George S. Kaufman

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George S. Kaufman
George S. Kaufman ca. 1915.jpg
photographed c. 1915
Born George Simon Kaufman
(1889-11-16)November 16, 1889
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Died June 2, 1961(1961-06-02) (aged 71)
New York City, New York, United States
Spouse Beatrice Bakrow (1917–1945)
Leueen MacGrath (1949–1957)
Information
Debut works Some One in the House (1918)
Someone Must Pay (1919)
Notable work(s) Of Thee I Sing
You Can't Take It With You
Works with Marc Connelly
Edna Ferber
George Gershwin
Ira Gershwin
Moss Hart
Morrie Ryskind
Awards Pulitzer Prize for Drama (1932 and 1937)
Tony Award Best Director (1951)

George Simon Kaufman (November 16, 1889 – June 2, 1961) was an American playwright, theatre director and producer, humorist, and drama critic. In addition to comedies and political satire, he wrote several musicals, notably for the Marx Brothers. One play and one musical that he wrote won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama: You Can't Take It With You (1937, with Moss Hart), and Of Thee I Sing (1932, with Morrie Ryskind and Ira Gershwin). He also won the Tony Award as a Director, for the musical Guys and Dolls.

Biography

Early years

Born to a Jewish family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he graduated from high school in 1907 and "tried law school for three months" but grew disenchanted and took on a series of odd jobs, including "selling hatbands".1 Kaufman then began his career as a journalist and drama critic; he was the drama editor for The New York Times from 1917 through 1930.1 Kaufman took his editorial responsibilities very seriously. According to legend, on one occasion a press agent asked: "How do I get our leading lady’s name in the Times?" Kaufman: "Shoot her."2

Career

Worked with Moss Hart in 1930 on the Broadway hit, Once in a Lifetime. Also wrote You Can't Take it With You and The Man Who Came to Dinner with Hart.

Theatre

Kaufman's Broadway debut was September 4, 1918 at the Knickerbocker Theatre, with the premiere of the melodrama Someone in the House.34 He coauthored the play with Walter C. Percival, based on a magazine story written by Larry Evans.5 The play opened on Broadway (running for only 32 performances) during that year's serious flu epidemic, when people were being advised to avoid crowds. With "dour glee", Kaufman suggested that the best way to avoid crowds in New York City was to attend his play.6

In every Broadway season from 1921 through 1958, there was a play written or directed by Kaufman. Since Kaufman's death in 1961,6 there have been revivals of his work on Broadway in the 1970s, the 1980s, and in the 2000s.7 Kaufman wrote only one play alone, The Butter and Egg Man in 1925.8 With Marc Connelly, he wrote Merton of the Movies, Dulcy, and Beggar on Horseback; with Ring Lardner he wrote June Moon; with Edna Ferber he wrote The Royal Family, Dinner at Eight, and Stage Door; with John P. Marquand he wrote a stage adaptation of Marquand's novel The Late George Apley; and with Howard Teichmann he wrote The Solid Gold Cadillac. According to his biography on PBS, "he wrote some of the American theater's most enduring comedies" with Moss Hart.9 Their work includes Once in a Lifetime (in which he also performed), Merrily We Roll Along, The Man Who Came to Dinner and You Can't Take It With You, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937.10

For a period, Kaufman lived at 158 West 58th Street in New York City. The building later would be the setting for Stage Door.11 It is now the Park Savoy Hotel and for many years was considered a single room occupancy hotel.12

Musical theatre

Despite his claim that he knew nothing about music and hated it in the theatre, Kaufman collaborated on many musical theatre projects. His most successful of such efforts include two Broadway shows crafted for the Marx Brothers, The Cocoanuts, written with Irving Berlin, and Animal Crackers, written with Morrie Ryskind, Bert Kalmar, and Harry Ruby. According to Charlotte Chandler, "By the time Animal Crackers opened ... the Marx Brothers were becoming famous enough to interest Hollywood. Paramount signed them to a contract".13 Kaufman was one of the writers who excelled in writing intelligent nonsense for Groucho Marx, a process that was collaborative, given Groucho's skills at expanding upon the scripted material. Though the Marx Brothers were notoriously critical of their writers, Groucho and Harpo Marx expressed admiration and gratitude towards Kaufman. Dick Cavett, introducing Groucho onstage at Carnegie Hall in 1972, told the audience that Groucho considered Kaufman to be "his god".

While The Cocoanuts was being developed in Atlantic City, Irving Berlin was hugely enthusiastic about a song he had written for the show. Kaufman was less enthusiastic, and refused to rework the libretto to include this number. The discarded song was "Always", ultimately a huge hit for Berlin, recorded by many popular performers. According to Laurence Bergreen, "Kaufman's lack of enthusiasm caused Irving to lose confidence in the song, and 'Always' was deleted from the score of The Cocoanuts – though not from its creators memory. ... Kaufman, a confirmed misogynist, had had no use for the song in The Cocoanuts but his disapproval did not deter Berlin from saving it for a more important occasion."14 The Cocoanuts would remain Irving Berlin's only Broadway musical – until his last one, Mr. President – that did not include at least one eventual hit song.

Humor derived from political situations was of particular interest to Kaufman. He collaborated on the hit musical Of Thee I Sing, which won the 1932 Pulitzer Prize, the first musical so honored,10 and its sequel Let 'Em Eat Cake, as well as one troubled but eventually successful satire that had several incarnations, Strike Up the Band. Working with Kaufman on these ventures were Ryskind, George Gershwin, and Ira Gershwin. Also, Kaufman, with Moss Hart, wrote the book to I'd Rather Be Right, a musical starring George M. Cohan as Franklin Delano Roosevelt (the U.S. President at the time), with songs by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. He also co-wrote the 1935 comedy-drama First Lady. In 1945, Kaufman adapted H.M.S. Pinafore into Hollywood Pinafore.

Kaufman also contributed to major New York revues, including The Band Wagon (not to be confused with the Astaire/Minnelli 1953 film) with Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz. His often anthologized sketch "The Still Alarm" from the revue The Little Show lasted long after the show closed. Another well-known sketch of his is "If Men Played Cards As Women Do." There have also been musicals based on Kaufman properties, such as the 1981 musical version of Merrily We Roll Along, adapted by George Furth and Stephen Sondheim.15 The musical Sherry! (1967) was based on his play The Man Who Came to Dinner.16

Directing and producing

Kaufman directed the original or revival stage productions of many plays and musicals, including:The Front Page by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht (1928), Of Thee I Sing (1931 and 1952), Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937), My Sister Eileen by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov (1940), Hollywood Pinafore (1945), The Next Half Hour (1945), Park Avenue (1946, also co-wrote the book), Town House (1948), Bravo! (1948, also co-wrote the script), Metropole (1949), the Frank Loesser musical Guys and Dolls, for which he won the 1951 Best Director Tony Award, The Enchanted (1950), The Small Hours (1951, also co-wrote the script), Fancy Meeting You Again (1952, also co-wrote the script), The Solid Gold Cadillac (1953, also co-wrote the script), and Romanoff and Juliet by Peter Ustinov (1957).17

Kaufman produced many of his own plays as well as those of other writers. For a short time, approximately from 1940 to circa 1946, Kaufman, with Moss Hart and Max Gordon, owned and operated the Lyceum Theatre.18

Hollywood and television

Many of Kaufman's plays were adapted into Hollywood films. Among the more well-received were Dinner At Eight, Stage Door (almost completely rewritten for the film version) and You Can't Take It With You, which won the Best Picture Oscar in 1938. He also occasionally wrote directly for the movies, most significantly the screenplay for A Night at the Opera for the Marx Brothers. His only credit as a film director was The Senator Was Indiscreet (1947) starring William Powell.

He appeared as a panelist on the 1949-1954 CBS television series show This Is Show Business.1920 On the December 21, 1952, Christmas episode of This Is Show Business that was telecast live, the Jewish Kaufman made a controversial statement amid public outcry: "Let's make this one program on which no one sings 'Silent Night'".21 The networks banned him for more than a year and then allowed him to appear again.21

Bridge

Kaufman was also a prominent bridge player. Many of his humorous writings about bridge appeared in The New Yorker and have often been reprinted. They include Kibitzers' Revolt and the suggestion that bridge clubs should post information that North-South or East-West are holding good cards. Kaufman was notoriously impatient with less-competent partners at the bridge table. According to legend, one such victim asked permission to use the men's room. Kaufman: "Gladly. For the first time today I'll know what you have in your hand."22

Personal life

In the 1920s, Kaufman was a member of the Algonquin Round Table, a circle of writers and show business people. From the 1920s through the 1950s, Kaufman was as well known for his personality as he was for his writing.citation needed In the Moss Hart autobiography Act One, Hart portrayed Kaufman as a morose and intimidating figure, uncomfortable with any expressions of affection between human beings—in life or on the page. Hart writes that Max Siegel said: "Maybe I should have warned you. Mr Kaufman hates any kind of sentimentality-can't stand it!"23 This perspective, along with a number of taciturn observations made by Kaufman himself, led to a simplistic but commonly held belief that Hart was the emotional soul of the creative team while Kaufman was a misanthropic writer of punchlines. Kaufman preferred never to leave Manhattan. He once said: "I never want to go any place where I can’t get back to Broadway and 44th by midnight."24

Although Kaufman lived in the public eye alongside celebrities and journalists, he was a tireless worker, dedicated to the writing and rehearsal processes.citation needed He was particularly revered within the business as a "play doctor." Late in his life he managed to trade upon his long-developed persona by appearing as a television wag. Of one unsuccessful comedy he wrote,specify "There was laughter at the back of the theatre, leading to the belief that someone was telling jokes back there." Even though he was a sometime satirist, he remarked that "Satire is what closes on Saturday night." Much of Kaufman's fame occurred due to his mastery of sharp lines such as these, generally referred to in the press as "wise cracks." However, Kaufman was more than a writer of gags. He created scripts that revealed a mastery of dramatic structure; his characters were likable and theatrically credible.

Called "Public Lover Number One", according to The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People, he "dated some of the most beautiful women on Broadway".25 Kaufman found himself in the center of a scandal in 1936 when, in the midst of a child custody suit, the former husband of actress Mary Astor threatened to publish one of Astor's diaries purportedly containing extremely explicit details of an affair between Kaufman and the actress.25 The diary was eventually destroyed unread by the courts in 1952, but details of the supposed contents were published in Confidential magazine, Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger, and various other scandal sheets. Most recently, a "filthy" portion of it was published in New York magazine.26 Kaufman had an affair with actress Natalie Schafer during the 1940s.27 (Schafer played "Mrs. Lovey Howell" on the TV sitcom Gilligan's Island.)

Kaufman was married in 1917 to Beatrice Bakrow until her death on October 6, 1945.2829 Four years later, he married actress Leueen MacGrath on May 26, 1949,3031 with whom he collaborated on a number of plays before their divorce in August 1957.32 Kaufman died in New York City on June 2, 1961 at the age of 71.32

In 1979, Donald Oliver compiled and edited a collection of Kaufman's humorous pieces, with a foreword by Dick Cavett.33

Film portrayal

Kaufman was portrayed by the actor David Thornton in the 1994 film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle34 and by Jason Robards in the 1963 film Act One.

References

  1. ^ a b Wallace, Irving, Amy Wallace, David Wallechinsky and Sylvia Wallace. The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People (2008), Feral House, ISBN 1-932595-29-5, p. 173
  2. ^ Herrmann, Dorothy (1982). With Malice Toward All. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. p. 58. 
  3. ^ "The September Line-up". The New York Times. August 25, 1918. Retrieved 2010-11-13. 
  4. ^ George S. Kaufman at the Internet Broadway Database
  5. ^ White, Matthew, Jr. (November 1918). "The Stage". Munsey's Magazine (New York: F.A. Munsey & Co.) LXV (2): 356–371. Retrieved 2011-10-20. 
  6. ^ a b "Broadway: One Man's Mede". Time. June 9, 1961. Retrieved 2010-11-13. 
  7. ^ Kaufman listing, Internet Broadway Database ibdb.com, retrieved November 13, 2010
  8. ^ Londré, Felicia Hardison.Words at Play:Creative Writing and Dramaturgy (2005), SIU Press, ISBN 0-8093-2679-5, p. 47
  9. ^ "Stars Over Broadway: Biography, Excerpted from the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, edited by Colin Larkin, 2004" pbs.org, retrieved November 13, 2010
  10. ^ a b "The Pulitzer Prizes, Drama" pulitzer.org, accessed March 6, 2011
  11. ^ Teichmann, Howard (1972). George S. Kaufman; An Intimate Portrait. New York: Atheneum. OCLC 400765. 
  12. ^ Laurence Okane (1965-01-24). "Adjunct Garages Irk City Planners; Loophole in Zoning Permits All Comers to Use Space". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-13. 
  13. ^ Chandler, Charlotte. Hello, I Must Be Going: Groucho and His Friends (2007), Simon and Schuster, ISBN 1-4165-6521-3
  14. ^ Bergreen, Laurence. As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin (1996), Da Capo Press, ISBN 0-306-80675-4, pp. 249 and 264
  15. ^ Rich, Frank.Stage: A New Sondheim, 'Merrily We Roll Along' . The New York Times, November 17, 1981
  16. ^ Internet Broadway Database listing, 'Sherry!' ibdb.com, November 13, 2010
  17. ^ Internet Broadway Database listing ibdb.com, retrieved November 13, 2010
  18. ^ Bloom, Ken."Lyceum Theatre". The Routledge Guide To Broadway, CRC Press, 2007, ISBN 0-415-97380-5, p. 158
  19. ^ This Is Show Business listing imdb.com, retrieved November 13, 2010
  20. ^ "Radio: The Troubled Air" Time Magazine, January 12, 1953
  21. ^ a b Alex McNeil, Total Television,, p. 832
  22. ^ Hall, Donald, ed. (1981). The Oxford Book of American Literary Anecdotes. New York: Oxford. p. 234. 
  23. ^ Hart, Moss. Act one: an autobiography (1989). Macmillan, ISBN 0-312-03272-2, p. 274
  24. ^ Meryman, Richard (1978). Mank: The Wit, World, and Life of Herman Mankiewicz. New York: William Morrow. p. 100. 
  25. ^ a b Wallace, p. 174
  26. ^ "Mary Astor Blushes When Her Filthy Diary Leaks". New York: 44. April 9, 2012. Retrieved 11 April 2012. 
  27. ^ Brozan, Nadine."Chronicle" The New York Times, February 13, 1995
  28. ^ "Beatrice Kaufman, Story Editor, Dies", The New York Times, October 7, 1945, p. 44
  29. ^ "BEATRICE KAUFMAN, STORY EDITOR, DIES; Wife of Noted Playwright Did Much Literary Work Herself --Wrote for Magazines"The New York Times (abstract), October 7, 1945
  30. ^ "George S. Kaufman and Leueen MacGrath, English actress, were married today at the playwright's Bucks County home, Barley Sheaf Farm", "George S. Kaufman Weds", The New York Times, May 27, 1949, p. 25
  31. ^ "GEORGE S. KAUFMAN WEDS; Playwright and Leueen M Grath, Actress, Marry at His Farm". The New York Times (abstract), May 27, 1949
  32. ^ a b "George S. Kaufman Dies at 71; Shared 2 Pulitzers for Drama; Cited for 'Of Thee I Sing' and 'You Can't Take It With You' -- Also Top Director George S. Kaufman Dies at 71; Shared 2 Pulitzers for Drama", The New York Times, (abstract), June 3, 1961, p.1
  33. ^ George S. Kaufman (Donald Oliver, compiler/editor), By George: A Kaufman Collection (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1979) ISBN 0-312-11101-0.
  34. ^ Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle at the Internet Movie Database

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