1900-18), Salzburg Festival (1920s-30s), and work undertaken in the United States both before and after Reinhardt’s emigration there in 1937. The bulk of the Collection was acquired in the 1960s from son Gottfried Reinhardt, with a major later addition by widow Helene Thimig-Reinhardt, as well as subsequent incremental donations from family members and former theatre associates.

Reinhardt’s epoch-making work in the theater is well represented by a range of materials in the collection: minutely annotated promptbooks; extensive personal correspondence; email-like telegram exchanges; many cast photos and play programs; and significant original scene designs. Interpretive highlights include a textual and visual record of Max Reinhardt’s abiding involvement with major Western playwrights—particularly Goethe, Goldoni, Schiller, Sophocles, and (above all) Shakespeare—as well as his interest in and support of contemporary playwrights such as Gerhart Hauptmann, Hofmannsthal, Shaw, Maeterlinck, Strindberg, Wedekind, and Thornton Wilder. Max Reinhardt’s personal library contains rare books (some dating back to the 1500s), comprehensive editions of major and minor Western playwrights in several languages, and numerous first editions of contemporary works, often with personal dedications by their authors or translators.

The Reinhardt Collection also contains notable holdings in areas other than theater as such. Personal items include important portraits and sketches by renowned artists, an original leather-bound photo album of Reinhardt’s Salzburg residence, some rare family photographs, documents detailing Max’s close relationship with his brother Edmund, love letters as well as divorce proceedings, poignant self assessments, vital personal documents like birth certificates and passports, even physical objects such as a well preserved tassel from the main curtain of the Deutsches Theater in Berlin.


  • 1880-1984
  • Majority of material found in 1894-1973

Background information

The celebrated theater director Max Reinhardt, recognized in America primarily for his elaborate productions of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Franz Werfel’s The Eternal Road, and Karl Vollmoeller’s The Miracle, was born in 1873 at Baden near Vienna, Austria and died in New York City in 1943. Reinhardt’s illustrious career takes on added significance because it coincides with a major shift in the evolution of the modern theater: the ascendancy of the director as the key figure in theatrical production. Reinhardt’s reputation in international theater history is secured by the leading role he played in this transformation, as well as by his innovative use of new theater technology and endless experimentation with theater spaces and locales, which together redefined traditional relationships between actor and audience toward a new participatory theater.

Born Maximilian Goldmann into an impecunious lower middle-class merchant family, Reinhardt (initially a stage name) began his career as a struggling young actor in Vienna and Salzburg. In 1894 he was invited to Berlin by Otto Brahm, the renowned director of the Deutsches Theater, where the young actor quickly gained critical acclaim for his convincing portrayals of old men. Eager to escape the gloom and doom of the prevailing Naturalist style, Reinhardt in 1901 co-founded an avant-garde literary cabaret called Sound and Smoke (Schall und Rauch), the allusion being to a poem by Goethe. This cabaret theater perceptively satirized the fashions of current theatrical theory and practice and came to function as an experimental laboratory for the future director. Soon renamed the Kleines Theater, this house showcased leading contemporary productions, among them Gorky’s Lower Depths, Wilde’s Salome, and Hofmannsthal’s Electra. Reinhardt’s reputation as a director was firmly established by 1905 with his epoch-making production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play that remained a perennial favorite throughout his long and distinguished career.

In the same year Reinhardt was chosen to succeed his former mentor Brahm as head of the Deutsches Theater, which Reinhardt soon built into Germany’s most celebrated stage. He also opened an adjacent theater, the Kammerspiele, for intimate chamber productions such as the domestic dramas of George Bernard Shaw. Utilizing the multi-faceted talents of his theater ensemble, he started an acting school that for decades trained promising young students to become Germany’s leading actors and actresses in the practice of modern stagecraft. In addition to his resident theaters, all private ventures, Reinhardt also maintained a touring company that spread his fame from St. Petersburg to London and New York. Within little more than a decade, this Viennese-Jewish immigrant had come to occupy a preeminent position in Wilhelmian Berlin’s cultural Renaissance after 1900. During the war years (1914-18) the Reinhardt stages maintained a feverish pace of theatrical activity, including an ambitious Shakespeare cycle and several guest tours in neutral countries. The opening of architect Hans Poelzig’s modernist Grosses Schauspielhaus in 1919 (to replace the Circus Schumann) allowed free rein to Reinhardt’s instinct for the monumental, particularly in Shakespearean and Classical Greek productions.

The social upheaval that resulted from Germany’s lost war deprived Reinhardt of his prewar stature, funding stream, and much of his former audience. He soon left Berlin for Salzburg, where director Reinhardt, together with composer Richard Strauss and writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal, jointly founded the Salzburg Festival in 1920. From his recently acquired chateau Leopoldskron, on whose restoration he lavished inordinate time and resources, Reinhardt reestablished ties with the Austrian baroque and folk theater traditions by presenting the morality play Everyman on the steps of Salzburg Cathedral, Hofmannsthal/Calderon’s Das Salzburger Grosse Welttheater inside the splendid baroque Kollegienkirche, and (later) Goethe’s Faust in the old summer riding academy that had been transformed by architect Clemens Holzmeister into a medieval village. Reinhardt’s American debut came in 1924—the European war in 1914 had precluded an earlier appearance—with Karl Vollmoeller’s ever-popular The Miracle, a medieval pantomime whose great success led three years later to a triumphant guest tour featuring a medley of new and old European and German theater classics. “The Professor,” as he was generally called, also refurbished his reputation at home with memorable performances of Goldoni’s A Servant of Two Masters in the lavishly restored Theater in der Josefstadt in Vienna and the newly built art deco Komoedie playhouse in Berlin.

Forced by the Nazi government to relinquish his German theaters in 1933, Reinhardt traveled first to England, then to America the following year to stage A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Hollywood Bowl and direct a film version with unlimited budget for Warner Brothers Studios. Leopoldskron and his remaining properties in Austria were seized after the Anschluss in 1938. Immigrating to the United States, Max and second wife, actress Helene Thimig—he had obtained a Nevada divorce from Else Heims in 1935—divided their time between the East and West Coasts. American theatrical activities included a Hollywood workshop for stage, screen and radio, an unsuccessful California Festival on the Salzburg model, several film projects (never carried out), and the beginnings of a promising repertory theater in New York, which fostered collaboration with up-and-coming playwrights like Thornton Wilder (The Merchant of Yonkers, a forerunner to Hello, Dolly!) and Irwin Shaw (Sons and Soldiers). Shortly after his seventieth birthday—he was working on a new production of the Meilhac/Halevy/ Offenbach operetta Helen Goes to Troy at the time—Max Reinhardt died of a stroke in New York’s Gladstone Hotel. His passing was commemorated by a death mask as well as a memorial concert at Carnegie Hall directed by Bruno Walter. Reinhardt’s cremated remains are interred at a Jewish cemetery in nearby Hastings-on-Hudson.

Max Reinhardt’s prestige in theater history rests largely on his transformation of the modern theater director’s role from that of general manager to artistic coordinator and esthetic experimenter in control of the total production. His genius and importance is further illustrated by fruitful collaboration with leading actors (Bassermann, Bergner, Durieux, Eysoldt, Hoeflich, Krauss, Moissi, Schildkraut, the Thimigs, von Winterstein), playwrights (Gerhart Hauptmann, Pirandello, G.B. Shaw, Strindberg, Werfel, Wilde, Wilder), designers (Bel Geddes, Hengeler, Knina, Orlik, Roller, Stern, Strnad, Walser) and composers (Humperdinck, Korngold, Pfitzner, Richard Strauss, Kurt Weill) of his time. During a long productive international career, Reinhardt amply demonstrated his total commitment to artistic experimentation and the revelry of the creative imagination


100.00 Linear Feet

Acquisition Information:

It was known that Max Reinhardt brought a large collection of annotated promptbooks with him when he immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s. These seem to have vanished from sight after his death in 1943. However, a sizable number (as well as other Reinhardt items) resurfaced at a Beverly Hills auction in 1952. These materials were consigned by Helene Thimig-Reinhardt, who had control over the disposition of her late husband’s effects but who was no longer living in this country and who had therefore decided to liquidate the remainder of the Hollywood Reinhardt estate. To keep this valuable collection of play manuscripts from being broken up and dispersed, the set was bid in its entirety by screen actress Marilyn Monroe. According to well publicized news accounts, Ms. Monroe intended to offer these scripts to the university or institute she thought would put them to the best use for posterity. Several local contenders lost no time in making overtures for a donation. But before any specific transaction could be concluded son Gottfried Reinhardt, a Hollywood film producer, intervened with Ms. Monroe to sell the promptbooks back to the Reinhardt family, which had been at odds with Helene Thimig on the need to keep them together. Once they were in his possession, Gottfried considered transferring these coveted manuscripts to the Chaim Waitzman Museum in Israel, which functioned as a central repository for the personal papers and archives of notable Jewish émigrés from Europe. Upon reflection, however, Gottfried concluded that this solution primarily emphasized Max Reinhardt’s affinity to his ancestral heritage rather than celebrating his theatrical genius, which had always been humanistic, cosmopolitan and secular, even in so fundamentally “Jewish” a play as The Eternal Road. Since repatriation to Austria or Germany was not under serious consideration, Gottfried was consequently open to some other arrangement to preserve his father’s theatrical legacy. Harpur College, the liberal-arts core of what was to become the State University of New York at Binghamton, set out in the 1960s to establish an international reputation in 17 modern, particularly modern German, theater studies. Theater professor Alfred Brooks, on sabbatical in Vienna for the 1965-66 academic year, became involved in a series of negotiations that promised to catapult Harpur College to the forefront of theater research in America. He was able to microfilm select portions of the early twentieth-century performance and business archives of the Vienna Burgtheater, the second oldest continuously operating theater in the West (after the Comedie-Francaise). A microfilm collection of Arthur Schnitzler’s literary estate was later acquired from Cambridge University to supplement the Burgtheater materials. A contemporary of Freud, Schnitzler was an equally astute analyst of fin-de-siecle Vienna’s psyche, but more from a literary than a strictly scientific vantage point. Professor Brooks also secured permission to make photocopies of a large number of Reinhardt promptbooks, acquired a portion of Reinhardt’s private library, and received support for assembling of an extensive file of journal and newspaper critiques of Reinhardt’s seminal early Berlin productions. At this time, too, the State University of New York at Binghamton entered into an agreement with the University of Vienna’s Institute for Theater Research and the Salzburg-based Max Reinhardt Forschungs- und Gedenkstaette to jointly direct and develop a whole range of Reinhardt-related research and performance activities. Allotted considerable operational responsibility in this consortium, Binghamton University served as a clearinghouse for Reinhardt research in America and other English-speaking countries; the Austrian partners fulfilled a similar role for the rest of the non-Englishspeaking world. Scholarly and artistic exchanges as well as workshops in Binghamton and Salzburg were also envisioned. These several initiatives simmered for a time, as an atmosphere of confidence and trust was cultivated among the participants. During these years Binghamton University, for its part, instituted two international theater journals, one on issues relating to modern international drama, the other on modern Austrian literature focusing on Schnitzler and his contemporaries. The Binghamton Theater Department also assembled various traveling exhibitions and began planning for ambitious centennial celebrations in 1973 commemorating Reinhardt’s birth. The crowning jewel in Harpur College’s initiative to develop an internationally significant theater research collection was undoubtedly the purchase, in August 1969, of a large selection of Max Reinhardt’s personal papers, correspondence, promptbooks, and working sketches then in the possession of his sons. This and subsequent purchases from Gottfried Reinhardt constitute the core of the Max Reinhardt Archives as it exists today. Taken together, these materials consist of approximately 150 original annotated director’s promptbooks (photocopies of which had been acquired earlier), a significant portion of Reinhardt’s princely Schloss Leopoldskron library in Salzburg (including assorted rare books, important German-language theater journals, and signed first-edition presentation copies), some original scene design drawings for important Reinhardt productions, and several large photo scrapbook albums featuring an array of nineteenth-century German actors and actresses. Gottfried retained full access to all these materials in the writing of a long-awaited autobiographical memoir entitled The Genius (Der Liebhaber, 1973) and in the production of an acclaimed 1975 film for Austrian and German television on his famous father. There were several subsequent accessions to the Reinhardt Archives. Professor Brooks purchased a representative selection of costume and scene design drawings by notable Reinhardt collaborators (consigned by Helene Thimig) at a major Sotheby auction in 1969. These drawings illustrate the high quality of the scene design work done for the Reinhardt organization and became an integral component of Binghamton University’s traveling Reinhardt exhibitions throughout the 1970s. Helene Thimig also subsequently donated over 600 Reinhardt items ranging from handwritten notes on existing or planned productions to a large body of personal correspondences. Indeed, Max Reinhardt’s continuously evolving theatrical conceptions were often embedded in his frequent and at times lengthy personal correspondence with her. The Thimig donation also contained an important turn-of-the-century letter exchange between Max Reinhardt and fellow actor Berthold Held, who later (1914-31) headed the renowned drama school of the Deutsches Theater, which trained many of Germany’s leading actors and actresses for several generations. Viennese-born dancer and primitivist painter Tilly Losch also donated a sizable archival collection upon her death in 1975, hoping thereby to remain associated for posterity with her long-time mentor Max Reinhardt, who had been an enthusiastic supporter of her dancing, choreographic and acting career. There was one subsequent family donation by Judge Stephen Reinhardt of a fine early twentieth-century photo collection honoring his actress-grandmother Else Heims, who appears in memorable theatrical roles as well as in personal settings. In the late 1970s custodianship of the Reinhardt Library and Archives passed from the Theatre Department to the University Libraries’ Special Collections Department, which preserved and catalogued the Reinhardt Collection and which did its best, within existing budgetary constraints, to further collection development in significant new ways. Partnership agreements with our sister archive in Salzburg and Vienna lapsed after Prof. Brooks’ departure and subsequent death in 1980, although a spirit of friendliness and cooperation continues to exist between us. In recent years, as student enrollments climb and promising new technologies provide additional opportunities for improved access, Binghamton University Libraries has exhibited a renewed interest in securing greater visibility and access for this important international theater resource.

Processing Information:

The Finding Aid to the Max Reinhardt Collection is a work in progress. At present, major portions of the whole collection have been rehoused, reorganized, arranged, and subsequently described in the Finding Aid. This includes detailed descriptions of various manuscript materials for which processing was more or less complete as of June 2005. Completed series encompass an extensive professional and smaller private photographic collection, theatre programs, correspondence (both telegrams and letters), and writing by as well as about Max Reinhardt. A significant portion of the critical literature on specific play productions as well as some business and legal documents have also been arranged and described herein. We anticipate making additions and updates to the Finding Aid as the processing of remaining components and new series attains completion. Reinhardt’s personally annotated play promptbooks—the emotional and intellectual center of this manuscript collection—will eventually be processed as a separate series. For the moment, the promptbooks and various play manuscripts sent to the Reinhardt theatres are readily retrievable onsite via an older card catalogue, as are original costume and scene designs. Finally, a limited amount of ephemeral, scrapbook, audio-visual, and other ancillary materials remains to be processed, also at a later stage, as time and funding permit. The information used to identify and describe the full extent of the photographic materials in the collection—performance dates, theatrical venues, names of actors and actresses, and so on—was derived from annotations on the items themselves, amended and updated by 16 extensive research utilizing the recent secondary literature. At present the Finding Aid does not provide links to digital images of selected promptbooks and photographs, although such links will be added at a future time. This document will eventually be published electronically and disseminated through RLG and other archival sources.

As a backup to the electronic finding aid, Max Reinhardt archival holdings can still be accessed on site, as in the past, through a functional card catalogue that utilizes an “R” numbering sequence widely used in some of the earlier seminal published research. Printed catalogues of several Reinhardt exhibitions from the 1960s and 1970s also provide descriptions of important original visual materials in the collection. These are available for onsite use in Special Collections at the Binghamton University Libraries. In addition to the archival materials noted herein, a significant portion of the Max Reinhardt Library, also housed in the Department of Special Collections, has been catalogued and is accessible through Binghamton University Libraries’ online catalogue.
Guide to the The Max Reinhardt Archives
Finding Aid Authors: Herbert Poetzl and Sheila Weimer (created bound print finding aid); Kerstin Petersen, Bethany Maloney, Jean Green.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
The Collection Description/Finding Aid Is Written In English

Repository Details

Part of the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections Repository

Binghamton NY 13902 USA