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Screenwriter Paul Schrader’s papers open for research

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In the late 1970s, screenwriter Paul Schrader began writing a script titled Born in the U.S.A., and he asked Bruce Springsteen to write a song for the film. The script sat on Springsteen’s table until one day, while working on a song called “Vietnam,” he noticed Schrader’s script, sang the title, and “Born in the U.S.A.” became the hit title song of one of Springsteen’s best-selling albums. Springsteen eventually wrote a new song for the script, which Schrader renamed Light of Day (1987).

Drafts of Schrader’s Born in the U.S.A. and Light of Day scripts and correspondence between Schrader and Springsteen are just a few of the many highlights found in Schrader’s archive, which opens for research today at the Ransom Center.

From drafts of the Taxi Driver (1976) screenplay to Schrader’s baby book, from an outline for Raging Bull (1980) to letters from Schrader’s parents, the archive encompasses Schrader’s career and personal life.

Photographs abound in the archive. Of particular note are film stills, on-set photos, and publicity shots for Taxi Driver, the film that launched Schrader’s career. One photo shows Schrader and a young Jodie Foster at the Cannes Film Festival, and another shows Schrader, Martin Scorsese, and Robert De Niro laughing on set. Invoking De Niro’s Taxi Driver character Travis Bickle, Scorsese inscribed a photo of him with Schrader: “From one Travis to another.” In an e-mail, Schrader wrote that he felt like a Travis Bickle “at one time.”

Immediately following Jaws’s blockbuster success, Steven Spielberg asked Schrader to write a screenplay for what would become Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Spielberg read Schrader’s script, but they didn’t agree on how the story should progress. Spielberg ended up writing the script himself, but drafts and notes for Schrader’s version are included in his archive.

In the mid-1980s, Bob Dylan asked Schrader to direct a music video shot in Japan for his song “Tight Connection to My Heart.” Unhappy with the result, Schrader later called the video “a source of embarrassment.” In addition to scripts, photographs, and film documenting the video production, Schrader’s archive includes a 2002 letter to an executive at Sony in which Schrader looks back on the project 16 years later:

“It was a disaster. Bob had asked me to do it but I really didn’t ‘get’ the new music video language. He didn’t want to do it and by the middle of the shoot I didn’t want to do it. I remember saying to him at one point, ‘Bob, if you ever hear I’m making another music video, just take me out in the back yard and hose me down.’”

When asked how he felt about his archive opening to the public, Schrader responded, “I hope to be too busy to even give it a thought.”

Production still of Paul Schrader, Martin Scorsese, and Robert De Niro on the set of 'Taxi Driver' (1976).
Production still of Paul Schrader, Martin Scorsese, and Robert De Niro on the set of 'Taxi Driver' (1976).

In the Galleries: Ogden Nash’s padlocked collection of poetry

One of Ogden Nash's copies of  'Hard Lines' with padlock and chain. Photo by Pete Smith.
One of Ogden Nash's copies of 'Hard Lines' with padlock and chain. Photo by Pete Smith.

“All of these books are worse than opium… I would rather have a child of mine use opium than read these books,” declared Senator Reed Smoot of Utah in March 1930, speaking from behind a desk towering with “smutty” books like Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Robert Burns’s poetry.

In 1929, Senator Smoot and Representative Willis Hawley of Oregon introduced a tariff bill to Congress that included a section restricting the importation of obscene materials, which inspired the widely repeated news headline “Smoot Smites Smut.” Senator Bronson Cutting of New Mexico led a protest against the proposed ban on obscene literature, and the House approved an amendment that removed books from the list of obscene materials.

But the battle wasn’t over. When the full bill reached the Senate in March 1930, Smoot brought book censorship back into the spotlight. After much debate, the Senate returned books to the list of obscene materials with the exception of “classics” and works of “established literary and scientific merit.” The Smoot-Hawley Tariff became law on June 17, 1930.

In response to the controversy, poet Ogden Nash penned “Invocation” and submitted it to The New Yorker, his first published contribution to the magazine, in January 1930.

The first verse reads:

Senator Smoot (Republican, Ut.)
Is planning a ban on smut.
Oh rooti-ti-toot for Smoot of Ut.
And his reverend occiput.
Smite, Smoot, smite for Ut.,
Grit your molars and do your dut.,
Gird up your l__ns,
Smite h_p and th_gh,
We’ll all be Kansas
By and by.

“Invocation” appeared in Nash’s collection Hard Lines. As a publicity stunt, Simon and Schuster sent out advance copies with a chain, padlock, and key attached.

One of Nash’s copies of Hard Lines appears in the Ransom Center’s current exhibition Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored, on display through January 22. Nash intended to send this copy to book critic Alexander Woollcott. The inside front cover of the book includes the beginning of an inscription to Woollcott, but Nash misspelled Woollcott’s name (he forgot the second “l”) and inscribed the book to himself instead:

“For Ogden Nash with the very best wishes of the author. This is one of several advance copies equipped with lock and chain for attention-catching which were sent to current celebrities in hope of eliciting favorable comment. I started to mis-spell Alexander Woollcott’s name in this one, so kept it for myself. Woollcott didn’t like the one he got, even though I spelled his name right.*

*It sold nearly 40,000 copies in spite of him.”

Photo Friday

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

If you are visiting the Ransom Center this week, here are the holiday hours.

Conservator Ken Grant works in the paper lab, consolidating the paint layer on designer Norman Bel Geddes’s 1926 drawing for floats and participants in Macy’s parade. The drawing will be included in an upcoming exhibition on Bel Geddes, with support generously provided by an FAIC/Tru Vue Optium® Conservation Grant. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Conservator Ken Grant works in the paper lab, consolidating the paint layer on designer Norman Bel Geddes’s 1926 drawing for floats and participants in Macy’s parade. The drawing will be included in an upcoming exhibition on Bel Geddes, with support generously provided by an FAIC/Tru Vue Optium® Conservation Grant. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
A close-up of Norman Bel Geddes's aero clown. Photo by Jennifer Tisdale.
A close-up of Norman Bel Geddes's aero clown. Photo by Jennifer Tisdale.
Norman Bel Geddes’s 1926 sketch for a clown in Macy’s parade. Photo by Jennifer Tisdale.
Norman Bel Geddes’s 1926 sketch for a clown in Macy’s parade. Photo by Jennifer Tisdale.
Norman Bel Geddes's sketch included color scheme specifications. Photo by Jennifer Tisdale.
Norman Bel Geddes's sketch included color scheme specifications. Photo by Jennifer Tisdale.

Holiday hours at the Ransom Center

The Harry Ransom Center. Photo by Pete Smith.
The Harry Ransom Center. Photo by Pete Smith.

The Ransom Center will be closed for Thanksgiving Day. The galleries will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, November 25, and from noon to 5 p.m. on this Saturday and Sunday.

Visitors can see the current exhibitions, Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored and The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920-1925, as well as Frida Kahlo’s Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird.

Free docent-led tours of the gallery exhibitions are offered at 2 p.m. on this Saturday and Sunday.

Visit the Harry Ransom Center as part of Austin’s Cultural Campus “Museum Crawl” on Saturday, November 26. Enjoy the exhibitions with your family, friends, and out-of-town guests. Join us at 2 p.m. for a docent-led tour of the exhibitions. Kick off your holiday shopping with one-day discounts on Ransom Center merchandise, including postcards, totebags, and books. Purchase a gift membership specially packaged in an archival box and receive a free set of postcards ($10 value). Complimentary beverages will warm you on your walk to your next Austin’s Cultural Campus destination.

The Reading Room will be closed on Friday, November 25, and Saturday, November 26, but will reopen on Monday, November 28.

Parking information and a map are available online.

Win a signed book by a writer on the New York Times "100 Notable Books of 2011" list

The New York Times released its list of “100 Notable Books of 2011″ this week, and the Ransom Center holds the archives of five writers on the list.

To celebrate this news, the Ransom Center will give away a signed copy of a book by one of these writers to the first three people to email hrcgiveaway@gmail.com with the names of all five writers on the list.

Update: Congratulations to Lev L., Robert P., and Ry P. for their correct responses of Russell Banks, Julian Barnes, Don DeLillo, Denis Johnson, and David Foster Wallace. They will all receive a signed copy of Denis Johnson’s novel Already Dead.

In the Galleries: Censorship of "The Sex Side of Life"

Photo of Mary Ware Dennett from New York Journal American collection.
Photo of Mary Ware Dennett from New York Journal American collection.

In 1919 Mary Ware Dennett (1872–1947) published The Sex Side of Life, a sex-education pamphlet for young people that she originally wrote for her sons. The U.S. Post Office declared the pamphlet obscene in April 1922, and Dennett struggled on her own to get the ruling reversed, all the while continuing to distribute The Sex Side of Life through the mail.

In 1928, in consultation with attorney Morris Ernst, Dennett agreed that it was time to test The Sex Side of Life in court.  The trial came sooner than anticipated when the Justice Department indicted Dennett for mailing the pamphlet to “Mrs. Carl A. Miles” in Virginia. A jury convicted Dennett of distributing obscene material, and the judge fined her $3,000, which Dennett refused to pay. Newspapers and magazines across the country expressed outrage at the jury’s decision. Dennett became a cause célèbre and received a contract from Vanguard Press to write about her experiences.

Dennett’s conviction was overturned on appeal in 1930. In his decision, Judge Augustus Hand wrote: “The defendant’s discussion of the phenomena of sex is written with sincerity of feeling… Any incidental tendency to arouse sex impulses which such a pamphlet may perhaps have, is apart from and subordinate to its main effect.”

A copy of the pamphlet, as well as correspondence documenting its censorship, is on display in Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored through January 22.

Cover of 'The Sex Side of Life' by Mary Ware Dennet.
Cover of 'The Sex Side of Life' by Mary Ware Dennet.

Old Inspires the New

Austin-based Lakes Were Rivers, a group of 11 artists working in photography and video, recently collaborated with the Ransom Center to pair works of its artists with images from the Center’s photography collection, resulting in (Re)Collection, an exhibition in conjunction with the East Austin Studio Tour.

Each artist selected an image from the Ransom’s Center photography collections to be scanned and printed as an 8×10 reproduction. In the exhibition, these collection images are paired with a representative work made by members of Lakes Were Rivers, generating a complex and varied dialogue about the traditions and potential of photography as a medium.

Re(Collection) is on view this Saturday and Sunday, November 19 and 20, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 1319 Rosewood Avenue. Members of Lakes Were Rivers will serve as gallery attendants and will be available to discuss the show with visitors.

Some of the pairings appear below.

Adam Schreiber. Rirkrit Tiravanija, Untitled, 1999. Archival inkjet print. 2011.
Adam Schreiber. Rirkrit Tiravanija, Untitled, 1999. Archival inkjet print. 2011.
Paul Louis Marie Fabre-Domergue. Octopus Vulgaris, 1899. La photographique des animaux aquatques. Harry Ransom Center.
Paul Louis Marie Fabre-Domergue. Octopus Vulgaris, 1899. La photographique des animaux aquatques. Harry Ransom Center.

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Ben Ruggiero. Windows as Viewed #71: Migrant Mother, Dorothea Lange 1936. Window etching cyanotype contact print. Harry Ransom Center. November 11, 2011.
Ben Ruggiero. Windows as Viewed #71: Migrant Mother, Dorothea Lange 1936. Window etching cyanotype contact print. Harry Ransom Center. November 11, 2011.
Dorothea Lange. Destitute peapickers in California; a 32 year old mother of seven children. February 1936. Harry Ransom Center.
Dorothea Lange. Destitute peapickers in California; a 32 year old mother of seven children. February 1936. Harry Ransom Center.

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Jessica Mallios. Motif. Archival inkjet print. 2011.
Jessica Mallios. Motif. Archival inkjet print. 2011.
Philip H. Delamotte. Colossal head of Bavaria. Photographic Views of the Progress of the Crystal Palace, Sydenham. London: Crystal Palace Company, 1855. Harry Ransom Center.
Philip H. Delamotte. Colossal head of Bavaria. Photographic Views of the Progress of the Crystal Palace, Sydenham. London: Crystal Palace Company, 1855. Harry Ransom Center.

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Mike Osborne. Wendover, Utah. Archival inkjet print. 2011.
Mike Osborne. Wendover, Utah. Archival inkjet print. 2011.
Francis Frith. The Pyramids of Dahshoor
Lower Egypt, Thebes, and the Pyramids
1862 (ca.). Harry Ransom Center.
Francis Frith. The Pyramids of Dahshoor
Lower Egypt, Thebes, and the Pyramids
1862 (ca.). Harry Ransom Center.

Photo Friday

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

University of Texas alumnus Kevin Kautzman portrays John Sumner in 'Censorship Then and Now.' Students in Kathryn Dawson’s 'Applications in Museum Settings' class at The University of Texas at Austin studied performance as a way to bring museum exhibitions to life, including creating characters based on the Center’s exhibition 'Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored.' Photo by Pete Smith.
University of Texas alumnus Kevin Kautzman portrays John Sumner in 'Censorship Then and Now.' Students in Kathryn Dawson’s 'Applications in Museum Settings' class at The University of Texas at Austin studied performance as a way to bring museum exhibitions to life, including creating characters based on the Center’s exhibition 'Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored.' Photo by Pete Smith.
University of Texas at Austin undergraduate student Rachel Panella argues her point as Upton Sinclair in 'Censorship Then and Now,' a performance for area high school students. Photo by Pete Smith.
University of Texas at Austin undergraduate student Rachel Panella argues her point as Upton Sinclair in 'Censorship Then and Now,' a performance for area high school students. Photo by Pete Smith.
As part of their ongoing training at the Ransom Center, volunteers examine Leigh Hunt’s collection of famous people’s hair, including John Keats and John Milton. Photo by Pete Smith.
As part of their ongoing training at the Ransom Center, volunteers examine Leigh Hunt’s collection of famous people’s hair, including John Keats and John Milton. Photo by Pete Smith.

Canadian makes semi-annual pilgrimage to the Ransom Center's galleries

Alain Dame visited the exhibition 'Culture Unbound: Collecting in the Twenty-First Century' in May. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Alain Dame visited the exhibition 'Culture Unbound: Collecting in the Twenty-First Century' in May. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.

Alain Dame may very well be the Ransom Center’s biggest fan.

The letter carrier from Quebec, Canada, visits the Center about twice a year and spends days (yes, days) in the galleries exploring the exhibitions. In a scenario that exhibition curators can usually only dream about, he takes the time to read every label and studies each item in the exhibition.

Dame first visited the Ransom Center in 1999. At that time, the Center had no gallery space of its own and often mounted small exhibitions in what was essentially a hallway on the fourth floor of the Flawn Academic Center. Dame’s first visit was for an exhibition on Oscar Wilde, and he remembers seeing another exhibition on photographer Eliot Elisofon.

But when the Center completed a renovation and added a gallery space in 2003, it was able to mount in-depth shows drawn from its collections. One of the first exhibitions in the new galleries was Make It New: The Rise of Modernism, and it made quite an impression on Dame: “It was so good,” he said. “It’s my favorite of all time.”

An item from the Arthur Conan Doyle collection caught his eye in the Make it New exhibition because he found it so moving.

“He [Doyle] was into a lot of esoteric things because of his son’s death in the war. He drew the night, and he was so angry that his son died that he was making holes, piercing the paper with his pen. That was a touching one.”

While Dame has an interest in modernism and James Joyce—one he shares with Ransom Center Director and Joyce scholar Thomas F. Staley—his interests range far and wide. He remembers a letter from J. D. Salinger in which the famously reclusive writer thanks a female correspondent for recommending Ovaltine because it helped him sleep.

“I love arts in general,” he said.”I’m crazy about arts.”

And that love is apparent when speaking with him on the topic of the humanities. He speaks knowledgably and eloquently about writers and artists from Joyce, Salinger, and Doyle to Igor Stravinsky, Don DeLillo, and David Foster Wallace.

Dame was here again last week to view Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored and The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia, 1920-1925.

Some of his other favorite exhibitions have included On the Road with the Beats from spring 2008 and The Persian Sensation: “The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám” in the West from spring 2009.

Win a signed copy of a Don DeLillo's "White Noise"

'The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories' by Don DeLillo
'The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories' by Don DeLillo

Author Don DeLillo, whose archive resides at the Ransom Center, has released his first collection of short stories today. The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories, published by Scribner, includes pieces written between 1979 and 2011.

To celebrate the publication of the book, the Ransom Center will give away 2 signed copies of DeLillo’s novel White Noise (1985). Email hrcgiveaway@gmail.com with “DeLillo” in the subject line by midnight CST tonight to be entered in a drawing for the book. [Update: Winners have been chosen and notified. Congrats to Angela A and Annie S!]