In July 2019, with the aid of the Go Abroad Fund, I travelled to Los Angeles, CA, to carry out PhD research at three archives: The Margaret Herrick (Academy Award) Library, UCLA Film and Television Archive and the USC Cinematic Arts Library. My PhD research is centred around the actress Irene Dunne (1898-1990), and through visiting these archives I was able to watch rare film footage, access her private papers, and read film censorship records which are only available in LA. I had an amazing experience and benefitted invaluably from consulting these rare primary sources.
I spent most of my time at the Margaret Herrick Library – where I could see seven *actual* Oscars from my desk in the Katharine Hepburn Reading room. Special Collections was a treasure trove which included interviews with Irene Dunne available nowhere else, as well as Production Code Administration (censorship) records, and studio publicity materials. From these, I was able to build a much more comprehensive picture of Dunne’s stardom, finding material which has very exciting implications for my thesis.
The USC Cinematic Arts Library houses Dunne’s private papers and press books. As I’m very interested in her promotion as an independent woman, it was extremely useful to be able to examine her contracts and scrapbooks. Correspondence about her time as a UN Alternate Delegate was also very useful. It was strange, and very personal, to be working with her possessions!
Finally, the UCLA archive included rare television and newsreel footage of Dunne, giving me a more nuanced understanding of her political views and anti-Communist activities.
I had wanted to make this my only visit to Los Angeles during my PhD – despite the huge quantity of archival material available. However, while there, I developed as a researcher by gaining experience of the need to carefully prioritise what was actually possible, rather than what I could accomplish given unlimited time! I’ll certainly be returning to Los Angeles, and I’ll be doing so with a much better idea of the additional resources and archives that I can access.
As the archives generally weren’t open during evenings or weekends, I was also able to visit a lot of Californian cultural hotspots in my spare time. I recreated (sort of) the 1930s and 1940s Hollywood experience by visiting the Formosa Café, attending a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, seeing the stars’ hand and footprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, staying on the Queen Mary, and travelling up to Hearst Castle in San Simeon (the inspiration for ‘Xanadu’ in Citizen Kane [Welles, 1941]). I also visited the Getty Centre and Getty Villa, which contained beautiful artworks, saw Steve Martin and Martin Short at the Greek Theatre, and took a short trip to Yosemite National Park.
Thanks to the Go Abroad Fund, my research is better informed and I had a life-changing experience!