Films at the Center for Film and Theater Research

The vault at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, underneath the Wisconsin Historical Society, stores thousands of films.

STEVE APPS — State Journal archives


There are numerous scenes in Hollywood movies that involve a gang breaking into a vault.

If the gang happened to include movie buffs, and the vault was the one under the Wisconsin Historical Society on the UW-Madison campus, they might not ever leave.

The vault in question holds more than 20,000 films and television episodes, including movie classics like “Citizen Kane” and “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and is part of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, a collaboration between the historical society and the UW-Madison Communication Arts Department.

Beyond the film prints in the vault, the center’s holdings include the papers — original manuscripts, correspondence and more — of many film and theater personalities.

In a 1969 letter to Tino Balio, then center director, actor Kirk Douglas, explained why he was donating his collection to the center: “It is the first university, as far as I know, to see the significance of such collections in tracing the historical development of filmmaking as one of the most important modern art forms.”

Starting in 1960 as the Wisconsin Center for Theater Research, the center has grown into one of the world’s leading resources for all things show business.

Film, of course, is now included in the center’s name. It was in the late 1960s that Balio persuaded United Artists to donate prints of some 2,000 films to the center.

And the vault’s holdings continue to grow: This summer, independent producer Ted Hope donated his papers, and several films, to the center.

Contact Doug Moe at 608-252-6446 or His column appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.


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