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Lester Cowan and Ann Ronell "Trial of Billie Holiday" collection

 Collection 0005-SCPA

The Lester Cowan and Ann Ronell "Trial of Billie Holiday" collection consists of correspondence, scores, lyric sheets, contracts, film proposals, screenplays, clippings, and photographs related to the proposed film, "The Trial of Billie Holiday," developed in collaboration by Lester Cowan and Ann Ronell.


  • 1957-1988
  • Majority of material found within 1957-1988

Use and Access to Collection

The collection is open for research use.

Duplication and Copyright Information

Materials from this collection must be used in the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library's Irving and Margery Morgan Lowens Special Collections Room, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday. Contact the curator for an appointment:


0.50 Linear Feet

Scope and Contents

This collection covers the period of 1957 to 1988. The bulk of the materials date from 1957 to 1959. The collection contains correspondence, song manuscripts, lyric manuscripts, photographs, and other materials pertaining to the proposed film, The Trial of Billie Holiday.

Historical Note

Lester Cowan (1907-1990), originally from Mansfield, Ohio, was an independent producer of motion pictures in the 1930s and 40s. He started his career by leaving his studies at Stanford University and migrating to Hollywood in the late 1920s. In 1928, he was hired by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, where he wrote a book on the advent of talkies and helped start the annual Academy Awards. In 1929, he started a lecture series on film studies at the University of Southern California. He also organized the film industry’s research council, which was responsible for developing technical standards and audience research. Films he produced include You Can’t Cheat On Me (1939), My Little Chickadee (1940), Ladies in Retirement (1941), Commandos Strike At Dawn (1942), Tomorrow the World (1944) and The Story of G.I. Joe (1945). He collaborated on the proposal for The Trial of Billie Holiday with his wife, Ann Ronell.

Ann Rosenblatt Ronell (1908-1993), a composer of both classical works and music for motion pictures, was born in Omaha, Nebraska. During her studies at Radcliffe College, she met George Gershwin, who subsequently gave her a job as a rehearsal pianist for Broadway shows. She also took up teaching, vocal coaching, and songwriting. Ronell became one of the few composers of her day adept at writing both lyrics and music. After writing a few successful songs in the 1930s (“Baby’s Birthday Party” and “Willow Weep for Me”), she started composing music for films. Her collaboration with composer Frank Churchill resulted in the first Disney hit song, “Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?” (from The Three Little Pigs, 1933). Her work as music director for The Story of G.I. Joe (1945) won her two Oscar nominations. She also composed a Broadway musical, Count Me In (1942), as well as writing opera lyrics and music for ballet. The Cowan and Ronell “Trial of Billy Holiday” Collection suggests that she created the script for this film, and provides evidence of her participation in the planning of it.


This collection is organized into six series.

  1. Correspondence
  2. Contracts and Contract Related Materials
  3. Manuscripts
  4. Film Proposal
  5. Screenplays, Published Items, and Clippings
  6. Photographs

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

Purchase made by Bruce Wilson (former head, Performing Arts Library) from the Charles Apfelbaum Company in 1999.


Fowler, Glenn. "Lester Cowan, 83, Film Producer of Works Lighthearted to Weighty" (obituary), The New York Times, October 23, 1990. Section B, page 9, column 1.
Grattan, Virginia L. American Women Songwriters, A Biographical Dictionary. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1993.
Harrison, Nigel. Songwriters: A Biographical Dictionary with Discographies. Jefferson: McFarland. 1998.
Holden, Stephen. "The Women Who Wrote Songs that Made Grown Men Sigh," in The New York Times. August 15, 1999. Section 13, page 4, Column 1.
The Lester Cowan and Ann Ronell "Trial of Billie Holiday" collection
Processed by Stephanie Schmitz (2004) and A.J. Reitter (2013)
November 2004 and October 2013
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Library Details

Part of the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library

University of Maryland Libraries
8270 Alumni Drive
College Park MD 20742 United States