Scope and Contents
Conditions Governing Access
Conditions Governing Use
Language of Material:
USC Libraries Special Collections
Title: Julius Berstl papers
Identifier/Call Number: 0031
12.43 Linear Feet
Date (inclusive): 1858-2010
Date (bulk): bulk
Abstract: Literary archive of the German emigre author and playwright Julius Berstl (1883-1975). The collection includes typescripts,
manuscripts, personal and professional correspondence, personal and biographical documents, theater memorabilia, and a small
number of literary journals, both in English and in German. Julius Berstl was born on August 6, 1883 in Bernburg, Germany
to a theatrical family. Upon graduation from university, he became the dramaturg, or literary advisor, of the renowned Barnowsky
Theaters in Berlin from 1909-1924. From 1924-1936, Berstl worked as dramaturg for the Berlin Gustav Kiepenheuer Theaters.
During this period, Berstl wrote two of his most well-known plays: "Chu the Sinner" and "Dover-Calais." But with the rise
of Hitler and the increasing restrictions on the creative arts, Berstl emigrated in 1936 to England. In 1943 he became a
scriptwriter for the London BBC, for which he wrote over 60 radio dramas. He retired from his work at the BBC in 1951 and
moved to New York City, where he began to write novels in earnest. His wife told him that after she died he should move to
Santa Barbara; after she passed away in 1964, he kept with her wishes and moved. He lived in Santa Barbara until he passed
away in 1975.
Julius Berstl was born on 1883 August 6 in Bernburg, Germany to a theatrical family. On 1883 September 11, he was baptized
in the Lutheran church (Schlosskirche St. Aegidien, Bernburg). Julius and his father only obtained German citizenship in 1898,
even though the family had lived there since Julius' birth. His father, Norbert Berstl (Austrian), and his mother, Franziska
Schreiner, were both actors and later directors in the 1870s-1890s. His mother had also come from a theatrical family, and
her own mother and father had been actors and directors in German theater during the 1850s and 1860s.
In 1890, he began school in Berlin. From 1892-1902, he attended the Kaiser Wilhelm II Realschule in Gottingen and the Oberrealschule
in Kassel. It was there that he first began to write poetry, short stories, and plays, often engaging in student-run productions.
It was during this period that he first began to seriously explore the world of theater and writing. He studied German and
English literature at the Georg August-Universitat in Gottingen for two semesters, and then at the Universitat Leipzig from
April 1903 until March 1908. His first published novel, "Der Phantast" debuted in 1905, and he continuously wrote plays and
poetry throughout his academic career. Upon graduation, he became the dramaturg, or literary advisor, of the renowned Barnowsky
Theaters in Berlin from 1909-1924. Julius' father passed away on 1913 November 10 at the age of 55. He was married on 1914
April 2 to Hedwig Dorothea Lisbeth (Elizabeth) Koch, a theater actress (born on 1890 February 10), and on 1914 November 11
their only child, Norbert Berstl, was born.
In the midst of World War I, Berstl took leave from his job in the theater from 1916-1918 to fight in the German army, but
returned when the war was over. His brother Willi also fought in World War I, and was a prisoner of war in Great Britain
until around 1919. In 1921/1922, Berstl published what would become one of his more famous plays, "Der lasterhafte Herr Tschu"
("Chu the Sinner"), which was also performed by the Barnowsky theater company. From 1924-1936, Berstl worked as dramaturg
for the Berlin Gustav Kiepenheuer Theaters. During this period, Berstl wrote one of his most well-known plays: "Dover-Calais."
This was an especially productive period in Berstl's career, with "Dover-Calais" finding popularity internationally; it was
even made into a film. In 1930, Berstl published a study of the theater world that he knew well, entitled "25 Jahre Berliner
Theater und Victor Barnowsky."
But with the rise of Hitler and the increasing restrictions on the creative arts, Berstl's musical comedy "Pech muss man haben"
was banned by the Nazis in 1933 after they came to power. In that same year, Berstl himself was banned from working as a writer
(and as a translator of English plays) due to his half Jewish heritage. In 1935, the Reichsschrifttumskammer (the Reich's
Board of Professional Writers) banned him from employment entirely. Along with his wife and son, he emigrated to London, where
he was supported by the Society of Friends (Quakers) when he didn't have a work permit. As a German citizen, he was placed
in an internment camp for three months in 1940 as World War II was just beginning. His son, Norbert, was placed in a refugee
camp in Canada (near Toronto) for a little over two years. For a period of time directly following his emigration, Julius
worked on producing an English version of "Dover-Calais," working with popular English children's author Eleanor Farjeon.
In 1943 he became a scriptwriter for the London BBC, for which he wrote over 60 radio dramas, mostly with Biblical themes
that reappear later in his novels. While in England, Berstl also worked as a German/English translator, writing German versions
of plays by authors like Noel Coward, Jean Copard, St. John Ervine, Aimee Stuart, and Archibald Norman Menzies. He retired
from his work at the BBC in 1951 and moved to New York City, where he began to write novels in earnest. During this period,
he wrote novels based upon the life of St. Paul, an imaginary memoir of Edmund Kean, and an autobiographical tale of his
life in the theater. He received U.S. citizenship in 1960. According to Julius Berstl, his wife told him that after she died
he should move to Santa Barbara; after she passed away in 1964, he kept with her wishes and moved. He lived in Santa Barbara,
continuously sending in new manuscripts to publishers and coming up with business ideas, until he too passed away on 1975
December 8 at the age of 92. His son, Norbert, also moved to Santa Barbara, and eventually moved into his father's apartment
after he had died. Norbert himself passed away on 2010 January 24, exactly 95 years to the day after he had been baptized
as a baby in Berlin.
Scope and Contents
The Julius Berstl papers encompass a variety of documents that represent many of the important aspects of Julius Berstl's
life in Germany, Britain, and America. The Writing series features primarily typescripts and manuscripts for Berstl's novels
and plays, including handwritten edits and notes. Within this series there are also short form of writing by Berstl, including
notes on different writing projects, radio scripts, film scenarios, articles, and poems. Lastly, there are also some of Berstl's
German translations of plays as well as reviews and publicity for Berstl's novels and plays.
The Correspondence series covers both Julius Berstl's personal and professional life. Personal Correspondence covers letters
to and from Julius Berstl that were not specifically related to the business side of writing or theater. His correspondence
ranges from fellow writers, to actors and people from the theater, to close friends. Professional Correspondence includes
letters to and from Julius Berstl that specifically relate to the business side of writing or theater. His correspondence
ranges from publishers, to theaters, to film production companies, and more.
The Personal and Biographical Documents series features documents written about Berstl's life, sometimes in honor of his birthday.
There are also a number of documents that Berstl had collected from his own past and from that of his family, including school
records and information regarding the theater careers of his parents.
The Theater Memorabilia and Reviews series includes play advertisement posters, clipping and reviews of plays by Berstl, programs
from his productions, correspondence on theater related topics, and much more.
Lastly, the Literary Journals series features the few literary journals that Berstl had saved over the years, often because
he or a friend of his was mentioned.
Conditions Governing Access
COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE. Advance notice required for access.
Conditions Governing Use
All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Manuscripts Librarian.
Permission for publication is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended
to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.
[Box/folder# or item name], Julius Berstl papers, Collection no. 0031, Special Collections, USC Libraries, University of Southern
Donated by Mr. Berstl in 1975.
Subjects and Indexing Terms
Theater -- Germany -- 20th century -- Archival resources
German literature -- Archival resources
Theater -- Germany -- 19th century -- Archival resources
Authors, German -- 20th century -- Archival resources
Berstl, Julius -- Archives
Wicclair, Walter -- Correspondence
Busoni, Ferruccio -- Correspondence
Mierendorff, Marta -- Correspondence
Goudge, Elizabeth -- Correspondence
Johst, Hanns -- Correspondence
Tillich, Paul -- Correspondence
Farjeon, Eleanor -- Correspondence
Niese, Hansi -- Correspondence
British Broadcasting Corporation -- Correspondence
Felix Bloch Erben (Firm) -- Correspondence
Walter, Fried -- Correspondence
Georg Marton Verlag (Firm) -- Correspondence
Wied, Gustav -- Correspondence
Von Wolowski, Kurt -- Correspondence
Ewers, Hanns Heinz -- Correspondence