Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Outwardly, Philip Barry led a charmed life: He married the right woman, made lots of money, and ran with the rich and famous. Inwardly, however, his life was not as fortunate. By the time Barry died in 1949, at the comparatively young age of fifty-three, he had experienced more failures on Broadway than successes, and he was plagued by depression and religious doubts severe enough to disrupt his otherwise disciplined and orderly work habits. In addition, all his life Barry remained on the periphery of the upper-class world he depicted in so many of his plays and emulated in his life. As Brendan Gill has perceptively noted, Barry, like such other Irish-Catholic writers of his generation as Eugene O’Neill, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and John O’Hara, spent his creative career striving for the perquisites and assurance of his Protestant “betters.”
Philip James Quinn Barry was born on June 18, 1896, in Rochester, New York, to James Corbett Barry and Mary Agnes Quinn. He was the youngest of four children. His father, who emigrated from Ireland as a boy, became wealthy in a marble and granite business, and when he married Mary Agnes, they brought together two well-to-do Irish families who were obviously going to make their mark in the prospering upstate city. Unfortunately, James Barry died the year after Philip’s birth, leaving his youngest son to be brought up by his sister and mother under increasingly reduced circumstances, for despite the best efforts of the two older Barry sons, the granite business gradually declined. Barry attended Nazareth Hall Academy, a Roman Catholic secondary school, and East High School in Rochester. He attempted his first three-act play, “No Thoroughfare,” in 1909, but other than a story, “Tab the Cat,” which he wrote for publication in the Rochester Post Express, the young Philip did not show any precocious literary talent. In the autumn of 1913 he entered Yale.
The combination of East High and Yale did much to broaden Barry’s world beyond the rather narrow Catholicism of his family. Especially at Yale, where he was thrown in among the Protestant elite, Barry decided to work his way into the larger, more sophisticated world of money. Because of defective eyesight, he had not been an athlete in school, so Barry turned to writing, and over the next three years he contributed poetry, short stories, and editorials to the Yale Literary Magazine. World War I disrupted Barry’s education, and he went to work for the American Embassy in London as a code clerk after he was rejected for military service. He used the time to advantage, however, completing a three-act play, which he unsuccessfully tried to get produced. In March of 1919, he was back at Yale, his work done in London, and in June the Dramatic Club produced his only known one-act play, Autonomy. That September, after receiving his degree, Barry enrolled in George Pierce Baker’s Workshop 47 at Harvard, and during the next year he wrote another three-act play, A Punch for Judy. Temporarily out of funds, Barry wrote copy for a year at W. A. Erickson, an advertising agency. During this time, he became engaged to Ellen Semple, daughter of a wealthy international lawyer, Lorenzo Semple, who with his wife lived in New York City and Mt. Kisco, New York. In the summer, Barry received word that A Punch for Judy would be produced by Workshop 47, would open in New York,...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Like a character from his own sparkling plays, Philip Barry had the good fortune to be handsome, clever, and rich. Born into an Irish-Catholic middle-class family (his dying father left him unprovided for in his will), he was fortunate in his opportunities for education, marriage, and the fulfillment of his talent. After finishing public high school in Rochester, New York, Barry was accepted into Yale University in 1913, when he was seventeen. From his freshman year he showed a keen interest in literature; he read avidly and wrote poems and stories for the Yale literary magazine. He spent a year in London as a code clerk for the American embassy during World War I and afterward returned to the United States, receiving a degree from Yale in 1919.
Barry’s interest in the theater, evident even in his early teens, now ripened into an ambition that would make him one of the most successful playwrights of his time. He enrolled in George Pierce Baker’s Workshop 47 drama course at Harvard University in 1919 and earned Baker’s respect and friendship. Baker perceived the authenticity of Barry’s talent and gave him the encouragement and knowledge that made the workshop indispensable not only to Barry but also to a generation of American dramatists, including Eugene O’Neill.
Barry’s first full-length play, A Punch for Judy, was completed at the workshop and produced in 1921. By this time, he had met Ellen Semple, a wealthy debutante, and the two were married in July, 1922. For a wedding present the couple was given a house in Cannes, on the French Riviera, and for the rest of his life Barry moved between Broadway and Cannes as his career blossomed.
His first major success was the comedy You and I, which ran on Broadway for 170...
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Philip Barry was born on June 18, 1896, in Rochester, New York, to a wealthy Irish-Catholic family. He was educated in both Roman Catholic and secular schools before attending Yale University in 1913. Rejected for military service during the World War I Barry worked for the U.S. Department of State at home and abroad during 1918–1919.
He returned to Yale in 1919 for his senior year, and became involved in the Dramatic Club. He contributed short stories and poetry to the Yale Literary Magazine and the college newspaper; later, he wrote a one-act play for the Dramatic Club.
After graduating from Yale he attended George Pierce Baker’s famous 47 Workshop at Harvard University. The 47 Workshop was a course in playwrighting and producing that taught several renowned writers.
Barry spent the early years of the 1920s working for an advertising firm. When his third play, The Jilts, was produced on Broadway as You and I (1923), he quit his job and became a full-time playwright. You and I depicted a young man’s decision to forsake security for the stage, and it became an immense success. He divided his time between New York and Cannes, although America remained the setting of most of his dramas and comedies.
Barry was a prolific writer: he wrote nineteen major plays and a novel. He wanted to be recognized for his serious dramas as well as his comedies, but his dramas were invariably commercial flops; although critics have subsequently pointed to his innovative and early use of psychoanalysis on the stage, his dramatic works remain unappreciated to this day.
Consequently, Barry’s reputation primarily rests on his three most successful comedies, Holiday (1928), Paris Bound (1927), and The Philadelphia Story (1939). These three plays are set in upperclass New England, and all of them concern marriage and status in contemporary America. In Holiday, the happy-go-lucky protagonist is engaged to a wealthy woman; she and her family want to squeeze him into the family firm, but he resists, and eventually abandons her to pursue his dreams.
In Paris Bound, a young, rich, newly married couple embrace liberal ideas about a free marriage, but find their bohemian attitudes are soon challenged. In The Philadelphia Story, a young heiress discards one husband and chooses another she believes is more suitable, only to discover that her first husband is in fact the right man for her.
Barry died at age fifty-five from a heart attack. His reputation as a fine writer of American comedy remains solid, and has been bolstered by the continuing popularity of both the stage and film versions of his best play, The Philadelphia Story.