Born Katharine Hartley, 28 February 1909, Columbus, Ohio; died February 1981
Daughter of Guy H. and Pauline Sparks Hartley; married Kurt Frings, 1938; children: two
Ketti Frings is the daughter of a paper box salesman. During Frings' childhood the family lived in 13 different cities, but after their mother's death, Frings and her two sisters stayed with an aunt in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she attended Lake School for Girls. Frings enrolled at Principia College for one year, then left to take a job as advertising copywriter at a Newark, New Jersey, department store.
After several years of writing radio scripts, movie magazine articles, and advertising copy for New York agencies, Frings decided to spend a year in the south of France and write a novel. There she met her future husband, a German-born lightweight boxer who gave her the nickname Ketti, a diminutive for Katharine, which became her professional name.
The painful two-year hiatus before Frings was allowed to enter the U.S. is chronicled fictionally in Frings's first novel, Hold Back the Dawn (1940). The setting is Tijuana, Mexico, where a German husband resides while waiting for an immigration quota number. His American wife commutes between the immigrant colony, on weekends, and her one-room Hollywood apartment, where she writes the fan magazine stories to support them both. The book is an early indication of Frings' flair for the dramatic because she succeeds in bringing the tension of life to an essentially static situation.
Once settled in Beverly Hills, Frings' husband became an actors' agent and they had two children. She continued to produce numerous magazine stories, as well as screenplays. With her second novel, God's Front Porch (1944), Frings said she hoped "to try to dispel some of the world's gloom, to make those who are frightened a little less frightened." The arrival in Heavenly Bend Junction of a young soldier killed in the war is the occasion for Frings's sentimental fantasizing about how God might welcome those who have unwillingly left the world of the living and how He might even perform a little miracle for the war-ravaged earth.
Frings's first play, Mr. Sycamore, based on a 1907 short story by Robert Ayre, was produced by the Theater Guild in 1942. Critical reaction was more favorable toward leading players Stuart Erwin and Lillian Gish than toward the young dramatist. Brooks Atkinson, however, said of this gentle fantasy about a postman who turns himself into a tree: "Give Mrs. Frings credit for having tried something original and having stirred up some unhackneyed humor." Mr. Sycamore closed after 19 performances.
In contrast, Frings's next venture onto Broadway had a solid run of 564 performances and remains her best-known work. Her dramatization of Thomas Wolfe's novel, Look Homeward, Angel, opened in 1957 and was unanimously praised by the critics. Richard Watts, Jr., called it "a rich, beautiful, moving and full-bodied play." John McClain thought it was "quite simply, one of the best evenings I've ever had in the theater," and said Frings "should receive the loudest praise, for she has most ingeniously telescoped a few chapters from the long autobiographical novel into an overpowering consideration of a young man's escape from adolescence." Frings has discussed (Theatre Arts, Feb. 1958) the difficulties she experienced in paring down the overflowing images and speeches of the novel. Professional recognition for Look Homeward, Angel included the Pulitzer Prize in Drama and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award, and she was selected as the Los Angeles Times "Woman of the Year."
A 1960 dramatization of Richard Wright's novel about racial discord, The Long Dream, was poorly received. Mixed reactions greeted Walking Happy, a 1966 musical adaptation of Harold Brighouse's play, Hobson's Choice. In 1978 Frings collaborated with Peter Udell on a musical version of Look Homeward, Angel.
Frings's style might best be described as unpretentiously workmanlike. It is competent, direct, and always appropriate to her material, the range of which includes suspense melodrama, fictional treatments of topical issues, fantasy, and, her staple, romance.
Let the Devil Catch You (1947).
Grubbs, J. G., "The Role of Eliza Gant in Ketti Frings' Look Homeward, Angel: A Production Thesis in Acting" (thesis, 1993).
CB (Jan. 1960). Ohio Authors and Their Books (1962).
Collier's (26 April 1947). Newsweek (6 March 1944). Saturday Evening Post (20 Nov. 1943). SR (26 Feb. 1944, 6 Sept. 1958).
—FELICIA HARDISON LONDRÉ