Allen Ludden Papers

Name of the Collection

Allen Ludden Papers, 1946-1981
Accession #1982.25
1.2 cubic feet

Provenance of the Collection

The contents were created by Allen Ellsworth Ludden, a Mineral Point native son.  Mr. Ludden was best known as an advice columnist and a radio and television personality.  The papers arrived in 1982 from Betty White, Allen Ludden’s wife at the time of his death.

Biographical Background

Allen Packard Ellsworth was born on October 5, 1917 to Elmer Ellsworth and Leila Allen Ellsworth on the family farm in Mineral Point, Wisconsin.  His father's family had homesteaded in the Nebraska Territory for 11 years before moving back to Mineral Point.  Elmer Ellsworth's parents lived on a large farm on the northern edge of Mineral Point, known as the Spensley farm.  Elmer bought the farm in 1904.  Around the time of his marriage in 1915, Elmer started an ice delivery business providing blocks of ice cut from an artificial pond on the farm.  Leila Allen was a pianist and voice teacher before her marriage.  

During the pandemic of 1918-1919, Elmer contracted the flu virus and died of complications on January 6, 1919.  His son Allen was 2 years old.  In 1918, Leila’s parents, Charles and Clara (Van Matre) Allen either purchased the farm or assumed a mortgage.  In the 1920 Federal Census, Leila and Allen are living with her parents in Mineral Point on South Iowa Street.

On October 20, 1920, Leila remarried Homer Ludden, the son of a prominent Mineral Point physician.  Homer Ludden was an electrical engineer.  He took a number of positions during the early years of his marriage before the family moved to Corpus Christi, Texas, where Allen Ludden was raised.  Homer and Leila had a second son, Franklin in 1921.  Franklin became an accomplished aeronautical engineer.  Homer Ludden formerly adopted Allen, who then became known as Allen Ellsworth Ludden.

Allen Ludden was a very successful student and was accepted at the University of Texas, where he received both a Bachelor and Master degrees in 1940 and 1941, respectively.  He was also a member of the national honors fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa.  Ludden worked in community theater and on a local radio station in Austin before the outbreak of World War II.  On August 1, 1943, Ludden joined the Army and was stationed in the Pacific until his discharge in May of 1946. Upon retirement from the Army reserve, he was awarded the rank of Captain. While in the service, he wrote and directed radio and stage performances to entertain the troops.  

After his army service, Ludden married Margaret McGloin in Chicago, Illinois.  The couple moved to Hartford, Connecticut.  They had two daughters and a son.  Margaret died in 1961 at the age of 46 of cancer.

Beginning in the late 1940's, Ludden worked in theater and on radio throughout the country.  He also began writing and broadcasting an advice column broadcast to young people.  Known as the “Plain Talk” series, the programs ran for over a decade and were compiled into four books published by Dodd, Mead & Company. The “Plain Talk” radio series led to another radio show that Ludden wrote and presented entitled, “Mind Your Manners.”  Geared for a teenage audience it aired on a Hartford, Connecticut radio station in 1947.  It was broadcast nationally the following year.  In 1950, the program won a Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting for youth.  It became a television program in 1950 with Ludden as the host with a panel of teenage advice givers.  In addition to the radio and television work, Ludden wrote advice columns published in numerous popular magazines in the early 1950', including a column for teens in Parade magazine called, “Let's Talk It Over.”  Questions received from readers were answered by movie celebrities of the day.  In 1953, Ludden took on the “College Quiz Bowl”, first on radio and later on television.  Ludden was the host from 1959 to 1962.  During these years, Ludden found time to appear in summer stock theater around the country.

In 1960, the television show for which he is best known premiered.  “Password” involved guest celebrities playing with a non-celebrity teammate as they tried to guess a secret word based on clues.  In 1960, an actor named Betty White was a guest.  In 1962, she would star opposite him in a summer theater production of The Critic's Choice.  They were married from 1963 until 1981 when Ludden died of cancer at the age of 64. 

See Also: The Harris Family Papers, The Van Matre Diaries, The Memorial College Bowl in Small Collections, Fred Westbrock Photograph Collection, Mineral Point Sesquicenntenial Committee Records, and the MPLA reference library (for Ludden’s books).

Scope and Contents

As a disclaimer, the Allen Ludden Papers appear to be a remnant of what must have been a much larger collection of papers and records.  Considering Ludden was a highly successful writer and performer for 40 years, the group of papers donated to the Mineral Point Library Archives is very small and incomplete.  There is very little professional correspondence and no personal correspondence, nor are there financial records or contracts, nor appointment calendars.  

The papers that were received are divided into seven record series.  The first are biographical files that include material from his time in the army during World War II.  There is a single management contract and as well as promotional material related to a theatre production and a television program.  In 1977, Ludden agreed to be the Master of Ceremonies for the Mineral Point Sesquicentennial celebration.  He autographed programs and one of these is found here.

Series II contains 6 letters from the 1950’s and 35 items from the 1970’s.  During the 1970’s it appears that Ludden was interested in buying and/or preserving the Mineral Point railroad depot.

Early typed scripts are found in Series III.  Five shows from “Mind Your Manners” and scripts #1 through 36 for “Plain Talk.”  Both of these programs were radio broadcasts.  Additional writing by Ludden can be found in Series IV where there is a file of tear sheets of “Let’s Talk It Over” columns published in fan magazines.

Series V includes three of the many pieces written about Ludden during his career.  A compilation of “College Bowl” quizzes by Carol Nasr is here as well as a report on “Mind Your Manners” by someone who simply signs it Harker.  Of most interest is a copy of the script for the television show entitled the “Odd Couple” in which the main characters participate in a “Password” episode.

Several files of press clippings and tear sheets may be found in Series VI.  The newspaper clippings have been photocopied onto archival paper and sorted chronologically as much as possible.  Many articles are undated.  Also in this series and housed in an oversize box is a scrapbook from 1969 produced to promote a television show entitled, Allen Ludden Gallery.  The program would feature Ludden as an interview host, co-hosted by his wife, Betty White and featuring a music director named H. Barnum.  Mr. Barnum, as an African-American was a controversial figure for the network.  The program ran for 60 episodes.

The final Series VII contains Memorabilia and Ephemera including a copy of the home version of the television show, “Password,” a poster from Ludden’s appearance the Green Bay, Wisconsin “Folk Fest” of 1972, and a boxed CD set of “The Best of Password.”  There are also two books about animals that are autographed to Betty White from the authors.  

Photographs with this collection have been removed to the MPLA Iconography Collection.  There is a large collection of 8” x 10” black and white studio prints.  See Archivist for access.



Box Inventory of the Collection

Box # Contents of Folders Date Span
Series I: Biographical Files
1 Army Reserve File 1954,1958
1 Army Promotion Certificate 1946
OV1 Honorary Colonel of Oklahoma no date
1 Management Contract 1954
1 Program 150th Anniversary of Mineral Point 1977
1 Program from “Critics Choice” 1976,1980
1 Promotion Bios “Mind Your Manners” 1952
1 Promotion Brochures CBS Radio 1979
Series II: Correspondence
1 Correspondence File (6 letters) 1951-1954
1 Correspondence File (35 letters) 1972-1975
Series III: Scripts
1 “Mind Your Manners” (5 shows) 1954, no date
1 “Plain Talk” (1-36) no date
Series IV: Writings of Allen Ludden
1 “Let’s Talk It Over” Columns 1950-1954
Series V: Writings About Allen Ludden
2 College Bowl Quiz Book, Carol Nasr 1971
2 Report on “Mind Your Manners”, Harker no date
2 Script: “The Odd Couple” Password Episode 1972
Series VI Press Clippings  
1 Press Clippings TBS
OV1 “Allen Ludden Gallery” Scrapbook 1969
Series VII Memorabilia & Ephemera  
OV1 Board Game Password (used & autographed) 1973
OV1 Book: Adopting a Dog, Dedicated to Betty White 1981
OV1 Book: Bright Eyes, Dedicated to Betty & Allen 1981
OV1 CD’s (boxed set) The Best of Password no date
OV1 Poster “Folk Fest, Green Bay ’72” 1972

Collection Arranged by Shan Thomas, 2017
Finding Guide Written by Shan Thomas, 2021