George S. Kaufman

views updated May 23 2018

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. □

Kaufman, George Simon

views updated Jun 11 2018


KAUFMAN, GEORGE SIMON (1889–1961), U.S. playwright and stage director. Born in Pittsburgh, Kaufman began his career as a journalist, but in 1918 turned to writing for the stage. His name is linked with over 30 hits, almost all his plays having been written in collaboration with others, such as Marc Connelly, Edna Ferber, Morrie Ryskind, and Moss Hart. For each year from 1921 to 1941, Kaufman, as either writer or director, had at least one hit Broadway show. He was an acknowledged master of stage technique and comedy, and plays such as Once in a Lifetime (1930), You Can't Take it With You (1937, Pulitzer Prize), and The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939) have found their way into many anthologies. In 1946 he wrote his dramatic version of The Late George Apley, the novel by J.P. Marquand, an admirable example of his skill in adapting from one artistic medium to another. Kaufman's versatility was shown in the musicals The Coconuts (1925) and Animal Crackers (1928), written for the Marx Brothers; Strike up the Band (1930); The Band Wagon (1931); and Of Thee I Sing (1932, Pulitzer Prize). Perhaps his most serious play, inspired by the prejudices and hatreds of the Hitler era, was The American Way (1939). Other successes by Kaufman include Dinner at Eight (1932), Stage Door (1936), George Washington Slept Here (1940), and The Solid Gold Cadillac (1951). He directed such stage hits as Front Page (1928), Of Mice and Men (1937), and Guys and Dolls (1950). Kaufman's early experience as a columnist and as a dramatic critic on New York newspapers developed his sensitivity to language and the demands of the theater. His plays made exciting entertainment and his satirical flashes poked fun at weaknesses in American life.


J.M. Brown, Broadway in Review (1940), 88–94, 169–76; idem, Seeing Things (1946), 205–11; E.M. Gagey, Revolution in American Drama (1947), 217–20; J. Mersand, Traditions in American Literature (1939), 14–24; A.H. Quinn, History of the American Drama, 2 (1937), 220–5. add. bibliography: S. Meredith, George S. Kaufman and His Friends (1975).

[Joseph Mersand /

Robert L. DelBane (2nd ed.)]

Kaufman, George Simon

views updated May 21 2018

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).

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