COLLECTION FINDING AID



ROBERT ORBEN PAPERS, 1947-2005

Comedy Writer; Speechwriter;
Special Assistant to the President and Director, White House Speechwriting Staff



CONTENTS

Summary Description | Biographical Information | Introduction | Series Descriptions | Container List


SUMMARY DESCRIPTION

This collection contains materials relating to Robert Orben’s comedy writing career encompassing his work as a humor consultant and speechwriter for television personalities, corporate clients, and politicians. Materials compiled during his tenure as speechwriter for President Ford are also included.

QUANTITY
39 linear feet (ca. 69,000 pages)

DONOR
Robert Orben (2005-NLF-053, 2006-NLF-017)

ACCESS
Open. Some items are temporarily restricted under terms of the donor's deed of gift, a copy of which is available on request, or under National Archives and Records Administration general restrictions (36 CFR 1256).

COPYRIGHT
Robert Orben donated to the United States of America his copyrights in all of his unpublished writings in National Archives collections. The copyrights to materials written by other individuals or organizations are presumed to remain with them. Works prepared by U.S. Government employees as part of their official duties are in the public domain.

Prepared by Hannah Brookhart, Jeremy Schmidt, Diana Bachman, September 2014
[s:\bin\findaid\Orben, Robert - Papers.doc]


BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION


Robert Orben


March 4, 1927 - Born in New York, New York

1943 - Graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School

1946 - Published The Encyclopedia of Patter

1950-51 - Writer, Fun with Felix

1958-89 - Editor, “Orben’s Current Comedy”

1962-63 - Writer, The Jack Paar Program

1964-67 - Writer, The Red Skelton Hour

1974 - Consultant to Vice President Gerald R. Ford

1974-75 - Speechwriter and Associate Editor for President Gerald R. Ford

1/1976-1/1977 - Director, White House Speechwriting Staff

3/1976 – 1/1977 - Special Assistant to the President under Counsellor Robert T. Hartmann

2000 Published Speaker’s Handbook of Humor


INTRODUCTION

Robert Orben began his comedy career as a magician and played a prominent role in the magic community through the 1950s. In 1946, he produced his first magic book, The Encyclopedia of Patter. Later he wrote for Magic is Fun and Genii magazine and for the magic TV show Fun with Felix. Following this early success, Orben transitioned away from magic and applied his humor to other fields.

As his popularity increased, Orben’s comedy writing services attracted corporate and political clients. As a writer for the Republican Congressional Committee and other GOP clients, he was hired as a consultant for Vice President Gerald Ford and served as a speechwriter and advisor during Ford’s presidency, eventually becoming Special Assistant to the President. In 1976, he succeeded Paul Theis as the head White House speechwriter under Counsellor Robert Hartmann. Even after his presidency, President Ford continued to employ Orben’s humor, seeking his counsel for commencement speeches, Republican National Conventions, and similar public addresses through the 1990s.

In the corporate world, Orben wrote for individual executives as well as large corporations. He worked extensively with IBM’s multiple divisions and managers through the 1980s. His experience with speechwriting and delivery also appealed to professional and non-profit organizations. He traveled throughout the United States giving talks on the uses of humor in business and communications. In particular, his talk, “The Business of Humor, the Humor of Business,” was well known and frequently requested.

In addition to writing for others, Orben contributed his own jokes and one-liners to numerous newspaper and magazine columns. He has written over 40 books on humor, some of which are included in this collection’s “Publications” series. He also edited his own comedy newsletter, “Orben’s Current Comedy,” published through his Delaware company, The Comedy Inc.

Scope and Content of the Robert Orben Papers: This collection primarily covers Orben’s later work in the fields of entertainment, business, and politics, although there are some early publications and clippings documenting his contributions to the magic community during the 1940s and 50s. Materials related to his speechwriting are generally confined to the 1960s through the early 1990s.

Scope and Content
The materials Orben compiled from the Ford administration may in some cases parallel the materials in the Theis and Orben Files or in the White House Central Files Subject File: SP (Speeches), but this collection is not likely to be helpful as a comprehensive resource for speeches and statements delivered by President Ford. Instead, the “White House Speeches” and “White House Subject File” contain materials concerning the use of humor in political situations and as a tool to manage the President’s image. Humor as a communication device in the political and corporate realm is also the topic of most materials in the “Interviews and Public Appearances” series.

Related Materials (September 2014)
Related materials include the Paul Theis and Robert Orben Files, the Paul Theis Papers, the Robert T. Hartman Files, Robert Hartman Papers, and the Ron Nessen Files. Drafts and background material for President Ford’s speeches can be found in the White House Central Files Subject File: SP (Speeches).


SERIES DESCRIPTIONS

Television File, 1961‑70 (1993).  (Boxes A1‑A8 and L1-L11, 8.3 linear feet)
This series contains correspondence, newspaper clippings, monologues, scripts, and joke cards compiled during Robert Orben’s career as a comedy writer prior to his work on President Ford’s White House Editorial Staff. Included are materials Orben wrote for comedians and television personalities such as Red Buttons, Dick Gregory, Jack Paar, and Red Skelton. The subseries pertaining to Jack Paar consists primarily of monologues written for Paar as host of The Jack Paar Program. Materials relating to Red Skelton include writing for the Red Skelton Hour as well as his numerous appearances on other talk shows. Orben’s edited copies of Dick Gregory’s book, From the Back of the Bus, are also included along with a published copy.

Arranged alphabetically, chronologically thereunder. Index cards are filed in boxes L1 – L11.

View container list for this series

Political File, 1964‑96. (Boxes B1‑B5 and L11-L13, 2.8 linear feet)
This series contains correspondence, background materials, and drafts written by Orben as a political speechwriting consultant. The speeches he wrote for Gerald Ford before and after his presidency are included in this series. Other prominent politicians in this series are Jimmy Carter, Bob Dole, Barry Goldwater, Al Haig, and Ronald Reagan. Prior to working in the Ford Administration, Orben contributed to “Congressional Chaff”, the humor section of the Republican Congressional Committee’s monthly newsletter, and to “Political Punchlines”, a compilation of political one-liners. His working papers for these materials along with the final publications are included in the “Republican Congressional Committee” subseries.

Arranged alphabetically by speaker or organization, and chronologically thereunder. Index cards are filed in boxes L11 – L13.

View container list for this series

Corporate File, 1967‑92. (Boxes C1‑C7, 3.1 linear feet)
This series contains correspondence, invoices, event programs and schedules, speech cards, and scripts relating to Robert Orben’s work as a consultant to executives and corporations. It encompasses his speech writing as well as editing services and speech workshops. Some of his clients include the Campbell Soup Company, Eastern Airlines, and Shell Oil Company. The bulk of this series is comprised of materials representing his long-term business relationship with IBM (spanning from 1977-1991). This includes planning notes and scripts for IBM’s varied recognition events and business retreats as well as comedy material for presenters and managers.

Arranged alphabetically by corporation, chronologically thereunder.

View container list for this series

White House Speech File, 1968‑77. (Boxes D1‑D8 and L13, 3.6 linear feet)
This series consists of case files containing Orben's copies of select speeches and public messages given by White House officials as well as material related to speech development. Most files include the press release copy of the speech (sometimes the first page only) and may also include background material, correspondence, handwritten notes, drafts, joke cards, or clippings. All speeches were delivered by Ford unless otherwise noted in the folder title list. Presidential writings other than speeches are filed in the White House Subject File series under “Speechwriters - Editorial Staff Writings”.

Arranged chronologically. Index cards are filed in box L13.

View container list for this series

White House Subject File, 1974‑77. (Boxes E1‑E4 and L13, 2.1 linear feet)
This series consists of correspondence, and general materials compiled or created during Orben’s time as Presidential speechwriter. Topics represented in this series include: President Ford’s humor and image, the Ford / Nessen appearance on Saturday Night Live, and critique and analysis of Ford speeches.

Arranged alphabetically. Index cards are filed in box L13.

View container list for this series

Interviews and Public Appearances, 1971‑2001. (Boxes F1‑F2, 0.8 linear feet)
This series consists of event programs, correspondence, and speech drafts compiled from Robert Orben’s guest speaker appearances as well as his television and print interviews. He was a popular guest speaker at the recognition events and conferences of many nonprofits and professional associations. Most talks pertained to the importance of humor in communication. Orben also gave talks on political humor, including his speech at the Gerald R. Ford Foundation’s “Humor and the Presidency Symposium.” His interviews with hosts such as David Letterman and Good Morning America are included in the “Interviews” subseries.

Arranged chronologically.

View container list for this series

Publications, 1948‑2005. (Boxes G1‑G12 and L14, 5.3 linear feet)
This series contains books, articles, and newsletters written by Orben as well as other publications that concern his comedy career or incorporate his jokes and stories. In addition to the columns and articles he wrote for magic, business, and political publications, this series includes Orben’s Current Comedy and other newsletters published by the Comedy Center, Inc.
Some of the books that are part of this collection contained loose documents. In these cases, the documents left inside a book have been transferred to the book’s parallel folder at the end of the series.

Arranged alphabetically. Index cards are filed in box L14.

View container list for this series

Correspondence, 1953‑2001. (Boxes H1‑H2, 0.8 linear feet)
This series contains letters and printed e-mails between Robert Orben and his friends and fans as well as media representatives, politicians, and other humorists. Frequent correspondents include, Herb Block, Jerry Lester, Phyllis Schlafly, J.P. Tarcher (Penguin Publishing), and President Ford. Prominent politicians such as Bill Clinton, James Baker, and Dick Cheney are also represented.

Arranged alphabetically.

View container list for this series

General Subject File, 1964‑2005. (Boxes I1‑I3, 1.3 linear feet)
This series contains correspondence, invoices, event programs, and birthday cards compiled during Orben’s professional comedy and speechwriting career and from his personal contacts thereafter. This includes Orben’s awards and fan letters as well as materials related to the reprinting of his comedy material through publications such as Reader’s Digest. Correspondence, newsletters, and programs pertaining to the Gerald R. Ford Foundation and the Ford Presidential Library and Museum are also part of this series.

Arranged alphabetically.

View container list for this series

Clippings, Magazines, and Scrapbooks, 1947‑2002. (Boxes J1‑J8, 3.5 linear feet)
This series contains newspaper and magazine clippings, bound scrapbooks, and loose scrapbook material. Clippings are compiled from national and local news sources as well as magic and comedy publications. Some of Orben’s own publications are included. Also included are select issues of “News and Comment: The President's Daily News Summary” a White House-produced collection of news and magazine articles.
These materials primarily concern Robert Orben in his capacity as a magician, comedian, and comedy writer. The White House clippings and Post-White House clippings also pertain to the Ford administration. The scrapbooks cover Orben’s early career and mainly contain material from magic magazines and newsletters.

Arranged alphabetically.

View container list for this series

Audio Visual Materials. 
This series is unprocessed and is currently unavailable for research.


CONTAINER LIST

Box A1 - Television File

Box A2 - Television File

Box A3 - Television File

Box A4 - Television File

Box A5 - Television File

Box A6 - Television File

Box A7 - Television File

Box A8 - Television File

Box B1 - Political File

Box B2 - Political File

Box B3 - Political File

Box B4 - Political File

Box B5 - Political File

Box C1 - Corporate File

Box C2 - Corporate File

Box C3 - Corporate File

Box C4 - Corporate File

Box C5 - Corporate File

Box C6 - Corporate File

Box C7 - Corporate File

Box D1 - White House Speech File

Box D2 - White House Speech File

Box D3 - White House Speech File

Box D4 - White House Speech File

Box D5 - White House Speech File

Box D6 - White House Speech File

Box D7 - White House Speech File

Box D8 - White House Speech File

Box E1 - White House Subject File

Box E2 - White House Subject File

Box E3 - White House Subject File

Box E4 - White House Subject File

Box F1 - Interviews and Public Appearances

Box F2 - Interviews and Public Appearances

Box G1 - Publications

Box G2 - Publications

Box G3 - Publications

Box G4 - Publications

Box G5 - Publications

Box G6 - Publications

Box G7 - Publications

Box G8 - Publications

Box G9 - Publications

Box G10 - Publications

Box G11 - Publications

Box G12 - Publications

Box H1 - Correspondence

Box H2 - Correspondence

Box I1 - General Subject File

Box I2 - General Subject File

Box I3 - General Subject File

Box J1 - Clippings, Magazines, and Scrapbooks

Box J2 - Clippings, Magazines, and Scrapbooks

Box J3 - Clippings, Magazines, and Scrapbooks

Box J4 - Clippings, Magazines, and Scrapbooks

Box J5 - Clippings, Magazines, and Scrapbooks

Box J6 - Clippings, Magazines, and Scrapbooks

Box J7 - Clippings, Magazines, and Scrapbooks

Box J8 - Clippings, Magazines, and Scrapbooks

The following containers (L1 - L13) hold index cards that were withdrawn from files listed above. The cards were removed to improve preservation. A withdrawal sheet appears at the original file location. All cards are open to research. The list indicates the series (printed in bold) and folder (listed below the series title) where the items were withdrawn from.

Box L1 - Television File

Box L2 - Television File

Box L2 - Television File

Box L3 - Television File

Box L4 - Television File

Box L5 - Television File

Box L6 - Television File

Box L7 - Television File

Box L8 - Television File

Box L9 - Television File

Box L10 - Television File

Box L11 - Television File

Box L11 [Continued] - Political File

Box L12 - Political File

Box L13 - Political File

Box L13 [Continued]- White House Speech File

Box L13 [Continued] - White House Subject File

Box L14 - White House Subject File