In some instances, notably in the cases of Albee and Lillian Hellman, the playwright’s best play literarily was not deemed suitable for the award, usually because of the “uplift” clause. Hellman’s most celebrated play, The Children’s Hour (pr. 1934), had homosexual overtones that probably precluded it from receiving the 1935 award. The Drama Jury attempted to honor Hellman by awarding her the prize in 1960. The Advisory Board, however, balked, and the award was not made. Albee certainly received “catch-up” awards after the controversy over Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
An attempt was also made to honor Clifford Odets, who had been passed over for such plays as Awake and Sing! (pr. 1935), Paradise Lost (pr. 1935), and Golden Boy (pr. 1937). The Drama Jury in the years in question had such an array of strong plays to choose from that Odets lost out to Zoë Atkins, whose The Old Maid (pr. 1934) won the prize in 1935, to Sherwood, whose Idiot’s Delight took the 1936 award, and to Hart and Kaufman, whose You Can’t Take It with You was the winner in 1937. Finally Odets’s The Flowering Peach (pr. 1954), a redaction of the story of Noah and the flood, would have won the 1955 award save for a technicality.
Many of the plays that received recognition in the 1980’s and 1990’s would not have met the “uplift” requirement in effect earlier. They dealt openly with such controversial topics as race relations (notably August Wilson’s Fences, pr. 1985, and The Piano Lesson, pr. 1987, and Alfred Uhry’s Driving Miss Daisy, pr. 1987); homosexuality (notably Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, Part One: Millennium Approaches, pr. 1991, and Jonathan Larson’s Rent, pr. 1996); and feminism (notably Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles, pr. 1988). They did not deal with the “smiling” aspects of American life but rather focused upon the provocative social problems that reflected modern America in the throes of realistically working through the more challenging and enigmatic dilemmas that faced people in the waning years of the twentieth century.