Emlyn Williams Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Playwright, actor, and director George Emlyn Williams was born to a working-class Welsh family; he never heard English spoken until he attended Holywell County School at age ten. Yet his talent as a linguist changed his life when Grace Cooke, a London social worker, recognized his extraordinary ability and helped him win a scholarship to Saint Julien’s in Switzerland and then to Christ Church College, Oxford, from which he received his degree in 1927.

Williams became involved in Oxford University Drama Society productions, first acting and then writing a one-act play, Vigil, produced with the playwright in the lead. Even this initial effort presaged some of the characteristics of Williams’s best work: the Welsh background, the fascination with murder, and the roles that he created for himself.

In 1927, Full Moon, his first full-length play, was staged. During the next several years, while acting in London in productions of plays by Luigi Pirandello, Émile Zola, Sean O’Casey, and others, Williams found time to write his first important drama, A Murder Has Been Arranged. The most noteworthy element is the main character, Maurice Mullins, a bright, attractive young man who misuses his charm for a nefarious end, the murder of his uncle.

Williams’s next few efforts were not successful, although his adaptation of The Late Christopher Bean (changed from its New England setting to an English one) received excellent reviews, primarily as the result of Dame Edith Evans’s appearance as Guenny, a Welsh maid. During these years, the playwright continued to act in London and New York and did several film roles as well. In 1935 Night Must Fall established Williams as a major dramatist.

In the introduction to The Collected Plays, Williams remarked, “There was only one living playwright sufficiently interested in my acting to write a part which only I could play. Me!”...

(The entire section is 803 words.)

Emlyn Williams Biography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

George Emlyn Williams was born on November 26, 1905, in the village of Mostyn, Wales, the first surviving child of Richard and Mary Williams. Like most other children of his village, the young George spoke only Welsh until he was eight, and like most boys in that part of Wales, he could look forward to a life in the mines.

Williams was an imaginative child, however, and when he was ten, he won a scholarship to the Holywell County School, where he came to the attention of Miss Grace Cooke, a London social worker and the model for Miss Moffat in The Corn Is Green. Recognizing his talents—especially his facility with languages—she helped him secure a scholarship to Oxford, where he went in 1923. His choice of theater as a vocation was not surprising: As a child, he would cut characters from illustrated catalogs and create plays by inventing stories for them with himself as hero.

At Oxford, Williams—now using Emlyn as his first name—appeared in 1923 in his first play, a French farce. In 1924, he wrote his first play, a bittersweet version of Cinderella, never produced or published, and the following year, his first play was produced by the Oxford University Drama Society. Vigil is a one-act thriller about a cruel master who lures men to their deaths and who in turn is killed by his servant. As with so many of Williams’s plays, there was a role in it for its author.

The year Williams received his M.A., 1927, was also the year the Drama Society, under the direction of J. B. Fagan, produced Williams’s first full-length play, Full Moon, a story of conflict between romantic and possessive love. Fagan, a playwright as well as a producer, thought enough of Williams as an actor to give him a role in his own play And So to Bed, in which Williams made his London debut in April, 1927, and his New York debut in November, 1927. During the New York run, Williams wrote Glamour, which in 1928 became his first play to be seen in London. Not until 1930 and A Murder Has Been Arranged, however, did he gain the attention of the critics. A murder mystery with supernatural overtones, it features a protagonist, Maurice Mullins, whose surface charm conceals his ruthlessness, anticipating Dan in Night Must Fall and Fenn in Someone Waiting. Reviews were good, but business was not.

The two plays that followed—Port Said (revised in 1933 as Vessels Departing) and Spring 1600 (revised in 1945)—were neither critical nor popular successes. If Williams’s career as playwright seemed at a standstill, however, his career as actor was flourishing, with roles in plays byÉmile Zola, Sean O’Casey, Luigi Pirandello, Georg Kaiser, and Edgar Wallace.

The year 1935 was an important one for Williams. He married Molly O’Shann, and his first child, Alan Emlyn, was born. It was also the year in which Night Must Fall was produced. This psychological thriller ran for a year in London, provided Williams with one of his best roles, and established him as an important playwright. (Interestingly, 1935 is also the year in which the action of his novel Headlong occurs.)...

(The entire section is 1309 words.)