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Gladys Fornell Papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Fornell

Scope and Content of the Collection

Letters, short, stories, poetry, stage plays and novels of Gladys Fornell, together with genealogical materials relating to the Fornell family.

Correspondence pertains mostly to Fornell’s attempts to publish her work during the 1940s and 1950s, primarily her novel “Montel.” Letters from prominent publishers like Alfred A. Knopf, Jr., along with literary scholar Mark Schorer, detail initial interest in the piece, as well as the difficulties and many revisions of the ultimately unpublished novel. There are also warm letters between Fornell and her former boss, Datus C. Smith, Jr., who remained a friend throughout her life. Writings include short stories, a complete manuscript of “Montel,” scripts for “Puss in Boots” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” and a complete draft of the unfinished musical “Mister Splitfoot.” Other material includes a copy of her brother’s book “The Unhappy Medium,” the published text and material for the history of ancestor Nils Fornell, and photographs, including pictures taken at Yaddo.


  • Creation: 1938-1982



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Gladys Fornell Papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Gladys Fornell Papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of Gladys Fornell

Wisconsin-born editor and writer.

Gladys Alrose Fornell (1904-1982) was born in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota. She spent much of her life in New York City, and was employed for several years as an editor for the Princeton University Press. She attended the Colorado Writers’ Conference in 1948, and twice received scholarships to study at the artists’ community of Yaddo in Saratoga Springs. Although she eventually left her job at Princeton, she continued freelance editing to support her writing. With her sisters Irma and Cleora, she also compiled a family history about their Swedish ancestor entitled “Nils Fornell Wisconsin Pioneer.” In 1978, she and her sisters moved to Quincy, Illinois, where she was involved in local theater and died in 1982.

Despite many efforts in the 1940s and 1950s, Fornell was unsuccessful in publishing her fiction stories. Many publishers, however, recognized her talent, particularly in the manuscript of her completed novel “Montel,” and encouraged her to keep writing. Correspondence indicates that "Montel" was one of the pieces Fornell worked on at Yaddo. Fornell had greater success later as a musical playwright, collaborating with composer Richard d’Honau. Among a variety of pieces for children and young adults, her adaptation of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” was performed Off-Broadway in 1958, and “Puss in Boots” won the Aline Bernstein Award and had several performances in New York City in 1960. In 1962, under the name of “Red Boots,” it was staged at the summer theater Cape Playhouse in Cape Cod, directed by Eleanor Gould of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Correspondence indicates that Fornell continued working on projects for adult audiences, including a few unfinished novels. In the mid-1960s, Fornell also began writing the musical “Mister Splitfoot,” which she was still working on at the time of her death. Based on a historical biography written by her brother Earl Fornell, it is about the life of 19th-century celebrity clairvoyant Margaret Fox.


0.8 Linear Feet (2 boxes)


Correspondence, writings, and photographs from writer and editor Gladys Fornell. Includes drafts of short stories, poetry, stage plays, and her unpublished novel “Montel.” Also includes genealogical material about the Fornell family and the immigration of ancestor Nils Fornell from Sweden to Wisconsin in 1868.


Papers are organized in the following series

Series 1: Correspondence, 1938-1982
Box 1
Series 2: Personal, 1945-1975
Box 1
Series 3: Writings, 1938-1982
Boxes 1-2
Series 4: Photographs, approximately 1948-1980
Box 2

Collection Stack Location

1 19 7


Gift, Cleora Fornell and Irma Fornell, 1986.

Processed by

Emma Reynolds, 2010.

Inventory of the Gladys Fornell Papers, 1938-1982
Emma Reynolds
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States