Authors: Marc Connelly

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American playwright

Author Works

Drama:

Dulcy, pr., pb. 1921 (with George S. Kaufman)

To the Ladies, pr. 1922 (with Kaufman)

Merton of the Movies, pr. 1922 (with Kaufman; adaptation of Harry Leon Wilson’s story)

The Deep Tangled Wildwood, pr. 1923 (with Kaufman; originally as West of Pittsburgh, pr. 1922)

Helen of Troy, N.Y., pr. 1923 (with Kaufman; music and lyrics by Bert Kalmer and Harry Ruby)

Beggar on Horseback, pr. 1924 (with Kaufman; based on Paul Apel’s play Hans Sonnenstössers Höllenfahrt)

Be Yourself, pr. 1924 (with Kaufman; music by Kalmer, lyrics by Ruby)

The Wisdom Tooth, pr., pb. 1926

The Wild Man of Borneo, pr. 1927 (with Herman J. Mankiewicz)

The Green Pastures: A Fable, pb. 1929 (adaptation of Roark Bradford’s sketches in Ol’Man Adam an’ His Chillun)

The Farmer Takes a Wife, pr., pb. 1934 (with Frank B. Elser; adaptation of Walter D. Edmond’s novel Rome Haul)

Everywhere I Roam, pr. 1938 (with Arnold Sundgaard)

The Flowers of Virtue, pr. 1942

A Story for Strangers, pr. 1948

Hunter’s Moon, pr. 1958

The Portable Yenberry, pr. 1962

Long Fiction:

A Souvenir from Qam, 1965

Short Fiction:

“Luncheon at Sea,” 1927

“Gentlemen Returning from a Party,” 1927

“Barmecide’s Feast,” 1927

“The Committee: A Study of Contemporary New York Life,” 1928

“The Guest,” 1929

“Coroner’s Inquest,” 1930

Screenplays:

Whispers, 1920

Exit Smiling, 1926

The Suitor, 1928 (short)

The Bridegroom, 1929 (short)

The Uncle, 1929 (short)

The Green Pastures, 1936

I Married a Witch, 1936

Captains Courageous, 1937 (with others)

Crowded Paradise, 1956

Radio Play:

The Mole on Lincoln’s Cheek, 1941

Nonfiction:

Voices Offstage: A Book of Memoirs, 1968

Biography

Playwright, director, journalist, teacher, author, and actor, Marcus Cook Connelly is best known as George S. Kaufman’s first collaborator and as the author of the popular religious drama The Green Pastures. His father, Patrick Connelly, was an actor and became the proprietor of the White Hotel in McKeesport, where Marc first learned about acting while watching the most famous actors and actresses of the time practice in front of a mirror. When Connelly was seven, his parents took him to Pittsburgh for his first visit to the professional theater, and he was so mesmerized that he believed that he was in church. This initial impression led him to his lifelong conviction that the theater is a place where the spirit is nourished. Convinced that he had found his true calling, Connelly began writing and producing numerous plays on the second floor of his father’s hotel at the age of eleven. After moving to Pittsburgh, Connelly began to write short humorous pieces for a local newspaper, the Pittsburgh Press. After a year, he was hired by the Gazette Times as humor columnist, news reporter, and assistant drama critic. It was during this period that Connelly began writing plays, skits, and lyrics for musicals.{$I[AN]9810001241}{$I[A]Connelly, Marc}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Connelly, Marc}{$I[tim]1890;Connelly, Marc}

Marc Connelly in 1937.

(Library of Congress)

In 1920, when Connelly was fired from his job as press agent for a musical comedy, he started his collaborations with Kaufman, who was the drama critic of The New York Times. Between 1920 and 1924, Connelly and Kaufman wrote several plays and musical comedies together, at least four of which are of permanent interest to the theater. All of their plays attack the elevation of fashionable art over classical art. While they worked together, Connelly and Kaufman were also members of the Round Table of the Algonquin Hotel, and the influence of the other writers who belonged to this informal lunch group can be easily detected in their many collaborations. Their first play, Dulcy, was based on a fatuous character created by the columnist F. P. Adams and was used as a vehicle for Lynn Fontanne.

After the termination of his partnership with Kaufman, Connelly joined the ranks of established writers such as Alexander Woollcott and Edna Ferber who contributed to Harold Ross’s fledgling magazine The New Yorker with essays, skits, satires, and travel articles. One of Connelly’s short stories, “Coroner’s Inquest,” won for him an O. Henry Award in 1930. To the extent that all the works produced during this time are concerned with the individual isolated from society, they can be viewed as preparation for his greatest work: The Green Pastures.

While The Green Pastures (based on Roark Bradford’s Ol’ Man Adam an’ His Chillun) is ostensibly another one of Connelly’s “hopeful” plays, it stands apart from his previous works because of the scale of its vision. In this play, Connelly links the struggles of the Jews with those of African Americans, thereby promising black audiences that they too could become active in their own cause. The play established various long-run records and won for Connelly the Pulitzer Prize, reflecting an awakening social conscience in the United States. In 1935, Warner Bros. purchased the film rights and hired Connelly to direct, stage, and cast the film, making him the highest paid writer in Hollywood at the time. The Green Pastures was revived in 1951, but times had changed: The play enjoyed only a short run and was severely criticized by prominent black writers for its portrayal of African Americans.

For most of the 1930’s and the early 1940’s, Connelly made his home in Hollywood, where he wrote the screenplays for such films as Captains Courageous and I Married a Witch. Although some critics rank these screenplays among the greatest produced by Hollywood at the time, none of the works belonging to this period approaches The Green Pastures.

Connelly returned to Broadway in 1942 with The Flowers of Virtue; when it failed, he ceased to write for the stage for the duration of the war. In fact, he did not have a single successful play produced or published after World War II. He became a professor of playwriting at Yale University from 1947 to 1952 and was elected president of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1953. In 1964, Connelly wrote his first novel, A Souvenir from Qam, a romantic comedy laced with Algonquin humor; it received favorable reviews. After writing this novel, he seemed to have been content to spend the rest of his life as an elder statesman of letters, devoting his time to traveling, acting, and writing his autobiography, Voices Offstage. Connelly died in 1980.

Connelly’s reputation as a playwright rests primarily on The Green Pastures, which some critics have called one of the most important plays in American drama. He wrote other fine plays, such as Beggar on Horseback and The Wisdom Tooth, but they are generally considered minor. Most of his other “good” plays are of historical interest primarily for the insights they provide into the 1920’s and the 1930’s. Even though he did not revolutionize the theater or inspire scores of imitators, Connelly was an important influence. The social satires that he wrote with George S. Kaufman introduced a new kind of comedy to theater, comedy evident in such later plays as Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple (pr. 1965).

The intent in all Connelly’s plays was not so much to expound a philosophical view of life as to turn the theater into what he called a “benign drug” that allowed people to forget about their troubles for a while. Thus his plays offend modern sensibilities and appear to be hopelessly unrealistic because of their championship of the “born loser” and their affirmation of the emergence of humanistic qualities in all people, even under the most unbearable conditions. Yet in his refusal to lecture morality to his audience, he allied himself with ancient Greek dramatists, who preferred to provide their audiences with the tools with which to examine their lives.

BibliographyBrown, John Mason. Dramatis Personae: A Retrospective Show. New York: Viking Press, 1963. This comprehensive history of the American theater in the twentieth century also covers the long career of Marc Connelly in theater, radio, and Hollywood.Daniel, Walter C. “De Lawd”: Richard B. Harrison and “The Green Pastures.” New York: Greenwood Press, 1986. In this volume, Daniel reviews African American contributions to the American theater and the role of Connelly in stage history.Harriman, Margaret Case. The Vicious Circle: The Story of the Algonquin Round Table. New York: Rinehart, 1951. A glimpse into Connelly’s years with the Algonquin Round Table.Nolan, Paul T. Marc Connelly. New York: Twayne, 1969. Nolan provides a concise but useful study of the colorful author and supplements his book with a useful bibliography.Quinn, Arthur Hobson. A History of the American Drama from the Civil War to the Present Day. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1964. This standard account includes some material on Connelly and his era.Wainscott, Ronald H. The Emergence of the Modern American Theater, 1914-1929. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1997. This wide-ranging study of American theater looks at topics such as American expressionism and examines George Kaufman and Connelly’s Beggar on Horseback.Woollcott, Alexander. The Enchanted Aisles. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1924. A glimpse into Connelly’s years with the Algonquin Round Table.
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