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Murdock Pemberton collection

Call Number: MS 327


This collection consists of original material and photocopies created by and about 20th century art critic and writer Murdock Pemberton. It includes published and unpublished works, correspondence, family history, and photographs, as well as news articles about him, his brother Brock Pemberton, and related people and events. Also included are Sally Pemberton’s research materials for the book Portrait of Murdock Pemberton – The New Yorker’s First Art Critic (2011).


  • Creation: circa 1860s-1976


Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

Contains some fragile materials; handle with care.

Biography of Murdock Pemberton

Murdock Pemberton was born in Emporia, Kansas on April 6, 1888 to Albert and Ella (Murdock) Pemberton. He was the youngest of four children. He had two sisters, Ruth and Irene, and one brother, Brock.

Murdock Pemberton started working for the Emporia Gazette as a printer's devil (a step below an apprentice) when he was 10 years old, eventually working his way up to reporter. He graduated from Emporia High School in 1906 and attended the College of Emporia. He also worked as a reporter for the Kansas City Star and the Philadelphia North American before following his brother Brock to New York and working for the Globe in 1915. Pemberton enlisted in the Navy from 1917-1918 during the United States' involvement with World War I.

Pemberton became the press agent for the Hippodrome Theatre following WWI. In 1919 he inadvertently started the Algonquin Round Table luncheons at the Algonquin Hotel, a literary group of writers, editors, actors, publicists, and others that included Dorothy Parker, Heywood Broun, Harpo Marx, Frank Sullivan, Peggy Wood, Alexander Woollcott, and others. It was here Pemberton met Harold Ross, who in 1925 asked him to write art criticism for his new magazine, the New Yorker. Pemberton wrote for the New Yorker until 1932 when he was fired because he wrote a tepid review of an artist who, unbeknownst to him, was the wife of the magazine's art director.

Pemberton wrote a musical titled Sing High, Sing Low, which ran on Broadway from 1931 to 1932. He also wrote for Esquire magazine as a wine and food critic. He wrote introductions to multiple artists' exhibition catalogs, and he wrote and contributed to multiple books, including Rebels of Art: Manet to Matisse and Modern Art Picture Book (1939).

Pemberton returned to the New Yorker in the 1950s after having a difficult time finding jobs as a writer. In the 1960s he retired from full-time writing.

Murdock Pemberton married Helen Katherine Tower on April 29, 1916. They had two children, Katherine and Murdock Jr., often referred to by his middle name, Tower. Helen died in 1968. That year, Pemberton married his longtime mistress, Frances Mahan, whose stage name was Frances Mann. Frances died a year later in 1969. Murdock Pemberton passed away on August 21, 1982.

Biography of Brock Pemberton

Brock Pemberton was Murdock Pemberton's elder brother, born on December 14, 1885 in Leavenworth, Kansas. He graduated from Emporia High School and attended the College of Emporia for three years before transferring to the University of Kansas, graduating from K.U. in 1908 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. While at K.U. Brock Pemberton was a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. After graduation he worked as a reporter for the Emporia Gazette.

Brock Pemberton took a job as a drama critic for the New York Evening Mail in 1911. He then went to work for the New York Times in 1914 as a drama critic and an assistant to Alexander Woollcott.

Brock produced his first play, Enter Madame, in 1920. Over the next 30 years, he would produce 37 shows. His most well-known play was Harvey, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Mary Chase. It premiered on November 1, 1944 and closed after 1,775 performances on January 15, 1949.

Brock Pemberton and Antoinette Perry were long-time friends and co-workers. They both were founders of the American Theatre Wing. Perry directed many of the plays Brock produced, including Harvey. After Perry's death in 1946, a committee of the American Theatre Wing, headed by Brock, created the Antoinette Perry Award of Excellence in Theatre, bettern known as the Tony, in her honor. Brock was the host of the first awards, and when he gave the first recipient their award, he said "Here is your Tony" (Antoinette's nickname), and the name remained. Brock was given a special Tony Award after his death in 1950 for being the founder of the awards and its original chairman.

Brock Pemberton helped establish USO shows for the military during World War II and organized a canteen in San Francisco in 1944. He was also a member of the Algonquin Round Table.

Brock Pemberton married Margaret McCoy in 1915. She was the costumer for most of his plays and was active in war work during the war. Brock Pemberton died on March 11, 1950 in New York City.

Biography of Sally Pemberton

Sally Pemberton was Senior Executive Vice President - Singapore for the international Bnp Paribas banking entreprise and a marketing and business development consultant in the Chicago, Illinois area, before she began researching and writing a biography of her grandfather, Portrait of Murdock Pemberton - The New Yorker's First Art Critic, published through Picture Book Press in 2011. She was also co-founder of ADventure (Architecture Design Venture), a multi-disciplinary design program for African American inner city high school students in Chicago. She earned her Mba from New York University.


4.5 Linear Feet (6 boxes + 3 oversize boxes, 1 volume)

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

The Murdock Pemberton collection has been arranged into three series: Murdock Pemberton materials, Pemberton family materials, and Sally Pemberton's research on Murdock Pemberton.

The collection contains manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, clippings and printed materials related to Murdock Pemberton, as well as copies of materials about Pemberton and research materials amassed by Sally Pemberton for her book, Portrait of Murdock Pemberton (2011) and other writings on Pemberton. The collection also includes a fair amount of information about the Pemberton family, including family histories and photographs, and information regarding Murdock's brother Brock, the Broadway producer.

Physical Location

MS 327

Physical Location

MS Q67

Physical Location

MS Qa16

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase, Sally Pemberton, April 2014.

Related Materials

Murdock Pemberton papers, Collection 04940, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Murdock Pemberton papers, microfilm reel 3470, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Separated Materials

American Artist. Stamford, Conn.: Watson-Guptill Publications. Located at Spencer Research Library at Ser D153.

Apollo: A Journal of the Arts. London: Apollo Press. Located at Spencer Research Library at Ser D153.

New Yorker. New York, New York: F-R Pub. Corp. Located at Spencer Research Library at Ser D154.

Esquire vol. 9, no. 2 (February 1938). Chicago: Esquire Pub. Co. Located at Spencer Research Library at Ser E49.

Creative Art. vol. 4, nos. 1-5 (January-June 1929). New York, NY: Albert and Charles Boni. Located at Spencer Research Library at Ser D164.

Benson, Emanual Mervin. Jean Marin: The Man and His Work. Washington, D.C.: The American Federation of Arts, 1935. Located at Spencer Research Library at C24026.

Bloodgood, Josephine. At Woodstock: Kuniyoshi. Woodstock, NY: Woodstock Artists Association, 2003. Located at Spencer Research Library at D7614.

Burchfield, Charles. Charles Burchifeld: Ecstatic Light. New York, NY: D.C. Moore Gallery, 2007.

Calder, Alexander. Calder: An Autobiography with Pictures. New York, NY: Pantheon Books, [1966]. Located at Spencer Research Library at D7623.

Ingres, Jean-Auguste-Dominique. Jean Dominique Ingres: Master of Pure Draughtmanship - Twenty-Four Plastes in Rembrandt Photogravure; and a monograph by Arsène Alexandre. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1905. Located at Spencer Research Library at G982.

Lurçat, Jean. Les Années Lumière, 1915-1935. Paris: Galerie Jacques de Vos: Galerie Zlotowski, 2004. Located at Spencer Research Library at C24021.

Lurçat, Jean. Jean Lurçat: Donation Simone Lurçat: Tapisseries, Peintures, Céramiques, Livres Illustrés. Paris: Institut de France, Académie des Beaux-Arts, 2004. Located at Spencer Research Library at C24025.

Marin, John. John Marin: The Weehawken Sequence. New York, NY: Meredith Ward, 2011. Located at Spencer Research Library at D7615.

Pemberton, Murdock. Picture Book. New York, NY: A. A. Knopf, 1930. Located at Spencer Research Library at D7612.

Pemberton, Sally. Portrait of Murdock Pemberton: The New Yorker's First Art Critic. Enfield, NH: Picture Book Press, 2011. Located at Spencer Research Library at D7624.

Slocombe, George. Rebels of Art: Manet to Matisse. New York, NY: R.M. McBride and Company, 1939. Located at Spencer Research Library at C24027.

Weitzenhoffer, Frances. The Havemeyers: Impressionism Comes to America. New York, NY: H.N. Abrams, 1986. Located at Spencer Research Library at D7622.

Guide to the Murdock Pemberton Collection
Murdock Pemberton collection
Finding aid prepared by eear. Finding aid encoded by eear.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Murdock Pemberton Collection, MS 327, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States