Albert M. Ottenheimer papers , 1935-1980

Overview of the Collection

Ottenheimer, Albert M.
Albert M. Ottenheimer papers
1935-1980 (inclusive)
32 linear feet, (60 containers, 1 package)
Collection Number
Coll 132
Albert M. Ottenheimer was an actor, author and a founder of the Seattle Repertory Playhouse, and founding member of the Seattle local of the American Federation of Radio Artists. Collection consists of investigation files relating to Albert M. Ottenheimer's blacklisting during the McCarthy era, including a diary Ottenheimer kept during his 30-day jail sentence; correspondence; literary manuscripts; scripts for television, radio, and the theater; scripts by others; professional file, including a log book and other material relating to the Seattle Repertory Playhouse; travel diary and souvenirs collected during his European tour of West Side Story; union material; memorabilia; photographs and audio-visual material.
University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives
UO Libraries--SCUA
1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR
Telephone: 5413463068
Access Restrictions

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time. Collection includes sound recordings, moving images, and digital files to which access is restricted. Access to these materials is governed by repository policy and may require the production of listening or viewing copies. Researchers requiring access must notify Special Collections and University Archives in advance and pay fees for reproduction services as necessary.

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Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Historical NoteReturn to Top

Albert M. Ottenheimer was born on September 6, 1904 in Tacoma, Washington, where he attended Lincoln High School. He worked on the staff of the Tacoma Daily Ledger for three years before entering the University of Washington, where he graduated magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa in 1927.

While in college he played in stage productions and worked on the staffs of school publications. In 1928 he joined Florence and Burton W. James in the founding of the Seattle Repertory Playhouse, which for over 20 years earned good repute on the regional theatre circuit. There Ottenheimer acted in over 150 plays while teaching, directing, and helping to manage the theatre. Two plays produced there, L'Envoi and Funny Man, were written by Ottenheimer. He also wrote the books upon which two successful Northwest musicals, Calico Cargo and San Juan Story, were based. While on leave of absence from the Playhouse he put in two stints as a screenwriter at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

In the mid-1940's, Ottenheimer was a founding member of the Seattle local of the American Federation of Radio Artists (AFRA, now AFTRA), and chairman of its Negotiating Committee. He worked in the field of labor relations, and his duties included the writing of exhibits and briefs for the Railroad Brotherhood in Presidential Emergency Board cases. He joined the Actor's Equity Union in 1953, after moving from Seattle to New York.

Ottenheimer's 1951 move to New York City was the result of his being blacklisted in Seattle during the McCarthy era. The Canwell Committee, a local version of the House Un-American Activities Committee, was investigating communist activity on the University of Washington campus during the 1940's. As Ottenheimer refused to answer questions regarding his political activities and beliefs, he was given a sentence of 30 days in jail. In addition, he was put on the blacklist, forcing him to move across the country. The Playhouse suffered from the bad publicity and eventually went out of business itself. (It has since been revived as the Seattle Repertory Theatre.)

Ottenheimer found work immediately in New York, but the blacklist eventually caught up with him and forced him to do side work such as "temporary typing" for awhile. He regained his acting career in the late 1950's, however, when he was able to resume his work.

He has appeared in television serials, commercials, and dramas, but Ottenheimer's main forte was on the theatre stage. His most notable Broadway role was that of "Doc," the druggist on West Side Story. He toured with this musical nationally as well as internationally, travelling to Europe and Israel.

While West Side Story was in Amsterdam, Ottenheimer met a Dutch actress named Mies Waalewijn. They married there and she returned with him to the United States after the tour. Mies, a talented actress herself, soon found her niche in the U.S. acting circuit.

Other Broadway appearances on the part of Albert M. Ottenheimer include the The Deputy, The Tender Heel, and Mardi Gras. He also worked in many off-Broadway productions, as well as plays performed all around the country. He has toured with Charlton Heston, Raymond Burr, Zero Mostel, and Richard Chamberlain. Ottenheimer also acted in films, posed for magazine advertisements, and wrote stories and articles for such magazines as Esquire, Collier's, Blue Book, and The New Yorker.

Ottenheimer's family included his wife Mies, his Schnauzer Betje, and his brother Eldon. Mies and Betje were both frequent company for Ottenheimer on his travels. Ottenheimer died January 25, 1980 while rehearsing for a play at the Cincinnati Playhouse. He was 75 years old. More biographical information can be found within the collection.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The Albert M. Ottenheimer Papers encompass two different aspects of Ottenheimer's life. Of special interest politically is the material regarding his being targeted by the communist investigations of the McCarthy era. The larger remainder of the collection relates to Ottenheimer's professional acting career.

The political material begins the collection and relates to the 1948 1955 investigation of Ottenheimer by state and federal anti-communist committees. Those sections labeled Canwell Committee, King County Jail, and House Un-American Activities Committee contain newsclippings, correspondence, and notes pertaining to his appearances in court and his subsequent jailing. Within the King County Jail file is a diary kept by Ottenheimer during his term in jail. A fourth section contains research, conducted later by Ottenheimer, on the result of being blacklisted on his professional acting career.

The remainder of the collection, pertaining to Ottenheimer's acting career, primarily contains correspondence to family, friends, and peers regarding his latest activities. Following the correspondence is a section with the writing he did for movies, plays, radio, television and magazines.

Also contained in the Ottenheimer papers are scripts used by him, professional material such as publicity and playbills, and material collected by him on his European tour with West Side Story. Union and teaching material follows, and the collection ends with newspaper clippings and memorabilia.

The collection includes 464 photographs and negatives of various plays and shows in which Albert Ottenheimer performed, and images of his family.

Broadsides include oversized posters for international West Side Story productions.

More material relating to the life of Albert M. Ottenheimer is in the possession of the New York Public Library (see letter of 1977, September 19).

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Actors
  • Actors in the advertising industry
  • Authors, American--20th century--Correspondence
  • Blacklisting of entertainers
  • Labor unions

Corporate Names

  • American Federation of Television and Radio Artists
  • Seattle Repertory Theatre

Form or Genre Terms

  • Motion pictures (visual works)
  • Playbills
  • Scripts (documents)
  • Sound recordings