Skip to main content

Charles M. Nolte Papers

Identifier: Tretter-182

Scope and Content

The collection covers Charles Nolte’s personal life and career as a young writer and actor in the 1940s and 1950s on Broadway and in Hollywood and Europe, through his more than 40 years as a writer, actor, and director in the Twin Cities and as a professor in the Theatre Department at the University of Minnesota. It is also a rich illustration of Nolte’s life as a gay man in mid-to-late 20th century America.

Inclusive dates for the collection are 1907-2010: bulk dates are 1918-2008.

Materials in the collection include personal and professional correspondence, published and unpublished manuscripts, rehearsal scripts, diaries, day- and travel-planners, photographs, videotapes, 8- and 16-mm film, audiotapes, production-related materials including playbills and reviews, news clippings, Theatre magazines, scrapbooks, posters, and ephemera. Nolte also amassed vinyl record, CD, videotape, DVD and book collections. Inventories of these materials are available from the Tretter Collection curator, but are not included in the finding aid. All media with subject matter pertaining to Nolte's acting or directing, as well as personal video footage, has been integrated into appropriate series and subseries in the collection. Manuscripts and book chapters authored by Nolte were similarly removed from the book collection and placed in the Manuscript series.

Nolte’s family, including his father Julius and mother Mildred, are heavily represented in the Biographical and Correspondence series. Julius and Mildred Nolte wrote extensively to each other during their courtship, as well as to their children during their college years and into adulthood. Charles Nolte kept the inter-family correspondence, which includes letters between the siblings over the course of eight decades. The Biographical series also includes some of Julius Nolte’s notebooks and writings from Yale (which he attended as an undergraduate) and clippings and mementos from Julius’s career at the University of Minnesota. There are also numerous photos and home movies of the Noltes at their home on Lake Minnetonka in Wayzata, Minnesota.

The Biographical and Personal series is divided into three subseries: subseries 1, Personal, consists of materials about Charles Nolte -- his schooling, military service, career and the Nolte family. This subseries also includes juvenalia in the form of journals and adult writings of Nolte's life partner, Terence Kilburn. There is an important collection of Nolte’s early writings to be found in the “Carbolic Oaks” newsletters and bulletins, where Nolte’s vivid use of language, classical and literary references and insight into interpersonal dynamics of family members is on display. Subseries 2 consists of audio and visual material containing family and career- related media, including videotapes, films and film transfers and audiotapes of oral interviews with Nolte. Subseries 3 contains photographs of Nolte in personal and professional capacities, Nolte’s close friends and Theatre associates, and Nolte family albums.

The Correspondence series contains incoming and outgoing Nolte correspondence with a wide range of friends and colleagues from over the course of seven decades. Of particular interest to researchers are outgoing letters written to several male friends and lovers during the 1950s and early 1960s when Nolte was struggling to establish himself first on Broadway and then in Hollywood. During this period he was also traveling extensively in Europe, acting on the stage and attending Theatre and opera performances. The letters express his thoughts on various performers, the meaning and significance of Theatre and his sexuality and relationships. There are a number lengthy sequences that contain both incoming and outgoing correspondence, including those between Nolte and Peter Bull, Firth Banbury, Daniel Blum, John Crawford, Marion Foster, Terence Kilburn, James Malcom, and Win Rocamora. Letters are typed and handwritten. A small amount of correspondence is in German.

Series 3, Journals and Day Planners, contains Nolte’s personal journals and desk calendars. The journals cover a period extending from his early years looking for Theatre work and achieving successes on Broadway through his European sojourns and return to academic life in the 1960s, and successes as a director, teacher and mentor in the 1970s through the 1990s. Nolte used excerpts from the journals to write the manuscript for “The Caine Years”, an unpublished memoir of his experiences both as a fledgling actor and active participant in the New York and Hollywood underground gay culture in the 1950s. In addition to the “Caine” manuscript (see entry in Series 5, Manuscripts), researchers will find reworked material from the journals in the Manuscript series under the title “The Caine Rehearsals; a Docudrama” written in 1999 as a documentary film treatment.

Series 4, Manuscripts, contains two subseries, one for original manuscripts by Nolte, and the second for manuscripts by other writers, including close friends Simmons Jones, Marion Foster Fraser, John Crawford and Timothy Mason, and unpublished works by Mildred and Julius Nolte. Nolte’s personal materials includes original plays, adaptations and scholarly papers prepared for courses he enrolled in while earning his PhD at the University of Minnesota. Course notebooks with extensive class notes are also contained in the first subseries.

Series 5, Productions, is an alphabetical listing of productions Nolte was involved in during his career, including television, film, and Theatre productions. The bulk of the series features Theatre productions Nolte directed between 1965 and 2000 at Theatre in the Round, Showboat Theatre, University Theatre and Chimera Theatre (Minneapolis), and at Meadowbrook Theatre in Rochester, Michigan. Materials in the series include news clippings, reviews, programs and playbills, Theatre brochures and photographs.

Series 6, Public Talks and Course Lectures, consists of two subseries. Subseries 1 includes texts of public lectures that Nolte gave to the general public on Theatre and dramatic arts as well as memorial tributes to colleagues and family members. Subseries 2 consists of personal notes, clippings, typescripts, and copies of articles from reference texts Nolte used in lectures for undergraduate and graduate Theatre courses he taught at the University of Minnesota. Subseries 2 concludes with five videotapes of Nolte delivering lectures on American Theatre, commercially produced at the University of Minnesota in 1974.

Series 7, Collections of Theatre Memorabilia, primarily consists of Theatre material given to Charles Nolte by Mrs. Folwell Coan, as well as Theatre posters accumulated by Nolte himself. Subseries 1 are runs of Theatre Artsand Stagemagazines from the mid-1930s to early 1940s. Subseries 2 are American Theatre programs from mid-1930s to the mid 1970s. Programs from the 1930s to 1956 are primarily for New York productions, with a few representing Minneapolis and Chicago productions. From 1957 forward, most of the programs are from the London stage. Subseries 4 is miscellaneous oversized clippings of Theatre reviews, articles and programs. Subseries 3-a catalog of Nolte’s vinyl record collection and CD collection and Subseries 5, Theatre Posters, were complied by Nolte in the mid 1990s. The catalog inventories Nolte’s extensive and eclectic record and CD collection and offers a bird’s eye view of Nolte’s music tastes and interests. The poster collection is small, reflecting mostly Nolte’s collaborations with Dominick Argento on several operas Nolte wrote librettos for, and Minneapolis Children’s Theatre, where Nolte served on the Board of Directors.

Series 8, Miscellaneous, consists of newspaper articles on world events of interest to Nolte, including WWII battles, the Kennedy assassination and the September 2001 World Trade Center bombings, news articles and clippings, small works of original art by family and Theatre acquaintances, and panels and texts from a commemorative exhibit on Nolte’s career created at the time of Nolte’s death in 2010.


  • 1907-2010

Language of Materials

Collection material in English

Restrictions on Access

Items in this collection do not circulate and may be used in-house only. Materials will be retrieved from and returned to storage areas by staff members.

Restrictions on Use

Access to a small amount of material in Series 3, Journals and Day Planners is restricted to the public until 2020. Please contact the curator regarding these materials, as well as copyright status of all materials in the collection. Researchers may quote from the collection under fair use provisions of the copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code).

Biographical Sketch

Charles Miller Nolte was born on November 3, 1923 in Duluth, Minnesota. Nolte was the youngest of four siblings born to Julius Nolte and Mildred Miller. Mildred Miller was a creative amateur musician, and Julius Nolte was an acclaimed adult educator and Director of the Center for Continuing Education (1937-1943) and Director and Dean of the General Extension Division (1943-1963) at the University of Minnesota. Charles Nolte graduated from Wayzata High School in 1941 and performed summer stock at what later became Old Log Theatre. He enrolled at the University of Minnesota for two years, then enlisted in the United States Navy, serving as a pilot from 1943 until 1945. After leaving the Navy, Nolte enrolled at Yale University, graduating in 1947.

Nolte made his Broadway debut in a 1947 production of Antony and Cleopatrastarring Katharine Cornell. Later roles included the title role in the 1951 Broadway production of Billy Budd, which garnered him critical attention and acclaim, followed by a co-starring role opposite Henry Fonda in the original 1954 production of The Caine Muntiny Court Martial.

Moving to Europe after the close of Caine Mutiny, Nolte took acting jobs across the continent. He was reunited with Katharine Cornell in Rome in Under Ten Flags(1957). In Paris he was in Medeastarring Judith Anderson, Christopher Plummer and Mildred Natwick (1955-1956.) On the London stage he appeared in his own work, The Summer People(1961), based loosely on the Nolte family.

Nolte also appeared in a number of films and television shows between 1950 and 1961, including War Paint(1953), The Steel Cage(1954), Ten Seconds to Hell(1959) and the television series Private Secretary(1953-1956), 13 Demon Street(1959), and Tales of the Vikings(1960).

His greatest success as a playwright was the off-Broadway production, Do Not Pass Go, which open in April, 1965, where his performance and the play were reviewed favorably in the New York Times. The play was not a box office success and closed after two weeks.

In 1962, at age 39, Nolte returned to Minnesota and enrolled in the graduate program in Theatre at the University of Minnesota. He received his MA in 1963 and PhD in 1967, after which he was hired as an assistant professor in the Theatre Department. He wrote ten plays that were produced by Theatre companies in the United States and Europe, including A Night at the Black Pigand A Summer Remembered. He was also a sought-after director, with over 100 productions to his credit at local and regional Theatres. He collaborated with composer Dominick Argento as the librettist for The Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe(1975-1976) and The Dream of Valentino(1993).

At the University, Nolte was a popular instructor and sought-after mentor. The University of Minnesota honored him in 1997 by naming a theatre space within the Rarig Center the Charles Nolte Experimental Theatre. He is also credited with inspiring the founding of the Minnesota Playwrite's Lab.

The various phases of Nolte's professional life are connected and documented by his evolving personal experiences as a gay man living in an international, cosmopolitan gay subculture and working in mainstream commercial Theatre. Though Nolte was involved with a number of men during his lifetime, he and Terence Kilburn, a British actor and artistic director, identified themselves as life partners from the early 1960s and remained together for the remainder of their lives.

Charles Nolte died in Minneapolis on January 14, 2010.


40 boxes (39.5 cubic feet)


Materials reflecting the personal and professional life of Charles Miller Nolte, Theatre professor at the University of Minnesota, actor, director and playwright.


The collection is arranged in eight series:

  1. Biographical and Personal
  2. Correspondence
  3. Journals and Day Planners
  4. Manuscripts
  5. Productions
  6. Public Talks and Course Lectures
  7. Collections of Theatre Memorabilia
  8. Miscellaneous

Source of acquisition

The collection was a gift of Charles Nolte, donated to the Tretter Collection in March 2009. A second accession from the estate was received in November, 2010.

Other Related Materials

The University of Minnesota Archives holds a collection of professional papers of Charles Nolte's father, Julius Nolte.

The Performing Arts Archive holds the Demond Heeley Papers and the Tanya Moiseiwitsch Collection.

Processing Information

The collection was originally processed by Eric Colleary in 2009-2010. Additional processing completed by Susan Hoffman in August, 2012.

Charles M. Nolte Papers
Eric Colleary
Original finding aid created in 2010
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Jean Nickolaus Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies Collecting Area