Nichols, Anne 1891(?)-1966
Nichols, Anne 1891(?)-1966
Born November 26, 1891 (some sources say 1890), in Dales Mill, GA; died of a heart attack, September 15, 1966, in Englewood, NJ; daughter of George (a lawyer) and Julia Bates Mills Nichols; married Harry Duffy (an actor and producer), 1914 (divorced, 1924); children: Henry. Education: Attended business college.
Vaudeville performer, c. 1910-14; writer of vaudeville sketches and full-length plays, beginning 1915; also wrote for radio, film, and television.
(With Adelaide Matthews) Heart's Desire, first produced in vaudeville, 1916.
The Man from Wicklow, first produced in vaudeville, 1917.
The Happy Cavalier, first produced in vaudeville, 1918.
Springtime in Mayo, lyrics by Nichols and Fiske O'Hara, first produced in vaudeville, 1920.
Down Limerick Way, first produced in vaudeville, 1920.
Linger Longer Letty, lyrics by Bernard Grossman, first produced in New York at the Fulton Theater, 1920.
The Gilded Cage, first produced in Los Angeles, CA, at Mason Opera House, 1920.
Marry in Haste, first produced in vaudeville, 1921.
(With Adelaide Matthews) Just Married: A Comedy in Three Acts (first produced in New York at Comedy Theatre, 1921, revised as Nearly Married, Berlin, Germany, 1929), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1929.
(With Alford Van Ronkel) Her Weekend, first produced in Princeton, NJ at McCarter Theatre,1936; produced as Pre-Honeymoon on Broadway at Lyceum Theatre, 1936.
Abie's Irish Rose: A Comedy in Three Acts (first produced on Broadway at Fulton Theatre, 1922; revised in New York at The Little Theatre, 1937; revised in New York at Holiday Theatre, 1954; also see below), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1937.
Abie's Irish Rose: A Novel, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1927.
Nearly Married was filmed as a silent movie, 1929; Linger Longer Letty was adapted as Give Me a Sailor, Paramount Pictures, 1938; Abie's Irish Rose, a film adaptation of Nichols's play, was produced by Paramount Famous Lasky, 1929; Abie's Irish Rose, a film adaptation by Nichols and Alford Van Ronkel, was filmed by United Artists, 1946; Abie's Irish Rose was adapted as a weekly radio serial by the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), 1942-44, with Nichols as a consulting writer.
The late Anne Nichols's reputation as a playwright rests on her three-act comedy Abie's Irish Rose, which ran for a then-record 2,327 performances on Broadway between 1922 and 1927. Never a critical success—in fact, reviewers enjoyed panning the play in creative ways—Abie's Irish Rose was nonetheless an immense popular success that made its creator a millionaire while tapping into sentimental beliefs about blended families and the American dream. According to Leah Lowe in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "Nichols wrote to please a popular audience, and Abie's Irish Rose continues to stand as one of the most famous examples of a twentieth-century play that won the hearts of its viewers in spite of its profoundly negative critical appraisals."
Nichols grew up in Philadelphia and quit school to become a vaudeville performer while still in her teens. After a few years with a touring company, she gravitated to writing vaudeville sketches for other performers, some of which have been lost to history. She wrote the book for her first Broadway play, Linger Longer Letty, in 1919—the show ran for sixty-nine performances in 1920. That production was followed by Just Married and Love Dreams, musicals that closed after short periods onstage. By the time she wrote Abie's Irish Rose, Nichols had to mortgage her house and produce the play herself in order to see it to the stage.
The author must have experienced some tense months after the premiere of Abie's Irish Rose on May 23, 1922. Most critics dismissed the story of a Jewish war hero and his Irish Catholic bride as a shallow farce, although William B. Chase in the New York Times noted that the opening night audience "took the little comedy very heartily, laughing uproariously at its juggling with some fundamental things in human life." Gradually the play found its target crowds, and as its popularity soared, Nichols became wealthy and famous.
The action in Abie's Irish Rose revolves around the newlyweds, Abie, a World War I veteran, and Rose Mary Murphy, who was also involved in the war effort. Secretly married using Protestant rites, Abie and Rose at first try to fool their prospective families about their differences in religious faith. Eventually their fathers catch on, and a huge rift develops—healed in Act Three by the birth of twins. The play makes no great demands on its viewer and offers a tidy, happy ending, but according to Lowe the secret of its success lay in its affirmation of "a unified American identity composed of different ethnicities and religious faiths." The play was adapted as a novel, made into two movies, and even served as the basis for a radio serial drama in the 1940s, testifying to its enduring place in the popular theatrical canon.
In the wake of Abie's Irish Rose, Nichols produced other Broadway plays, but only one other work from her pen—the comedy Pre-Honeymoon—ever appeared on Broadway. After some financial setbacks in the Great Depression, Nichols lived modestly on the royalties of Abie's Irish Rose in its many incarnations and died in New Jersey of heart failure in 1966. In a rare New York Times interview four years prior to her death, she said: "I believe that love and prayer are the most important things in life." She expressed pride that her own work for the theatre expressed "humanity, humor, cleanness, kindliness, and simplicity."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Women Playwrights, 1900-1950, Peter Lang (New York, NY), 1995, pp. 408-413.
American Women Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999, pp. 196-197.
Chinoy, Helen Krich, and Linda Walsh Jenkins, Women in American Theatre, Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY),???, pp. 153-157.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 249: Twentieth-Century American Dramatists, Third Series, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002, pp. 268-273.
Laufe, Abe, Anatomy of a Hit: Long Run Plays on Broadway from 1900 to the Present Day, Hawthorn Books (New York, NY), 1966, pp. 65- 67.
Moses, Montrose J. and John Mason Brown, The American Theatre As Seen by Its Critics, 1752- 1934, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1934, pp. 260-262.
Nathan, George Jean, Materia Critica, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1924, pp. 229-233.
New York Times, May 21, 1962, Arthur Gelb, "Author of Abie's Irish Rose Reviews Forty Years," p. 40.
New York Times, September 16, 1966, "Anne Nichols Is Dead at 75: Author of Abie's Irish Rose," p. 37.