Betty Cole-Graham Papers

Identifier: NC1338

Scope and Contents

Collection contains sheet music collected by Betty Cole-Graham during her life connected to musical theater and her love of music. Sheet music dates run from the 1890s to the 1980s. Betty began to collect sheet music at the age of 10, continuing until she passed away in November 2015.

Additionally, scrapbooks and other digital documents of various community theater productions are included. Scrapbooks include newspaper clippings, photographs, and programs for the productions.


  • circa late-1940s-2000s

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Materials must be used on-site; advance notice suggested. Access to parts of this collection may be restricted under provisions of state or federal law.

Biographical Note

Betty Louise Cole Tooker Graham was born in 1929 in Chico, California to Norma Estelle (Long) and George Golden Cole. The family soon relocated to Sacramento, California. Betty became enchanted with musical theater and began on her path to a career in the field after seeing the Wizard of Oz as a child. She took ballet, tap, and voice lessons while in high school, and graduated from C. K. McClatchy High School in Sacramento in 1947.

In 1949, Betty relocated to San Francisco and continued dance lessons at the San Francisco Ballet School and Mason-­Kahn Tap Studios. Working days as a secretary, she also studied voice and acting and enjoyed an occasional modeling gig. In 1951 she joined the Straw Hat Theatre Company in Berkeley, one of the few theatre companies at that time paying a living wage. Their musical-­comedy revues played in San Francisco and Marin County, and in 1953 their show toured New England. She continued her studies in New York until she was due to start rehearsals for the next show. She never did that show, but instead met Warner Tooker from San Francisco at Edelweiss Ski Resort; they were married in 1954 and lived in South Lake Tahoe for 16 years while raising two daughters.

Bringing culture and the arts to the small mountain community, Betty founded a community theatre, and later a children's theatre, to what would total a 16-­year run of 26 shows, beginning with Gay 90s Gaieties in 1957. Other notable shows included Guys and Dolls, The Cat and the Canary, The Torchbearers, Box of Smiles, Aladdin, Land of the Dragon, Snow White, Call Me Madam, The Wizard of Oz, South Pacific, Peter Pan, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. She also learned to play acoustic guitar and formed a folk group called "The Untrapped Housewives" that later became "The Chimney Corner Singers." They performed regularly throughout the area at ski lodges, political rallies, conventions, and special events.

In 1973, Betty and Warner divorced and Betty remarried Lew Graham. They settled in Santa Rosa, California in 1977. She performed in local theatre there. Notable stage credits include: No, No Nanette; Mame; The Lion in Winter; Gypsy; and Dames at Sea.

In 1995 Betty and Lew fulfilled a top bucket list item and traveled to Paris, France. After Lew passed in 2002, Betty remained in Santa Rosa and continued to perform in local theatre and singing gigs, and she wrote several musical revues: Kurt Weill's Cabaret, Cole Porter's People, and The Ragtime Years. She wrote and performed in a one-­woman show based on the songs of World War II: Sentimental Journey, and another one about movie music: Mad About The Movies. She also coached and inspired many young actors, dancers, and singers and occasionally appeared in local TV commercials and independent films.

In 2007, Betty began working on a new show based on the music of Johnny Mercer, but was unable to complete it. She suffered a major stroke and her daughters moved her to Reno, Nevada to support her rehabilitation and to be closer to her family. Despite the post-­stroke challenges, she continued to enjoy gardening, photography, her cat Smokey, playing the piano, travel, San Francisco, and being with her beloved family and friends.

Betty passed away in Reno, Nevada on November 28, 2015.

[Biographical note taken from Betty Cole Graham's obituary as published in the Tahoe Daily Tribune and The Sacramento Bee.]


13.75 Linear Feet (24 boxes)

Language of Materials



Betty Cole-Graham (1929-2015) was active in musical theater and the arts for nearly her entire life. She founded multiple acting companies in the Bay Area of California as well as South Lake Tahoe. She began collecting sheet music at the age of 10 and continued until her death in 2015. Collection contains sheet music collected by Betty Cole-Graham during her life connected to musical theater and her love of music. Also includes scrapbooks of clippings, photographs, and programs for shows produced by the Lake Tahoe Children's Theater program and various theater programs in the California Bay Area.


Arranged in the following series: 1) Sheet Music; 2) Community Theater Productions.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Collection was originally donated by Maryan Tooker to the University Libraries' Digital Initiatives department in 2016. In July 2018, Maryan Tooker signed a deed of gift placing the collection with the Special Collections Department.

Guide to the Betty Cole-Graham Papers
Jessica Maddox
September 2018
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Nevada, Reno. Special Collections Department Repository

Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center
1664 N. Virginia St.
Reno Nevada 89557-0322 USA
775-682-5724 (Fax)