Contents and Arrangement Expanded View

Collection Overview

Gesner, Clark
Clark Gesner Papers
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
1940-2005 (mostly 1965-1990)
46 boxes and 18.3 linear feet
Storage Note:
  • ReCAP (scarcpxm): Box 1-46


Clark Gesner (1938-2002) was an American composer, lyricist, and writer most famous for his theatrical production You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown. His papers document his entire career and include scripts and scores, as well as production notes, correspondence, publicity and reviews, and photographs.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

Gesner's papers document his entire career and include scripts and scores, as well as production notes, correspondence, publicity and reviews, and photographs. The papers include materials related to his plays, music, television, and writings, including materials from his collegiate years, as well as a small number of business papers. Notably productions include You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall, and Animal Fair.

Collection Creator Biography:


Most renowned for having written the book, music and lyrics for You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Clark Gesner, Princeton Class of 1960, was born March 27, 1938, in Augusta, Maine, the son of H. Mortimer Gesner, Jr., a Unitarian minister, and Eleanor Clark Gesner. Gesner attended high school in Plainfield, New Jersey where he wrote and performed in high school theater productions. Like his grandfather, Herbert M. Gesner, Class of 1890, Gesner joined Triangle Club at Princeton, serving as cast member, writer, musical director and vice-president. He also produced a one-act musical Mother Loves Me in 1958. He majored in English and wrote his senior thesis on "The Evolution of the American Musical Theater, 1925-1960."

Gesner was an important figure in early children's television, writing for Captain Kangaroo, Mister Mayor, The Children's Television Workshop, and its programs, Sesame Street and The Electric Company.

After college, Gesner worked briefly for the Captain Kangaroo television show beginning in 1961, holding cue cards and doing some writing while also composing music and lyrics for a Yale Drama School production. Drafted into the Army in 1961, Gesner spent his two-year military career at Governor's Island and in Manhattan selling theater tickets at the USO in Times Square, while continuing to write for Captain Kangaroo and producing his first recording, A Musical Visit to Captain Kangaroo's Treasure House, in 1962. After his discharge in 1963, Gesner continued to work for Captain Kangaroo, the Mister Mayor show, and wrote satirical pieces for the television show That Was the Week That Was, and recorded Societus Manificat, a satire on Lyndon Johnson's Great Society from Julius Monk's 1965 review "Pick a Number XV."

During the early 1960s, Gesner had begun writing songs based on Charles Schulz's Charlie Brown comic strip characters but was unable to get permission from United Features to use the characters in his songs. Eventually Gesner sent Schulz a tape of some of the songs and Gesner soon had permission to record them which he did in 1966 with Orson Bean as Charlie Brown and Gesner as Linus. At the time, Gesner had no plans for a musical based on this pre-production "concept album." However, encouraged by Arthur Whitelaw, Gesner quickly wrote the book for You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, which opened Off-Broadway on March 7, 1967 and ran nearly 1600 performances at Theater 80 in the West Village. An attempt to move the play to Broadway in 1971 closed within a month of opening night. A 1973 television show, road companies, productions in a number of foreign languages, and a 1999 revival fared better. The play remains a staple of local and community theater and Gesner commented that it was his "MacArthur Grant," providing a steady income for the rest of his life. Gesner was to write other plays, including Animal Fair, The Ransom of Red Chief, the musical review The Jello is Always Red (1998), The Adventures of Betty Boop, and The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall. None ever achieved the success of Charlie Brown, and the latter closed on Broadway after a single performance in 1979 (it was also staged at McCarter Theater in 1977). Gesner also acted in various small theater productions in New York City (for instance B.T. McNicholls's Musicals in Concert) and in summer stock at the Weston Playhouse in Vermont for many years. Gesner authored Stuff, etc.: A Collection (1970) and wrote special material for television, Broadway and night-club reviews.

Gesner was a bachelor all his life. He joined the Advance Science Writing Program at Columbia University during the 1967-1968 academic year. He also served on the Triangle board and on the Advisory Council of Princeton's English Department. Gesner died on July 23, 2002, of a coronary in New York City.

Collection History


Gift of Page Gesner on December 15, 2006 , with additional gifts from Melissa McGann of the Charles Schulz Museum on November 8, 2006 and the gift of the Plainfield High School musical recording from Jeannette Boucher on May 28, 2009 . Additional gifts of manuscripts, programs, clippings, and recordings were given by Andrea Fleck Clardy on October 1, 2009 and October 16, 2009 . The recording of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown arranged by "Bugs" Bower was purchased by the department on October 6, 2009 .


Duplicate materials, largely sheet music and scripts, and a collection of newspaper advertisements unrelated to Gesner's career were separated from this collection (approximately 6 linear feet).


Processing of this collection was supported by the Princeton University Class of 1960.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Matt Callahan and Ingmar Saberi in 2009. Finding aid written by Matt Callahan in August 2009.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to RBSC Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

Clark Gesner Papers; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
  • ReCAP (scarcpxm): Box 1-46

Find More

Related Materials

See also the "Literary Landmarks of Princeton" Exhibition Collection (C0939) Box 4 and the Princetoniana Committee Oral History Project Records (AC259) at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library.


Clark Gesner's Undergraduate Alumni File (Class of 1960) in the Princeton University Archives was consulted during preparation of biographical note.

Subject Terms:
Composition (Music)
Music trade.
Musical theater.
Theater -- Production and direction.
Genre Terms:
Plays (document genre)
Scripts (documents)
Songs (document genre)