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Terry Ramsaye papers

Identifier: GTM-880315
Terry Ramsaye (1885 - 1954), former editor of the Motion Picture Herald and author of A Million and One Nights, an early history of the motion picture industry, was a prolific writer and respected film historian. His papers, comprising 5 boxes (6.75 linear feet), are arranged in six series: a Dope File Series, Individual Series, Subject Series, Manuscripts Series, Photographic Series, and Personal Series.

Items of interest indexed in Terry Ramsaye's papers are a TLS by Wm. Kennedy Laurie Dickson, 1 TLS by George Eastman, 2 TLS by Thomas Edison, and TLS by Frank Dyer, Edison's attorney, and Wm. Meadowcraft, Edison's assistant. Terry Ramsaye's papers are, of course, of great value to those interested in the early history of the motion picture. But they are also fascinating to those who wish to explore how history is written. They represent a painstaking compilation of information which Terry Ramsaye collected to write A Million and One Nights and continued to collect until his death in 1954. His correspondence with Thomas Armat, Billy Bitzer, members of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, and others presents a picture of a man continuously struggling and researching in order to "get the facts straight" and end the myths which were continuously reappearing about early motion picture history and who invented what when. Researchers interested in Terry Ramsaye may also wish to look at Georgetown University's Martin Quigley Collection or copy of A Million and One Nights or Harvard University's collection in the Baker Library which Ramsaye mentions in his correspondence with the Harvard Business Historical Society.


  • 1895-1986

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Most manuscripts collections at the Georgetown University Booth Family Center for Special Collections are open to researchers; however, restrictions may apply to some collections. Collections stored off site require a minimum of three days for retrieval. For use of all manuscripts collections, researchers are advised to contact the Booth Family Center for Special Collections in advance of any visit.


6.75 Linear Feet (5 boxes)

Biographical note

Terry Ramsaye was born in Toganoxie, Kansas, on November 2, 1885. He was educated at the University of Kansas and, in 1905, became a reporter for the Kansas City Star. He joined the Chicago Evening American in 1907 and the Chicago Tribune in 1909. At the Tribune, he first came into contact with the motion picture industry while arranging for publication of the serial stories on which motion picture serials were based. In 1915, he began work as publicity and advertising director for Mutual Film Corporation, and then founded Screen Telegram, a newsreel. He produced and edited short patriotic pieces for the US Government during World War I and, in 1919, started another newsreel, Kinograms. In 1920 he began work on A Million and One Nights, his history of the motion picture. It was published in 1926 by Simon and Schuster and only three hundred twenty-seven copies were originally printed, all autographed by Terry Ramsaye and Thomas Edison. His book was considered the definitive work on the history of the early motion picture industry. While working on the book, he also edited various films, including Grass, African Hunt, and Simba. In 1928 Ramsaye become editor-in-chief of Pathe News and Pathe Audio Review, where he produced features and contributed to the introduction of sound in films. In 1931, Ramsay married Helene Thompson and became editor of the Motion Picture Herals, a post he held until his retirement in 1949. After his retirement, Ramsaey continued to work and to write. He wrote an article for the American People's Encyclopedia on motion pictures in 1953 and worked on Shadow Play - The Pictures at Mid-Century for his contribution to the Library of Congress Series in American Civilization from 1951 - 1954. Terry Ramsaye was an independent, witty writer who probably sums up his own philosophy best in the following words he wrote to Emanie Arling:

"I have not, in fact, joined anything, as I never do...I am, may I egotistically observe, neither Left, Right, nor Center. I have been, man and boy, and at no little expense and travail these considerable years, just me."
Terry Ramsaye papers
Georgetown University Library Booth Family Center for Special Collections, Washington, D.C.
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Part of the Georgetown University Manuscripts Repository