Emlyn Williams was already an experienced actor and playwright when he scored his first major success with Night Must Fall (pr., pb. 1935), a psychological thriller that he wrote and directed and in which he played the lead role. The Corn Is Green, for which he was again author, director, and leading man, established him as one of the most popular playwrights of the 1930’s. It ran for nearly two years in London and opened in New York in 1940, where it gained the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Play, in 1941.
Its success hinges on the casting of Miss Moffat, who has been portrayed by some of the greatest English-speaking actors of the century: by Dame Sybil Thorndike in the original London production; by Ethel Barrymore in New York, in 1940; by Bette Davis in a film version, in 1945; and by Katharine Hepburn on television. Despite its dated context, its simple construction and strong character interest have made it a popular choice for amateur productions.
Although Williams was born into a mining family, his father became a publican, and his childhood was far more comfortable than that of Morgan Evans. The play is nevertheless partially autobiographical, and the character of Miss Moffat is based on Miss Grace Cooke, a teacher with whom Williams had a very close relationship and who greatly influenced his career. She is reported to have strongly approved of the play, believing that the characters were “straight from life.” She found the ending contrived, however, and tried to persuade Williams to change it.
Williams’s love of the Welsh people is evident in several of his later plays and reaches a strange climax with The Wind of Heaven (pr., pb. 1945), in which Christ is reincarnated as a Welsh boy gifted with angelic powers. The Corn Is Green and its successors gave the Welsh—and in particular the Welsh working class—a stage presence hitherto denied them and played a major part in creating a modern Welsh theater culture.