Behrman, Samuel Nathaniel

views updated


BEHRMAN, SAMUEL NATHANIEL (1893–1973), U.S. playwright. Behrman was born in Worcester, Mass. His parents had emigrated from Lithuania, and his father often devoted himself to Hebrew Scripture. Behrman graduated from Harvard, where he joined G.P. Baker's Drama Workshop, and from Columbia University. It took him 11 years to sell his first play, The Second Man (1927). It was a great success and marked the beginning of a prolific and brilliant career. Intellect, technique, wit, and charm apparent in this early work marked his later writings. His plays, including End of Summer (1936), No Time for Comedy (1939), and Jacobowsky and the Colonel (in collaboration with Franz *Werfel; 1943), are distinguished by warmth and respect for human values. Behrman was far ahead of his fellow playwrights in showing awareness of totalitarian evils, as in Rain from Heaven (1935) and Wine of Choice (1938). Behrman turned to biography with Duveen (1952), the career of the famous British art dealer. This was followed by the autobiographical Worcester Account (1954), a charming description of an American Jewish boyhood with an immigrant background. In Portrait of Max (1960), he recorded his conversations with Sir Max Beerbohm. Behrman returned to the theater in 1958 with a dramatization of his autobiography under the title The Cold Wind and the Warm. He also adapted the Duveen biography as a play, Lord Pengo (1963). In 1964 he was one of three American authors whose new works were chosen for the opening season of the Lincoln Center Repertory Theatre in New York. Behrman's play was But For Whom Charlie (1964), a comedy about a conflict of temperaments. His novel The Burning Glass (1968) was set in pre-World War ii Salzburg. Among other his works is People in a Diary; A Memoir (1972).


S.J. Kunitz (ed.), Authors Today and Yesterday (19342), 56–57; B. Mantle, Contemporary American Playwrights (1941), 108–15; J. Mersand, Traditions in American Literature (1939), 51–67; O. Prescott, "Books of The Times" New York Times (November 5, 1954), p.19.

[Bernard Grebanier]