Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on November 16, 1889, playwright George S. Kaufman co-wrote many Broadway hits, including Stage Door (1936) and The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939). Two of his collaboratively written works, Of Thee I Sing (1931) and You Can't Take It With You (1936), won Pulitzer Prizes. Kaufman was also a Tony Award-winning director. At age 71, he died in New York City on June 2, 1961.
Early Life and Career
George Simon Kaufman was born on November 16, 1889, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With a father who was unsuccessful in business, he experienced a difficult childhood. For a short time, he was a law student, then became a ribbon salesman before landing a job as a humor columnist. Writing as George S. Kaufman, he next found work as a theater critic, and was hired by The New York Times in 1917.
'The Great Collaborator'
While still a critic, Kaufman embarked upon a career as a playwright and librettist. After a few unsuccessful starts, he co-wrote Dulcy with Marc Connelly, which succeeded onstage in 1921. With Connelly, Kaufman wrote several more plays, the majority of which were hits.
Kaufman created one play, The Butter and Egg Man (1925), on his own, but spent the rest of his career with collaborators, the working method he liked best. The style of his creations varied with his partners, yet generally incorporated the wit Kaufman often displayed in real life. Though he wasn't a fan of musicals, he worked on a number of them, including the Marx Brothers production The Cocoanuts (1925), which Kaufman handled with an uncredited Morrie Ryskind.
Over the course of his career, Kaufman ended up collaborating with 16 writers; some pieces were unsuccessful—such as The Good Fellow (1926), written with Herman J. Mankiewicz—but he produced numerous hits. In 1927, Kaufman penned the popular Royal Family with Edna Ferber. Other successes from his partnership with Ferber were Dinner at Eight (1932) and Stage Door (1936).
Kaufman reunited with Ryskind on Of Thee I Sing (1931); the two were also joined by Ira Gershwin. Of Thee I Sing became the first musical to receive a Pulitzer Prize. Kaufman was awarded a second Pulitzer for the family comedy You Can't Take It With You (1936), co-written with Moss Hart. Working with Hart was another fruitful pairing, resulting in Once in a Lifetime (1930) and The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939).
Despite his dislike for Hollywood, Kaufman also adapted some of his work for film including Animal Crackers (1930), A Night at the Opera (1935), Solid Gold Cadillac (1956) and Silk Stockings (1957). Many more of his plays became films adapted by other screenwriters including Dinner at Eight (1933), Stage Door (1937), You Can't Take It With You (1938) and The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), among others.
Though he is primarily known as a writer, Kaufman served as the director for many of his plays, such as Once in a Lifetime (1930). He also directed works by other writers, like The Front Page (1928) and Of Mice and Men (1937). Kaufman won a Tony for his direction of the smash hit Guys and Dolls (1950). He directed just one film, The Senator Was Indiscreet (1947).
His success gave him a large income, but the shy Kaufman was more focused on work than anything else. He did indulge in romantic liaisons, including one with Mary Astor. Following the death of his first wife, Beatrice Bakrow, Kaufman wed Leueen MacGrath, an actress who also became one of his collaborators. The two divorced in 1957.
At age 71, George S. Kaufman died of a heart attack on June 2, 1961, in New York City. He left behind a body of work that includes 45 plays.
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