Authors: George S. Kaufman

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American playwright

Author Works

Drama:

Someone in the House, pr. 1918 (with Larry Evans and Walter Percival; originally as Among Those Present, pr. 1917)

Dulcy, pr., pb. 1921 (with Marc Connelly)

To the Ladies, pr. 1922 (with Connelly)

Merton of the Movies, pr. 1922 (with Connelly; based on Harry Leon Wilson’s novel)

Helen of Troy, N.Y., pr. 1923 (musical comedy; with Connelly; music and lyrics by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby)

The Deep Tangled Wildwood, pr. 1923 (with Connelly)

Beggar on Horseback, pr. 1924 (with Connelly)

Be Yourself, pr. 1924 (musical comedy; with Connelly; music by Lewis Gensler and Milton Schwartzwald)

Minick, pr., pb. 1924 (with Edna Ferber)

The Butter and Egg Man, pr., pb. 1925

The Cocoanuts, pr. 1925 (musical comedy; music and lyrics by Irving Berlin)

The Good Fellow, pr. 1926 (with Herman J. Mankiewicz)

If Men Played Cards as Women Do, pr., pb. 1926

The Royal Family, pr. 1927 (with Ferber)

Animal Crackers, pr. 1928 (musical comedy; with Morrie Ryskind; music and lyrics by Kalmar and Ruby)

June Moon, pr. 1929 (with Ring Lardner)

The Channel Road, pr. 1929 (with Alexander Woollcott)

Strike up the Band, pr. 1930 (musical comedy; with Ryskind; music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira Gershwin)

Once in a Lifetime, pr., pb. 1930 (with Moss Hart)

The Band Wagon, pr. 1931 (musical revue; with Howard Dietz; music by Arthur Schwartz and lyrics by Dietz)

Of Thee I Sing, pr. 1931, pb. 1932 (musical comedy; with Ryskind; music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira Gershwin)

Dinner at Eight, pr., pb. 1932 (with Ferber)

Let ’em Eat Cake, pr., pb. 1933 (musical comedy; with Ryskind; music by George Gershwin and lyrics by Ira Gershwin)

The Dark Tower, pr. 1933 (with Woollcott; based on Guy de Maupassant’s story “Boule de suif”)

Merrily We Roll Along, pr., pb. 1934 (with Moss Hart)

First Lady, pr. 1935 (with Katherine Dayton)

Stage Door, pr., pb. 1936 (with Ferber)

You Can’t Take It with You, pr. 1936 (with Moss Hart)

I’d Rather Be Right, pr., pb. 1937 (musical revue; with Moss Hart; music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Lorenz Hart)

The Fabulous Invalid, pr., pb. 1938 (with Moss Hart)

The American Way, pr., pb. 1939 (with Moss Hart)

The Man Who Came to Dinner, pr., pb. 1939 (with Moss Hart)

George Washington Slept Here, pr., pb. 1940 (with Moss Hart)

The Land Is Bright, pr., pb. 1941 (with Ferber)

The Late George Apley, pr. 1944 (with John P. Marquand; based on Marquand’s novel)

Park Avenue, pr. 1946 (musical comedy; with Nunnally Johnson; music by Arthur Schwartz and lyrics by Ira Gershwin)

Bravo!, pr. 1948 (with Ferber)

The Small Hours, pr., pb. 1951 (with Leueen MacGrath)

The Solid Gold Cadillac, pb. 1951 (with Howard Teichmann)

Fancy Meeting You Again, pr., pb. 1952 (with MacGrath)

Silk Stockings, pr. 1955 (musical comedy; with MacGrath and Abe Burrows; music and lyrics by Cole Porter; based on Menyhért Lengyel’s film Ninotchka)

Screenplays:

Business Is Business, 1925 (with Dorothy Parker)

The Cocoanuts, 1929 (with Morrie Ryskind)

Animal Crackers, 1931 (with Ryskind)

Roman Scandals, 1933 (with Robert E. Sherwood, George Oppenheimer, Arthur Sheekman, Nat Perrin, and W. A. McGuire)

A Night at the Opera, 1935 (with Ryskind)

Star-Spangled Rhythm, 1943

Biography

George Simon Kaufman was a humorist, journalist, drama critic, actor, director, playwright, screenwriter, and television personality. He is noted primarily as one of the most successful comic playwrights on Broadway and as a driving force in the American theater between 1920 and 1950.{$I[AN]9810001072}{$I[A]Kaufman, George S.}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Kaufman, George S.}{$I[tim]1889;Kaufman, George S.}

Kaufman was born in 1889 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His father, Joe Kaufman, was an unsuccessful businessman, and the family often lived in shoddy boardinghouses. His mother, Henrietta Myers Kaufman, was a hysterical woman obsessed with dying. Because of his upbringing, Kaufman was haunted by fears of failure and death. Overprotected by his neurotic mother, the physically weak Kaufman learned how to fight using words. After a failed attempt at law school and a series of odd jobs, Kaufman had some of his humorous sketches published in “Always in Good Humor,” Franklin Pierce Adams’s column in the New York Evening Mail. Adams helped Kaufman land a job as the humor columnist for the Washington Times. By 1917, Kaufman had become the drama editor for The New York Times, a position which he held until 1930.

After reading one of Kaufman’s scripts, producer George C. Tyler hired Kaufman to rewrite portions of an unsuccessful play featuring Lynn Fontanne. Eventually, Kaufman collaborated with Marc Connelly to write another vehicle for Fontanne. Dulcy was Kaufman’s first success and was singled out for its wit, satire, topical humor, and fast-paced verbal battles, which were to become the hallmark of the Kaufman style. Next, Kaufman and Connelly attacked the American success myth in To the Ladies and the commercialization of art in Beggar on Horseback, an expressionistic satire that won for Kaufman both critical and popular acclaim. Kaufman also helped to launch the careers of the Marx Brothers with The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers. Teaming with Morrie Ryskind and George and Ira Gershwin, Kaufman won a Pulitzer Prize for the satirical musical Of Thee I Sing. Not only was it the first musical to win the Pulitzer, but it was also the first to be acclaimed for its literary merit. Its published script went through seven printings in 1932.

Kaufman’s most successful collaboration was with Moss Hart. Between 1930 and 1940, they wrote eight plays, ranging from dreamlike fantasies to epic extravaganzas. You Can’t Take It with You, their biggest hit, ran 837 performances and earned for Kaufman his second Pulitzer Prize. Their second blockbuster, The Man Who Came to Dinner, put Kaufman on the cover of Time magazine as the most successful comic playwright of the 1920’s and 1930’s. These dramas written with Hart showed a greater depth in characterization than his previous works.

Kaufman was a prodigious and highly successful writer. In his thirty-seven years as a Broadway playwright, he worked on forty-five productions, averaging at least one a year. Two-thirds of his output was successful. Fifteen of his works ran for two hundred performances or more, and more than twenty were sold to motion-picture companies. He wrote the screenplay for A Night at the Opera, which grossed more than $3 million when film tickets cost only twenty-five cents. He also held the distinction of being the second playwright to win two Pulitzer Prizes.

Since he did not want to face the blank page alone and often worked better with the support of another writer, most of his works were collaborations. Yet no matter who his collaborator was, Kaufman was always noted as an artful writer of humorous dialogue and slick repartee. His plays bristle with wisecracks, one-liners, puns, and put-downs. His terse, brittle dialogue is well crafted and his humor highly pointed. Kaufman’s fine-tuned dramas often display a careful network of interwoven plot lines, a host of zany characters, a series of well-timed reversals, and a controlled use of breakneck pacing.

Above all, Kaufman helped to launch American comedy into the arena of social commentary. Aiming his satire at big business, politics, and the entertainment industry, he attacked the crass commercialism of American life and turned the American success myth on its head by showing how the incompetent and the foolish rise to the top. He scorned the theatricalization of American life, with its media hype, its image makers, and its cult of personality. From the boardrooms of General Motors to the production rooms of Hollywood, from small-town America to the elite of New York society, from Fascism to the New Deal, Kaufman rattled the complacency of American life.

Kaufman has often been criticized for the slightness of his plots and the shallowness of his characterizations. He has been accused of sacrificing the story line for the punch line and has been dismissed as little more than a popular success whose work fast became dated. Kaufman himself might not have disagreed with this assessment, for he often claimed that he was primarily an entertainer. He once said, “Satire is what closes on Saturday night.” Yet the satires of Kaufman have not closed. They are still being revived in New York, in hundreds of community theaters, and among the young: Indeed, a Kaufman play has regularly appeared among the ten most popular plays produced by American high schools.

BibliographyConnelly, Marc. Voices Offstage: A Book of Memoirs. Chicago: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1968. One of Kaufman’s frequent collaborators describes his work with Kaufman.Ferber, Edna. A Peculiar Treasure. Garden City, N.Y.: Literary Guild of America, 1939. Ferber discusses her collaborations with Kaufman in this, her autobiography.Goldstein, Malcolm. George S. Kaufman: His Life, His Theater. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979. This volume is considered the standard biography of the prolific man who wrote or collaborated on more than forty Broadway plays.Hart, Moss. Act One. New York: New American Library, 1959. Act One is a witty memoir written by the great American dramatist who was Kaufman’s longtime collaborator.Mason, Jeffrey. Wisecracks: The Farces of George S. Kaufman. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1988. A scholarly study of the comedic dramas of Kaufman. Index.Meredith, Scott. George S. Kaufman and His Friends. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1974. This useful biography offers much Broadway local color and theater lore. It is also available in abridged form under the title George S. Kaufman and the Algonquin Round Table.Pollack, Rhoda-Gale. George S. Kaufman. Boston: Twayne, 1988. Pollack has written a concise but useful biography on the playwright. Supplemented by a short bibliography.Teichmann, Howard. George S. Kaufman: An Intimate Portrait. New York: Atheneum, 1972. Although dated, this volume is still useful, especially in its discussion of Kaufman’s origins in Pittsburgh and his early career. It is exhaustive and carefully illustrated. It, however, presents ample quotations, quips, anecdotes, and personal reflections but little analysis.
Categories: Authors