Authors: Alfred Uhry

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American playwright and screenwriter

Author Works

Drama:

Here’s Where I Belong, pr. 1968 (lyrics; book by Alex Gordon, music by Robert Waldman; adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden)

The Robber Bridegroom, pr. 1975 (lyrics and libretto; music by Waldman; adaptation of Eudora Welty’s novella)

Chapeau, pr. 1977

Swing, pr. 1980 (lyrics; book by Conn Fleming, music by Waldman)

Little Johnny Jones, pr. 1982 (adaptation of George M. Cohan’s musical)

America’s Sweetheart, pr. 1985 (lyrics and libretto; music by Robert Waldman; adaptation of John Kobler’s book Capone: The Life and World of Al Capone)

Driving Miss Daisy, pr. 1987

The Last Night of Ballyhoo, pr. 1996

Parade, pr. 1998

Screenplays:

Mystic Pizza, 1988 (with others)

Driving Miss Daisy, 1989 (adaptation of his play)

Rich in Love, 1993 (adaptation of Josephine Humphreys’ novel)

Biography

Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Alfred Uhry (YEWR-ee) was born on December 3, 1936, in Atlanta to Ralph K. and Alene Fox Uhry. His father was a furniture designer and artist; his mother was a social worker. Uhry earned a B.A. degree from Brown University in 1958. During his undergraduate years, he wrote the book and lyrics for annual student musical presentations. On June 13, 1959, Uhry married Joanna Kellogg, a schoolteacher. They had four daughters: Emily, Elizabeth, Kate, and Nell.{$I[A]Uhry, Alfred}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Uhry, Alfred}{$I[tim]1936;Uhry, Alfred}

When Uhry first went to New York, he worked for composer Frank Loesser as a lyricist. Then he joined the faculty of Calhoun High School, a private school in New York City, where he taught English and drama until 1980. For the next several years, until 1984, Uhry was affiliated with the Goodspeed Opera House, working on comedy scripts for television. In 1985 he resumed teaching for three years at New York University in New York City, as instructor of lyric writing. A key experience in Uhry’s life was the opportunity to work with the composer Robert Waldman for a number of years.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s, Uhry worked mainly as a lyricist and librettist. In 1968 he wrote the lyrics for Here’s Where I Belong, a musical adapted from John Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden. It closed after one performance. Uhry’s work as lyricist and librettist for a two-act musical based on Eudora Welty’s novella The Robber Bridegroom in 1975 fared much better. It was produced on Broadway, and it earned him a nomination for the Drama Desk Award in 1975 and the Tony Award, the American Theatre Wing Award, and the League of American Theatres Award in 1976. A surprise hit, this musical ran on Broadway for almost 150 performances during the 1976-1977 season. Uhry had several such successes throughout the 1970’s and early 1980’s, with Chapeau, a musical; Swing, which was performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1980; Little Johnny Jones; and America’s Sweetheart, based on John Kobler’s book about Al Capone.

After realizing that he had spent years doing what he did not really want to do, Uhry decided that the time was right to write a play. For him, researching a subject was unnecessary; he would draw from family experiences. He knew a family legend about his grandmother, who continued to drive long past the time she could do so safely. The family finally forced her to accept the services of a chauffeur. With the Off-Broadway production of his first full-length play, Driving Miss Daisy, Uhry got his big break. In the play, the twenty-five-year relationship between the elderly grandmother and the black chauffeur provided Uhry a chance to reveal some of the changes in attitudes and relationships that took place during that era of civil rights struggles between the 1950’s and the 1970’s. With great subtlety, Uhry addresses a number of issues of the era, including race and ethnicity, the rich and the poor, the Jew and the Gentile, and conflicts between the old and the young.

Driving Miss Daisy earned Uhry the 1988 Pulitzer Prize in drama as well as the Outer Critics Circle award. The play enjoyed 664 performances, making it the longest-running play in the history of the Alliance Theatre Company, and there were 1,195 Off-Broadway performances of the play. The following year Driving Miss Daisy was awarded the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award. In 1990 Uhry received the Academy Award (Oscar) for the best screenplay adaptation.

Uhry continued to produce screenplays throughout the 1980’s. In 1988 he collaborated with Amy Jones and Perry and Randy Howze on completing the script for the 1988 film Mystic Pizza, which centers on three young women employees in a pizza parlor, each with some emotional crisis involving love relationships. Uhry’s contributions were chiefly in the areas of plot resolution and in introducing humor in appropriate places in the play. The following year he worked with Bruce Beresford, a film director with whom he had collaborated earlier, on adapting Josephine Humphreys’ novel Rich in Love, about a South Carolina family whose youngest daughter comes of age during a family crisis precipitated by the mother abandoning the family.

Uhry continued to write screenplays while pondering what he could do to follow the highly successful Driving Miss Daisy. To his surprise, the answer came when the Cultural Olympiad in his hometown commissioned him to write a play for the Olympic Arts Festival which ran concurrently with the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. As with Driving Miss Daisy, Uhry turned to past family events as a source of inspiration for The Last Night of Ballyhoo. The play is set in an antebellum house in a German-Jewish neighborhood in Atlanta, much like his uncle’s house. Characters based on his relatives are concerned with The Ballyhoo, a country-club gala hosted around the holiday season by the most elite of southern Jewish society during the years between World War I and World War II. The Last Night of Ballyhoo won Uhry a Tony nomination as well as a spot on the shortlist for the Pulitzer Prize.

BibliographyBerney, K. A., ed. Contemporary American Dramatists. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994. Provides biographic data and contains a bibliography of Uhry’s work, with commentary on his awards.Bordman, Gerald. “Driving Miss Daisy.” In The Oxford Companion to American Theatre. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. Brief account of production information, plus a plot summary and critical commentary. Sees the play as involving but inconsequential.Evans, Eli. The Provincials: A Personal History of Jews in the South. Rev. ed. New York: Free Press Paperbacks, 1997. Brief discussion of Uhry’s depiction of southern Jewish life. Sets the plays in their historical context.Gussow, Mel. Review of Driving Miss Daisy. The New York Times, April 16, 1987, p. C22. Remarks on the humanity and humor of the play. Miss Daisy and Hoke come to perceive that they have much in common, but they will never be able to say so.Matuz, Roger, ed. Contemporary Southern Writers. Detroit: St. James Press, 1999. Provides helpful critical comments on Uhry’s work and identifies as central the themes of aging and social expectations. Focuses almost exclusively on Driving Miss Daisy after touching on biographical notes and a bibliography of Uhry’s work.Riggs, Thomas, ed. Contemporary Dramatists. 6th ed. Detroit: St. James Press, 1999. Following basic biographical information and lists of publications and critical studies of some of Uhry’s works, the article focuses on his career development and the evolution of Driving Miss Daisy in particular.Uhry, Alfred. “A Sorry Chapter, A Source for Song.” The New York Times, December 13, 1998, sec. 2, p. 7. Uhry discusses his interest in the Leo Frank case. Mentions his family’s connections to the case. Reflects on his southern roots but says that the Frank case reminded all Georgia Jews that no matter how long they had been in Georgia, they were still outsiders.Winer, Laurie. “Ballyhoo Emerges as a Powerful Southern Family Drama.” Los Angeles Times, February 28, 1997, p. F3. Review of the Broadway production. The contrast between Lala and Sunny–their looks, personalities, and self-images–sets up the conflict. Another conflict is between the family and its fear of Jewishness.Witchel, Alex. “Remembering Prejudice, of a Different Sort.” The New York Times February 23, 1997, sec. 2, p. 5. In this interview Uhry discusses the prejudice of Jews against other Jews that he writes about in The Last Night of Ballyhoo. He also reviews some of his accomplishments.
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