George S. Kaufman Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

George Kaufman was born to Joseph S. Kaufman and Henrietta Myers, both members of the German-Jewish community of Pittsburgh. Joseph Kaufman had once worked as a deputy sheriff in Leadville, Colorado, and participated in one of the Ute Indian wars, but he returned to Pittsburgh poorer than when he had left. Marrying the wealthiest woman in his social circle was no help, as he soon brought his family to the brink of poverty. Mrs. Kaufman was a hypochondriac, and young George, who had been overprotected because of the infant death of his older brother, became an introverted, skinny adolescent who read adventure stories in Argosy magazine. (He even attempted to write for Argosy but had nothing accepted.) His father determined to toughen him up by sending him to an old family friend’s ranch in Idaho, but the boy was only confirmed in his reclusive tendencies.

In his teens, Kaufman became interested in theater. Encouraged by a rabbi, he first acted the part of a Scotsman in a religious production, and thereafter he was hooked for life. He collaborated on a play in 1903 with another boy, Irving Pichel, who would later become a Hollywood actor-director. The play was entitled The Failure, and both boys acted in it.

Kaufman studied law for three months, then gave it up, and on the advice of a physician took a job on a surveying team in West Virginia. That job did not last either, and other jobs followed. He went to secretarial school and became a stenographer for the Pittsburgh Coal Company. He became a window clerk for the Allegheny County tax office. In 1909, Joseph Kaufman got a job with the Columbia Ribbon Manufacturing Company in Paterson, New Jersey, and George became a traveling salesperson for the company. It was in Paterson and on his trips into New York City selling ribbons that Kaufman began reading Franklin P. Adams’s column “Always in Good Humor” in the New York Evening Mail. The column consisted of humorous contributions from throughout the area, as well as Adams’s witticisms, and Kaufman began submitting pieces under the initials “G.S.K.” to mimic Adams’s use of “F.P.A.” (only later in his life did Kaufman, who did not have a middle name, decide that the “S” represented “Simon,” his grandfather’s name.)

Adams recognized Kaufman’s talent and urged him to take acting lessons at the Alveine School of Dramatic Art as well as a playwriting course at Columbia University. In 1912, Adams maneuvered Kaufman into a position on the Washington Times, where he wrote a column entitled “This and That,” similar to Adams’s. He became familiar with the works of Mark Twain while there and honed his staccato writing style and ability to play poker. Within a year, however, the owner of the paper, who had never seen Kaufman face-to-face, noticed him in the office and remarked, “What is that Jew doing in my city room?” After several words were exchanged, Kaufman was fired and returned to New York, where he succeeded Adams at the Evening Mail, only to be dismissed. Adams then got him a job on the Tribune, where he covered local news. While reporting on incoming ships and other insignificant events, he began cadging free admission into the theaters, and eventually got himself assigned to the drama desk. In 1914, he became the drama editor. Three years later, after losing out to Heywood Broun for the position of top drama critic, he became drama editor of The New York Times.

In March of 1917, Kaufman married Beatrice Bakrow, whose ambitions and contacts helped thrust him into the theatrical world. She provided emotional...

(The entire section is 1499 words.)

George S. Kaufman Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

George Simon Kaufman was a humorist, journalist, drama critic, actor, director, playwright, screenwriter, and television personality. He is noted primarily as one of the most successful comic playwrights on Broadway and as a driving force in the American theater between 1920 and 1950.

Kaufman was born in 1889 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His father, Joe Kaufman, was an unsuccessful businessman, and the family often lived in shoddy boardinghouses. His mother, Henrietta Myers Kaufman, was a hysterical woman obsessed with dying. Because of his upbringing, Kaufman was haunted by fears of failure and death. Overprotected by his neurotic mother, the physically weak Kaufman learned how to fight using words. After a failed attempt at law school and a series of odd jobs, Kaufman had some of his humorous sketches published in “Always in Good Humor,” Franklin Pierce Adams’s column in the New York Evening Mail. Adams helped Kaufman land a job as the humor columnist for the Washington Times. By 1917, Kaufman had become the drama editor for The New York Times, a position which he held until 1930.

After reading one of Kaufman’s scripts, producer George C. Tyler hired Kaufman to rewrite portions of an unsuccessful play featuring Lynn Fontanne. Eventually, Kaufman collaborated with Marc Connelly to write another vehicle for Fontanne. Dulcy was Kaufman’s first success and was singled out for its wit, satire, topical humor, and fast-paced verbal battles, which were to become the hallmark of the Kaufman style. Next, Kaufman and Connelly attacked the American success myth in To the Ladies and the commercialization of art in Beggar on Horseback, an expressionistic satire that won for Kaufman both critical and popular acclaim. Kaufman also helped to launch the careers of the Marx Brothers with The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers. Teaming with Morrie Ryskind and George and Ira Gershwin, Kaufman won a Pulitzer Prize for the satirical musical Of Thee I Sing. Not only was it the...

(The entire section is 843 words.)

George S. Kaufman Biography

(Drama for Students)

Hart was born on October 24, 1904, in Bronx, New York. He was the son of Barnett Hart, who was born in Great Britain and worked as a cigar...

(The entire section is 700 words.)

George S. Kaufman Biography

(Drama for Students)
George Kaufman (at typewriter) and Moss Hart in 1937. Published by Gale Cengage

George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart are remembered as masters of comedic playwriting. Each made important contributions to the American theater...

(The entire section is 795 words.)