Skip to main content
Select Source:

George S. Kaufman

George S. Kaufman

American playwright George S. Kaufman (1889-1961) collaborated on a great number of successful plays that merged theatricality with satiric comedy.

George S. Kaufman was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Nov. 16, 1889. After attending public schools in Pittsburgh and Paterson, N.J., he studied law briefly. He worked as a clerk, stenographer, and ribbon salesman before he started contributing humorous verses to the newspaper column of Franklin P. Adams in 1908. With Adams's help, Kaufman joined the Washington Times in 1912. After working on the New York Evening Mail and the New York Tribune, he went to the New York Times in 1917 and remained as drama editor until 1930. In 1917 he married Beatrice Bakrow.

Tense and tireless, caustic and witty, Kaufman was somewhat eccentric in his personal mannerisms. His first successful play, Dulcy (1921), written with Marc Connelly, is a satire of a vapid woman who is wrecking her bright husband's plans. To the Ladies (1922) reverses this, as a bright woman saves her vapid husband's plans. For 20 years one Kaufman collaboration, and sometimes several, appeared annually on Broadway.

Among the best examples of Kaufman's satiric comedy were two collaborations with Edna Ferber: The Royal Family (1928) focuses on the American theater's first family, the Barrymores, and Dinner at Eight (1932) deals with social climbing. His musical satire, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Of Thee I Sing (1931), written with Morrie Ryskind, hilariously indicts the chicanery of politicians. He collaborated with Ryskind again on the musical Let 'Em Eat Cake (1933). In First Lady (1935) he again derided politicians.

Sometimes Kaufman succeeded with sheer theatricality, as in another Pulitzer Prize-winner, You Can't Take It with You (1936), written with Moss Hart. The classic The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939) was also written with Hart. Working with John P. Marquand on an adaptation of the latter's novel The Late George Apley (1944), Kaufman tossed barbs at the proper Bostonians.

After the death of his first wife in 1945, Kaufman married actress Leueen McGrath, whom he divorced in 1957; they wrote The Small Hours (1951). After World War II he worked increasingly as a play doctor. His knowledge of play structure was highly valued, and his plays rarely failed. He died on June 2, 1961, in New York City.

Further Reading

Kaufman and his work are discussed in John Mason Brown, Two on the Aisle: Ten Years of the American Theatre in Performance (1938) and The Worlds of Robert E. Sherwood: Mirror to His Times (1965); Edna Ferber, A Peculiar Treasure (1939; rev. ed. 1960); Edmond M. Gagey, Revolution in American Drama (1947); Six Modern American Plays, introduced by Allan G. Halline (1951); Moss Hart, Act One (1959); and Jean Gould, Modern American Playwrights (1966).

Additional Sources

Meredith, Scott, George S. Kaufman and his friend, Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1974.

Goldstein, Malcolm, George S. Kaufman: his life, his theater, New York: Oxford University Press, 1979. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"George S. Kaufman." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"George S. Kaufman." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/george-s-kaufman

"George S. Kaufman." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/george-s-kaufman

Kaufman, George S.

George S. Kaufman: (kôf´mən), 1889–1961, American dramatist and journalist, b. Pittsburgh as George Kaufman. As a drama critic for various New York newspapers he was influential in raising the standards of criticism in the theater. He collaborated on more than 40 plays, many of them tremendously successful, which varied in mood from the rowdy farces of his early days to his later more sophisticated comedies. His collaboration with Marc Connelly produced such plays as Merton of the Movies (1922) and Beggar on Horseback (1924) and was followed by collaborations with Ring LardnerJune Moon (1929)—and Edna FerberThe Royal Family (1927), Dinner at Eight (1932), and Stage Door (1936). In 1932, Kaufman won the Pulitzer Prize for the musical Of Thee I Sing (1931), written with Morrie Ryskind, to a score by George Gershwin. Some of his most famous plays, containing some of his best wisecracking wit, were done in collaboration with Moss Hart, notably Once in a Lifetime (1930), Merrily We Roll Along (1934), You Can't Take It with You (1936; Pulitzer Prize), and The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939). Among his later works are The Late George Apley (with J. P. Marquand, 1944) and The Solid Gold Cadillac (with Howard Teichmann, 1954). Kaufman directed several successful plays including The Front Page (1928), My Sister Eileen (1940), and Guys and Dolls (1950).

See Kaufman & Co.: Broadway Comedies (2004); biographies by S. Meredith (1974) and R. G. Pollack (1988).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Kaufman, George S.." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Kaufman, George S.." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/kaufman-george-s

"Kaufman, George S.." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/kaufman-george-s

Kaufman, George Simon

Kaufman, George Simon (1889–1961) US playwright. He collaborated with other writers, such as Edna Ferber on Stage Door (1936) and Moss Hart on You Can't Take It With You (1936) and The Man Who Came To Dinner (1939). He also contributed to Guys and Dolls (1950).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Kaufman, George Simon." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Kaufman, George Simon." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/kaufman-george-simon

"Kaufman, George Simon." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/kaufman-george-simon