Finding aid for the Doris Cook Federal Theatre at Golden Gate International Exposition Collection,
1937-1940 (bulk 1939)
Finding aid prepared by San Francisco History Center staff.
San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
100 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA, 94102
Title: Doris Cook Federal Theatre at Golden Gate International Exposition Collection,
Date (inclusive): 1937-1940
Date (bulk): 1939
Collection Identifier: SFH 44
(0.5 cubic feet)
San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
100 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
Papers from Doris Cook's tenure with the Works Progress Administration's (WPA) Federal Theatre on Treasure Island, where she
served as Assistant Director of Information from Jan. 20-July 14, 1939. Types of material include reports, production calendars,
programs, research notes, clippings, articles, correspondence, publicity documents, and a small amount of ephemera. Some materials
are issued by or pertain to the Federal Theatre at the national level.
The collection is stored onsite.
Language of Materials: Collection materials are in
The collection is open for research.
Copyright has been assigned to the San Francisco Public Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts
must be submitted in writing to the City Archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the San Francisco Public
Library as the owner of the physical items and the copyright.
[Identfification of item], Doris Cook Federal Theatre at Golden Gate International Exposition Collection (SFH 44), San Francisco
History Center, San Francisco Public Library.
Gift from nephew of Elizabeth Morcombe, 2002
San Francisco History Center's Vertical Files: Fairs. Golden Gate International Exhibition.
The Federal Theatre Project was one of four Arts projects set up in the late summer of 1935 under the Works Progress Administration
as a work relief program to employ thousands of jobless writers, artists, musicians, actors and others in the theatre. Informed
by the changing politics and shifting social order of the day, the Federal Theatre sought to create theatre that was not simply
entertaining, but also relevant to all Americans. This aim resulted in such unusual productions as
The Swing Mikado,
One-Third of a Nation (an expose of housing conditions in New York City) and the topical "Living Newspaper" plays. In keeping with its grassroots
precepts, the organization formed regional units in cities and states all over the country, and presented its productions
not only in city theatres, but also "in Catholic convents and Baptist churches, circus tents and university halls, police
stations, showboats and CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps] camps." The Federal Theatre's repertory consisted of children's
plays, Shakespeare, O'Neill, new African-American plays, Yiddish musical theatre, Gilbert and Sullivan, circus performances,
puppet shows, and productions in French, Spanish, Italian and German. Inherent in the Federal Theatre Project's threefold
design --as a relief measure, a work program, and an artistic experiment-- were unresolvable conflicts that led to the project's
demise in June of 1939 when appropriations committees in Congress did not approve continued funding.
The Federal Theatre Project came to San Francisco early in 1936, when it began to mount productions at the Alcazar Theatre.
In mid-February of 1939, the Federal Theatre Project began its Treasure Island "run," occupying the entire south end of the
northeast wing of the large Federal building (designed by Timothy L. Pflueger) at the Golden Gate International Exposition.
This wing consisted mainly of a fully-equipped theatre designed both for the Federal Theatre Project and the showing of government-produced
motion pictures. While the theatre's seating capacity was only 473, it played to consistently full houses: a total of 75 performances
to some 16,817 paid admissions during its five months' residence. After the Federal Theatre Project was closed down nationwide
on June 30, 1939, the theatre on Treasure Island was devoted entirely to the presentation of documentaries produced by the
government; the same program was carried during the GGIE's second season in 1940.
Doris Cook, who collected these papers, served as Assistant Director of Information for the Federal Theatre on Treasure Island
from January 20, 1939 until July 14, 1939. The June 30 shutdown of the Federal Theatre Project is ironic in light of the Treasure
Island unit's success, particularly with the "Swing Mikado" show, which newspaper reviews not two weeks earlier had hailed
as a production that would turn around the fortunes of "that sick man of Treasure Island show business, the Federal Theatre."
Scope and Contents
Nearly all of the materials collected here date from Doris Cook's tenure with the Federal Theatre on Treasure Island. Folder
1, ''Weekly Report January 15, 1939" consists of a typed draft of the first such report to National Director Hallie Flanagan,
issued by the Supervisor of the Federal Theatre on Treasure Island. ''Weekly production calendars" in folder 2 were created
by the Federal Theatre Project's National Service Bureau and issued by the Northern California District office; these show
the productions in progress at the various venues or units around the country. Folder 3, "Programs with casts and credits,"
contains printed programs for presentations and exhibits in the Federal Theatre Playhouse and the Alcazar Theatre, plus typed
versions of other programs, and schedules and lists of motion pictures shown. Folder 4, "Programs - special events," includes
printed programs, plus posters, press kit materials, invitations and other items. Folders 5 and 6 were taken from the same
folder; folder 5 contains data used to create programs and program notes for Federal Music Project productions on Treasure
Island, while folder 6 contains similar data used in creation of program materials in folders 3 and 4. Folder 7, "'Living
Newspaper' research and synopses," contains six pages of research and a synopsis for a play about the Golden Gate Bridge plus
data for program notes on another "Living Newspaper" play titled "Give Us This Day." Folder 8 consists mainly of clippings
regarding the Federal Theatre on Treasure Island; also included are reprinted articles, speeches and reports that were distributed
at the national level by the Federal Theatre Project. Folder 9 also contains clippings, but these are items not dealing directly
with the Federal Theatre; many are about the GGIE, and some appear to have been kept as sources of possible ideas for promotional
tie-ins. In folder 10 may be found press releases and other publicity documents created and distributed by the Federal Theatre
on Treasure Island, by the Federal Theatre's national office or by the Press Division of the GGIE. Folder 11 contains short
announcements about the Federal Theatre that were created by Doris Cook's office and read periodically over the GGIE's public
address system. Folder 12 contains correspondence, notes, clippings, telegrams, draft materials, forms and personal items
created by Doris Cook during the course of her duties as Assistant Director of Information for the Federal Theatre on Treasure
Island. Among the notable items in this folder are Ms. Cook's beginning and ending employment forms (sardonically labeled
"The shortest story ever told"), as well as several items signed "Aunt Blanche" and "Cousin Blanche" on the personal letterhead
of Mrs. George Creel (George Creel was the U.S. commissioner to the GGIE, in charge of the United States pavilion and its
Arranged by type of material.
Subjects and Indexing Terms
Federal Theatre Project (U.S.). -- Archives
Golden Gate International Exposition (1939-1940 : San Francisco, Calif.). -- Archives
Treasure Island (San Francisco County, Calif.)
Box 1, Folder 1
Weekly report for week ending January 15, 1939
Box 1, Folder 2
Weekly production calendars,
February - March 1939
Box 1, Folder 3
"Programs with casts and credits"
Box 1, Folder 4
Programs - special events
Box 1, Folder 5
''Program data" - Federal Music Project
April - June 1939
Box 1, Folder 6
''Program data" - Notes, text, lists, drafts of programs Feb.-Apr.,
Box 1, Folder 7
"Living Newspaper" research and synopses
Box 1, Folder 8
Clippings, tearsheets, reprints, etc.
Box 1, Folder 10
Press releases and other publicity office documents
Box 1, Folder 11
Public address announcements,
February - April 1939