Cooke, Alistair (1908-2004)

The Alistair Cooke collection consists of manuscripts, notebooks, printed material, correspondence, audio, photographs, scrapbooks, film and video, awards, and other items.

Manuscripts in the collection by Cooke include both his shorter writings as well as his longer, book-length works.

Shorter manuscripts include numerous dispatches to and articles for the Manchester Guardian (1947-1972), including Cooke’s eyewitness account of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination on June 5, 1968; scripts for Cooke’s weekly radio series for the BBC, “Letters from America” (originally titled “American Letters”), along with some broadcast outlines and transcripts (1946-2000); an unproduced teleplay titled “The Father,” for the television program Omnibus (1959), as well as other miscellaneous television scripts; notes regarding BBC impressions of Alistair Cooke’s Vietnam-era talks (1965); articles for The New Yorker, Toronto Star, Travel and Leisure, Newsday, Show, Mademoiselle, and Vogue ; editorials, reviews, and letters to the editor, for The Times, New York Times, and the Chicago Sun-Times ; texts for BBC radio programs to accompany “Alistair Cooke’s Jazz Twenties,” “Alistair Cooke’s Jazz Thirties,” “Alistair Cooke’s Jazz Forties,” “Only by Women,” “Jazzmen,” and “Instruments of Jazz”; an outline for an hour-long television program titled The Nobel Family, broadcast on ABC; speeches, radio talks, interviews, and addresses (1933-2003); various narrations and voice-over introductions; several Masterpiece Theatre introductions; texts, research and letters regarding episodes of the public television program America ; and other items.

Book-length manuscripts include Around the World in Fifty Years: A Political Travelogue (1966); Talk About America (1968); Alistair Cooke’s America (1973); Six Men (1977); Above London, photography by Robert Cameron, text by Cooke (1980); Masterpieces: A Decade of Masterpiece Theatre, with commentary by Cooke (1981); The Patient Has the Floor (1986); America Observed: The Newspaper Years of Alistair Cooke, edited and introduced by Ronald A. Wells (1988); Fun and Games with Alistair Cooke: On Sport and Other Amusements (1996); Memories of the Great and the Good (1999); and The Face of the Nation: A Portrait of the American People at War, published posthumously as The American Home Front: 1941-1942 (2006). Also present in the collection are manuscripts for Alistair Cooke: The Biography, by Nick Clarke (1999).

Cooke’s notebooks date from 1982-2003. They contain notes regarding news stories, current events, impressions of public figures, war, and politics; some include newspaper articles and/or correspondence. In addition, there are 33 notepads dating from 1943 to 1955, including one specifically regarding Alger Hiss.

Printed material in the collection is extensive, and primarily consists of the published versions of Cooke’s writings. Periodicals represented include Life, Punch, Show, The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe, The Guardian, The Listener, The Manchester Guardian, The Observer, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The New York Times Sports Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and others. Cooke also kept files of newspaper clippings on various aspects of life in the United States; these were compiled between 1948 and 1969, covering topics such as race relations, the economy, politics, espionage, health, crime, and labor unions. Other printed material consists of advertisements, reviews of Cooke’s writings, publicity items, posters, interviews of Cooke, catalogs, page proofs, dust jackets, and various other items.

Correspondence in the collection consists of numerous items covering all aspects of Cooke’s private and professional lives. Both personal and professional letters are included, dating from 1932 to 2004. Cooke had especially extensive correspondence with Arthur C. Clarke, Max Freedman, Nunnally Johnson, Robert Tyre Jones, Jr., and Adlai Stevenson. Other notable correspondents include Dean Acheson, Woody Allen, Kofi Annan, David Attenborough, Lauren Bacall, Russell Baker, Tony Blair, Ralph Bellamy, William F. Buckley, Bing Crosby, Jr., Bill Clinton, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Graham Greene, Hubert Humphrey, Peter Jennings, Lyndon B. Johnson, John F. Kennedy, Alfred A. Knopf, Clinton McCarthy, Roddy McDowall, H. L. Mencken, Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton, Bill Moyers, Walter Mondale, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Sam Rayburn, Abraham Ribicoff, Eugene V. Rostow, Donald Rumsfeld, William Safire, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., George Schultz, Stuart Symington, U. Thant, Emma Thompson, Kenneth Tynan, John Updike, Jack Valenti, George F. Will, and Tom Wolfe. The collection also includes a letter from Cooke to Groucho Marx (1957) and a draft of a letter (never sent) from Cooke to George H. W. Bush regarding the invasion of Iraq (December 30, 1989). This material dates from the 1930s to 2003. Personal correspondence includes family greeting cards from Cooke’s family (2001-2003), and a thank-you card from his family following his death.

Audio recordings in the collection primarily consist of numerous cassettes of “Letter from America” broadcasts. Other recordings in the collection include several cassettes and reel-to-reel tapes of various speeches and appearances by Cooke; reel-to-reel tapes of BBC radio broadcasts and jazz programs hosted by Cooke; Cooke’s own collection of jazz recordings on reel-to-reel tape; and “An Evening with Alistair Cooke at the Piano,” in long-playing record and cassette versions.

Photographs in the collection consist of personal and professional images dating from the 1930s to the 1980s. Notable figures represented include Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Nunnally Johnson, Robert F. Kennedy, Bing Crosby, Jack Nicklaus, Lyndon B. Johnson, Rita Hayworth, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Leverett Saltonstall, Vincent Price, Adlai Stevenson, and Dag Hammarskjold. Photos of Cooke include several images of him on the set of Masterpiece Theatre, in the White House, and at the United Nations.

Scrapbooks in the collection include several albums of fan mail collected and arranged by various television stations after Cooke announced his retirement. An early scrapbook consists of newspaper clippings by or about Cooke from ca. 1935. Other scrapbooks include albums titled “Gen. Eisenhower on the Military Churchill,” “Writing in the American Language” (1935-1937), and “The American Half-Hour” (1935).

Film and video in the collection include the complete America television series on 16mm reels (13 total, with 2 small reels and an audio tape for a one-minute trailer), as well as two other reels labeled “General Eisenhower on the Military Churchill, with Alistair Cooke” and “Lion and the Eagle (‘Intertel’).” Video cassettes in the collection include a VHS tape labeled “President Ronald Reagan Message For: Alistair Cooke,” Oct. 25, 1988. There is also a DVD of the BBC documentary titled The Unseen Alistair Cooke (2008).

Memorabilia in the collection includes laminated flyers; albums regarding the Brandeis Book Club; President Jefferson’s inaugural speech printed on cloth; and a Corona brand portable typewriter, given to Cooke in college and which he used to write all his Guardian dispatches. Awards in this series include honorary doctorates for Cooke from Ohio State University, Yale University, St. Andrew’s University, Victoria University of Manchester, and the University of Edinburgh; the George Foster Peabody Broadcasting Award from the University of Georgia; a nomination for an award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, for the episode “A Fireball in the Night” from America (1972-1973); The Lincoln Literary Award (1981); an item from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (1983); The Ralph Lowell Award (1991); and others.

Other material in the collection include research material; legal material; professional material; subject files on various topics, arranged by Cooke; financial material (contracts, royalty statements, receipts, 1935-1997); artwork, including a self-caricature by Cooke, in pen and ink; a notebook from Cooke’s trip to Europe in 1961; and Cooke’s press credentials from World War II, including letters of introduction.

Notable Figures
1. Cooke, Alistair, 1908-2004
Associated Subjects
1. Journalism Subject Guide
2. Radio Subject Guide