George Simon Kaufman (16 November 1889 – 2 June 1961) was an American playwright, theatre director and producer, humorist, and drama critic. In addition to comedies and political satire, he wrote several musicals for the Marx Brothers and others. 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.
|George S. Kaufman|
George S. Kaufman in 1928
|Born||George Simon Kaufman|
November 16, 1889
|Died||June 2, 1961 (aged 71)|
New York City, New York
|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
George S. Kaufman was born to Joseph S. Kaufman, a hatband manufacturer, and Nettie Meyers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He had a younger sister, Ruth. His other sister was Helen, nicknamed "Helse." He graduated from high school in 1907 and studied law for three months. He grew disenchanted and took on a series of odd jobs, selling silk and working in wholesale ribbon sales.
Kaufman began contributing humorous material to the column that Franklin P. Adams wrote for the New York Mail. He became close friends with F.P.A., who helped him get his first newspaper job—humor columnist for The Washington Times—in 1912. By 1915 he was a drama reporter on The New York Tribune, working under Heywood Broun. In 1917 Kaufman joined The New York Times, becoming drama editor and staying with the newspaper until 1930.
Kaufman took his editorial responsibilities 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."
Kaufman's Broadway debut was September 4, 1918 at the Knickerbocker Theatre, with the premiere of the melodrama Someone in the House. He coauthored the play with Walter C. Percival, based on a magazine story written by Larry Evans. 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.
In every Broadway season from 1921 through 1958, there was a play written or directed by Kaufman. Since Kaufman's death in 1961, there have been revivals of his work on Broadway in the 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s, the 2000s and the 2010s. Kaufman wrote only one play alone, The Butter and Egg Man in 1925. 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. 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.
For a period, Kaufman lived at 158 West 58th Street in New York City. The building later would be the setting for Stage Door. It is now the Park Savoy Hotel and for many years was considered a single room occupancy hotel.
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". 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 creator's 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." 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, 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 (which shared songs but not plot with the 1953 film version) 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. The musical Sherry! (1967) was based on his play The Man Who Came to Dinner.
Kaufman directed the original or revival stage productions of many plays and musicals, includingThe 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).
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.
Many of Kaufman's plays were adapted into Hollywood films. Among the more well-received were Dinner At Eight, Stage Door (almost completely rewritten by others for the film version) and You Can't Take It with You (changed significantly by others for the film version), 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.
From 1949 until midway through the 1952–1953 season, he appeared as a panelist on the CBS television series This Is Show Business. On the December 21, 1952 episode of the show—telecast live—Kaufman made an offhand remark about the excessive airing of "Silent Night" during the Christmas season. "Let's make this one program," he said, "on which no one sings 'Silent Night'." The resulting public outcry prompted his dismissal by CBS. In response, Fred Allen said, "There were only two wits on television: Groucho Marx and George S. Kaufman. Without Kaufman, television has reverted to being half-witted." It would be more than a year before Kaufman appeared on TV again.
Kaufman was a prominent player of bridge, probably both auction bridge and contract bridge. The New Yorker published many of his humorous items about the card game; at least some have been reprinted more than once, including:
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. 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!" 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."
Called "Public Lover Number One", he "dated some of the most beautiful women on Broadway". 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. 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. Some of the sexually explicit portion, involving Kaufman, were reprinted in New York magazine in 2012 and Vanity Fair magazine in 2016. Kaufman had an affair with actress Natalie Schafer during the 1940s. Kaufman joined the theatre club, The Lambs, in 1944.
Kaufman was married to his first wife Beatrice from 1917 until her death in 1945. They had one daughter, Anne Kaufman (Booth). Four years later, he married actress Leueen MacGrath on May 26, 1949, with whom he collaborated on a number of plays before their divorce in August 1957. Kaufman died in New York City on June 2, 1961, at the age of 71. His granddaughter, Beatrice Colen, was an actress who had recurring appearances on both Happy Days and Wonder Woman.
Kaufman was portrayed by the actor David Thornton in the 1994 film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle and by Jason Robards in the 1963 film Act One. In the 2014 Broadway adaptation of the latter by James Lapine, he was played by Tony Shalhoub.
Barmy in Wonderland is a novel by P. G. Wodehouse, first published in the United Kingdom on 21 April 1952 by Herbert Jenkins, London, and in the United States on May 8, 1952 by Doubleday & Company, New York, under the title Angel Cake. The novel may be considered part of the expanded Drones Club canon, since the main character Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps is a member of the club.
Wodehouse adapted the novel from a play, The Butter and Egg Man, by George S. Kaufman and, echoing Shakespeare's dedication of his Sonnets, dedicated the US edition to "the onlie begetter of these insuing sonnets, Mr G S K".
The central character is Cyril "Barmy" Fotheringay-Phipps (pronounced "Fungy Fips"), an amiable if not particularly brilliant young man who courts Eileen "Dinty" Moore.Beggar on Horseback
Beggar on Horseback is a 1924 play by George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly.
The play is a parody of the expressionistic parables that were popular at the time; its title derives from the proverb "Set a beggar on horseback, and he'll ride at a gallop," "Set a beggar on horseback, and he'll ride to hell," or "Set a beggar on horseback, and he will ride to the devil," meaning that if you give wealth to the undeserving, you will be the worse for it. The play rails against the perils of trading one's artistic talents for commercial gain. At its core is Neil McRae, a poor, young classical composer. Concerned about how hard he is working at odd jobs to meet his financial obligations, his friends - a doctor visiting from back home and his neighbor, Cynthia Mason, in whom he has more than a passing interest - urge him to marry Gladys Cady, whose father is a wealthy industrialist. However, the man also favors the Tin Pan Alley school of musical composition, to which McRae is staunchly opposed. Conflict arises when he is offered a job making widgets at a substantial salary if he agrees to give up his "foolish" interest in the classics.
The original Broadway production opened on February 12, 1924 at the Broadhurst Theatre, where it ran for 223 performances. The cast included Roland Young, Osgood Perkins, Spring Byington, and Frederic Richard Sullivan.
The play was revived with most of the original cast a mere seven months later, opening on March 23, 1925, at the Shubert Theatre, where it ran for 16 performances.
Forty-five years later, after 13 previews, another revival opened on May 14, 1970 at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater, where it ran for 52 performances. The cast included Leonard Frey and Susan Watson.Beggar on Horseback (film)
Beggar on Horseback is a 1925 American comedy silent film directed by James Cruze and written by Marc Connelly, George S. Kaufman and Walter Woods. The film stars Edward Everett Horton, Esther Ralston, Erwin Connelly, Gertrude Short, Ethel Wales, Theodore Kosloff and Betty Compson. The film was released on August 24, 1925, by Paramount Pictures.Dinner at Eight (play)
For the 1933 film version, see Dinner at Eight (1933 film).Dinner at Eight is a 1932 American play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. The plot deals with the Jordan family, who are planning a society dinner, and what they, as well as various friends and acquaintances—all of whom have their own problems and ambitions‚ do as they prepare for the event.First Lady (play)
First Lady is a play by George S. Kaufman and Katharine Dayton. It premiered on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre on November 26, 1935, closing in June 1936 after 246 performances. A hit with the public, the play was made into a film of the same name in 1937. The original Broadway production was directed by Kaufman and used sets by Donald Oenslager and costumes by John Hambleton. The cast included Jane Cowl as Lucy Chase Wayne, Stanley Ridges as Stephen Wayne, Oswald Yorke as Carter Hibbard, and Lily Cahill as Irene Hibbard.I'd Rather Be Right
I'd Rather Be Right is a musical with a book by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, lyrics by Lorenz Hart, and music by Richard Rodgers. The story is a Depression-era political satire set in New York City, about Washington politics and political figures, such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The plot centers on Peggy Jones (Joy Hodges) and her boyfriend Phil (Austin Marshall), who needs a raise in order for them to get married. The President steps in and solves their dilemma.June Moon
June Moon is a play by George S. Kaufman and Ring Lardner. Based on the Lardner short story "Some Like Them Cold," about a love affair that loses steam before it ever gets started, it includes songs with words and music by Lardner but is not considered a musical per se.Let 'Em Eat Cake
Let 'Em Eat Cake is a Broadway musical with music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, and book by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind. It is the sequel to the Pulitzer prize-winning Of Thee I Sing and had the same producer, writers, and stars. However, the tone of Let 'Em Eat Cake was much darker and the issues more complex: President Wintergreen is defeated for reelection, and he and his former Vice President, Alexander Throttlebottom, form an incipient Fascist movement to take over the government.Merrily We Roll Along (play)
Merrily We Roll Along is a play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. It concerns a man who has lost the idealistic values of his youth. Its innovative structure presents the story in reverse order, with the character regressing from a mournful adult to a young man whose future is filled with promise.
The 1934 Broadway production received mostly good notices, however it was a financial failure and has not been revived on Broadway. The 1981 musical adaptation has been considerably more successful, having been revived several times.Of Thee I Sing
Of Thee I Sing is a musical with a score by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin and a book by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind. The musical lampoons American politics; the story concerns John P. Wintergreen, who runs for President of the United States on the "love" platform. When he falls in love with the sensible Mary Turner instead of Diana Devereaux, the beautiful pageant winner selected for him, he gets into political hot water.
The original Broadway production, directed by Kaufman, opened in 1931 and ran for 441 performances, gaining critical and box office success. It has been revived twice on Broadway and in concert stagings in the U.S. and in London. In 1932, Of Thee I Sing was the first musical to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.Once in a Lifetime (play)
Once in a Lifetime is a play by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, the first of eight on which they collaborated in the 1930s.Silk Stockings
Silk Stockings is a musical with a book by George S. Kaufman, Leueen MacGrath, and Abe Burrows and music and lyrics by Cole Porter. The musical is loosely based on the Melchior Lengyel story Ninotchka and the 1939 film adaptation it inspired. It ran on Broadway in 1955. This was the last musical that Porter wrote for the stage.The American Way (play)
The American Way is a play by American playwrights George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.The Butter and Egg Man
The Butter and Egg Man is a 1925 play by George S. Kaufman, the only play he wrote without collaborating. It was a Broadway hit during the 1925–26 season at the Longacre Theatre. Adapted to film six times, it is still performed on stages today.The Dark Tower (play)
The Dark Tower is a mystery drama by George S. Kaufman and Alexander Woollcott, first produced in 1933.
The play was later adapted for the Warner Bros. film The Man with Two Faces (1934) starring Mary Astor, Louis Calhern, and Edward G. Robinson.In January 1938, future President of the United States Richard Nixon was cast in the Whittier Community Players production of this play. He was cast opposite a high school teacher named Thelma "Pat" Ryan, whom he would later marry.The Man Who Came to Dinner
The Man Who Came to Dinner is a comedy in three acts by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. It debuted on October 16, 1939, at the Music Box Theatre in New York City, where it ran until 1941, closing after 739 performances. It then enjoyed a number of New York and London revivals. The first London production was staged at The Savoy Theatre starring Robert Morley and Coral Browne. In 1990, Browne stated in a televised biographical interview, broadcast on UK Channel 4 (entitled Caviar to the General), that she bought the rights to the play, borrowing money from her dentist to do so. When she died, her will revealed that she had received royalties for all future productions and adaptations.The song "What Am I To Do" was written by Cole Porter specifically for the play.The Royal Family (play)
The Royal Family is a play written by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. Its premiere on Broadway was at the Selwyn Theatre on 28 December 1927, where it ran for 345 performances to close in October 1928. It was included in Burns Mantle's The Best Plays of 1927–1928.To the Ladies
To the Ladies is a 1923 American silent comedy film produced by Famous Players-Lasky and released by Paramount Pictures. It is based on a 1922 Broadway play, To the Ladies, by George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly.The film was directed by James Cruze and starred Edward Everett Horton, Theodore Roberts, and Louise Dresser. Also in a bit part is young Mary Astor.You Can't Take It with You (play)
You Can't Take It with You is a comedic play in three acts by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. The original production of the play premiered on Broadway in 1936, and played for 838 performances.
The play won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and was adapted for the screen as You Can't Take It with You, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director.
The play is popular among theater programs of high school institutions, and has been one of the 10 most-produced school plays every year since amateur rights came available in 1939.