Chase, Mary Coyle
CHASE, Mary Coyle
Born 25 February 1906, Denver, Colorado; died October 1981
Daughter of Frank and Mary McDonough Coyle; married Robert L. Chase, 1928; children: three sons
Mary Coyle Chase's mother was Irish and her brothers brightened her childhood with tales of Irish folklore. This love of myth was reinforced by a major in classics at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her first job, however, was writing society notes and "sob sister" stories for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. After her marriage she retired and invested her energy in volunteer work. She founded a chapter of the American Newspaper Guild, and worked for the rights of Colorado's Spanish-Americans. Her writing career began and continued sporadically while she reared three sons. Nevertheless, she wrote several plays, a short story for Ladies' Home Journal—"He's Our Baby"—and a motion picture script, "Sorority House."
Chase is famous for Harvey (1944), a whimsical comedy named for a man-sized rabbit who is the constant companion of the amiable alcoholic, Elwood P. Dowd. Elwood's insistence on Harvey's presence so humiliates his sister, Veta Louise, that she attempts to have Elwood committed. After a series of comic mistakes, she gains a new appreciation of Elwood's gentleness and prevents the doctors from turning him into a normal, dissatisfied person, like everybody else. Harvey was performed in London and Europe, filmed in 1950, and revived for the stage in 1970 by the American National Theater and Academy (ANTA) starring James Stewart and Helen Hayes. It won the 1944-45 Pulitzer Prize and also placed second for the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award.
Mrs. McThing (1952), a runner-up for the 1951-52 New York Drama Critics' Circle Award, was Chase's second success. It was Chase's attempt to create a full-length play for children that would provide a theatrical experience similar to the Christmas pantomimes that British children enjoy. Pleased with this aim, ANTA undertook production of the play despite very limited expectations, and audiences and critics were charmed by the production. The play is a fantasy about a witch, Mrs. McThing, who provides the wealthy Mrs. Larue and her son Howay an opportunity to become real human beings.
Following Mrs. McThing was Bernardine (1952). Again Chase was writing for young people—her sons in particular. Bernardine presents a sympathetic view of the painful experiences of adolescence. A group of boys from respectable families fancy themselves as hoodlums and bolster their egos with tall tales of conquest. Critics found the production warm and moving.
The best of Chase's work, despite uneven writing, reveals a world of whimsy, good humor, and kindness. Elwood in Harvey sets the tone with his dignified courtesy and his guileless friendliness in a crass, unaccepting world. Mrs. McThing adds a touch of magic as the witch turns into a beautiful fairy to bid farewell to her tearful daughter. Bernardine carries forth Chase's humor with the character of Wormy, who, by refusing to obey his mother's threatening commands, causes her to realize the value of the boys as allies. Thus Chase's vision is complete: love is victorious in a pleasant world of fancy.
Now I've Done It (1937). The Next Half Hour (1945). Loretta Mason Potts (1958). Midgie Purvis (1961).
Cosmopolitan (Feb. 1945). NYT (8 May 1945). Saturday Evening Post (1 Sept. 1945).
—LUCINA P. GABBARD