The Donn Arden Papers (1910s-1990s) document Arden's sixty-plus years in the entertainment industry working in showrooms and nightclubs all over the world including Paris, France, Las Vegas, Nevada, New York, New York, and Los Angeles, California. Donn Arden worked as a choreographer, producer and director known for creating extravagant production shows that combined spectacular scenery and disaster with sequined and feathered showgirls. The collection is comprised of production notes, programs, photographs, posters, sheet music, correspondence, costume design sketches, press clippings, and magazine articles.
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Scope and Contents Note
The Donn Arden Papers (1910s-1990s) document Arden's sixty-plus years in the entertainment industry working in showrooms all over the world, including: Paris, France; Las Vegas, Nevada; New York, New York; and Los Angeles, California. Donn Arden worked as a choreographer, producer, and director known for creating extravagant production shows that combined spectacular scenery and disaster with sequined and feathered showgirls. Comprised of production notes, programs, photographs, posters, sheet music, correspondence, costume design sketches, press clippings, and magazine articles, the collection documents Arden's work in a variety of nightclubs and on large production shows. In addition to documenting Arden's work and life in the entertainment industry, the collection provides insight into the planning and execution of the production show – a genre of entertainment that has largely disappeared over the years, and of which Arden was thought to be the undisputed master. As many of Arden's shows were featured in Las Vegas, the collection also serves to document the fabled golden era of Las Vegas entertainment of the 1950s to 1960s, and provides insight into how perceptions of the Las Vegas showgirl have evolved over the years.
The Donn Arden Papers encompass Arden's work in nightclub shows at the Moulin Rouge, Latin Quarter, Riviera, the Painted Desert Room of the Desert Inn Hotel and Casino, and other nightclubs throughout the United States. The bulk of the collection documents his work on large-scale production shows in Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada including
Much of the correspondence in the collection is personal, and there is little correspondence from the early part of Arden's working life (1930s-1950s). The majority of the correspondence is from former
dancers and dates from the 1970s and 1980s. There are also a small number of fan letters for both
Audiovisual materials in the collection include a small number of rehearsal discs with music from Arden's different shows, and video and audio tapes from
Artifacts in the collection include a small number of trophies honoring Arden for his work in the entertainment world. Sixteen scrapbooks dating from the early 1950s to the 1970s document Arden's career with press clippings, photographs, programs, and other ephemera.
Collection is open for research. Where use copies do not exist, production of use copies is required before access will be granted; this may delay research requests. Advanced notice is required.
Materials in this collection may be protected by copyrights and other rights. See Reproductions and Use on the UNLV Special Collections and Archives website for more information about reproductions and permissions to publish.
These records are organized into seven series:
Series I. Personal, 1910s-1990s;
Series II. Nightclubs, 1950s-1980s;
Series III. Shows, 1940s-1990s;
Series IV. Audiovisual materials, 1968-1993;
Series V. Photographs, 1940s-1980s;
Series VI. Artifacts, 1954-1986;
Series VII. Scrapbooks, 1950-1982.
Biographical / Historical Note
Choreographer, producer, and director Donn Arden was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1915 as Arden Carlyle Peterson. He began dancing at an early age. As a young boy, he took dance lessons from St. Louis theatre director Robert Alton, who would go on to become one of Hollywood's most noted choreographers for shows including
Arden spent much of World War II staging shows for American troops and following the war he stayed in Paris. In 1947, he began his long and successful collaboration at the Lido cabaret with producers Pierre-Louis Guerin and Rene Fraday. Buoyed by his trademark American tempo and spice, the Lido shows were successful, and Arden would be associated with them for the remainder of his life. It was during his work at the Paris Lido that Arden also met the woman who would become his lifelong friend and collaborator, Margaret Kelly. Known dancers over the years as "Miss Bluebell", only girls who fit her exacting dancing and height requirements were admitted to the ranks of the world-famous “Bluebell Girls.”
The 1950s and 1960s, Arden frequently traveled between coasts and continents to check on shows he had running concurrently in Paris, France; New York City, New York; New Jersey; Miami, Florida; Los Angeles, California; and Las Vegas, Nevada. In New York and Miami, his work was featured at the Latin Quarter nightclub and in Los Angeles at the Moulin Rouge. It was during this time that Arden worked closely with producer Frank Sennes both at the Moulin Rouge and the Desert Inn Hotel in Las Vegas.
In the early 1950s, Arden partnered with fellow dancer and choreographer Ron Fletcher and together they created the Arden-Fletcher Dancers who graced a number of Desert Inn, Moulin Rouge, and Latin Quarter productions. After he ended his partnership with Fletcher, Arden directed his distinctive "Donn Arden Dancers" at the Desert Inn who danced behind the headliner of the moment, be it Betty Hutton, Danny Kaye, Jack Benny, or Betty Grable. These early shows differed from the extravagance of later years as they generally featured lines of girls exquisitely costumed and gracefully elegant, but without the special effects that would characterize his later work.
In 1958, in collaboration with Sennes and the Paris Lido, Arden brought his Paris Lido show to the newly opened Stardust Hotel and Casino on the north end of the Las Vegas Strip. The topless showgirls were a sensation and the show went through eleven successful editions until it closed in 1991. Arden's other Las Vegas spectaculars included
In November 1980, Arden was two weeks from opening his newest creation,
Arden died in November 1994. At his death, the lights on the Las Vegas Strip were dimmed.
Donn Arden Papers, 1910s-1990s. MS-00425. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.
Materials were donated in 2001 by Walter Craig; accession number 2001-05.
The collection was processed by Su Kim Chung from 2001 to 2002. In 2018, as part of an archival backlog elimination project, Brooks Whittaker revised the collection description.
Some of the photographs in this acquisition were removed from the collection and placed in:
Donn Arden Photographs, approximately 1920-1989. PH-00328. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.
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