Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1719
More than twenty years after Alfred Uhry arrived in New York with dreams of becoming a lyricist, he made a surprise hit with his first original play, Driving Miss Daisy . Uhry had actually made the decision to leave the theater for good when, as he told a reporter for...
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More than twenty years after Alfred Uhry arrived in New York with dreams of becoming a lyricist, he made a surprise hit with his first original play, Driving Miss Daisy. Uhry had actually made the decision to leave the theater for good when, as he told a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, he suddenly decided to write a play about his grandmother. Lena Guthman Fox was a former schoolteacher who insisted on driving long after she could safely do so, so her family hired Will Coleman, an African-American chauffeur. Uhry believed that exploring their friendship could, at the least, counter misperceptions about racial relations in the South. Driving Miss Daisy took New York's theater-going crowd by storm and played Off-Broadway for three years.
Daisy Werthan is the play's title character, but she shares the stage and the audience's respect with Hoke Coleburn, the illiterate African-American man, twelve years her junior, who nevertheless becomes her ''best friend.'' The two older people, though of vastly different backgrounds and socioeconomic classes, are able to establish a valuable relationship. They share crucial similarities, yet their differences allow them the opportunity to learn from each other and enrich their lives.
The play opens with Daisy's refusal to acknowledge that she is no longer capable of driving safely. ''It was the car's fault,'' she declares, speaking of her accident. She longs for her old car. ‘‘You should have let me keep my La Salle ... It never would have behaved this way,’’ she tells Boolie. Daisy wants to be in control of her own life. Don Shewey, writing in American Theatre, points out some of the reasons for Daisy's stubbornness. ''Her physical and social vulnerability, because of her age and because she's Jewish in an overwhelmingly Christian society, only exacerbates the sharpness with which she hides her fear and fragility.’’
Hoke also suffers the same vulnerability, because of his age, but primarily because of his racial background. Unlike Daisy, he admits to this insecurity. When Boolie comments that Hoke has been out of work for a long time, he frankly replies, ''Well, Mist' Werthan, you try bein' me and looking for work. They hirin' young if they hirin' colored, an' they ain' even hirin' much young, seems like.’’
Though Daisy is white and Hoke is black, they both have preconceived notions of race. Daisy holds deep-seated prejudices against African Americans, but she does not acknowledge them, for they are simply the fabric of her society. For instance, a missing can of salmon provides all the opportunity she needs to denounce his race: ''They want something so they just take it,’’ she says to her son, Boolie. Over the years, Hoke's quiet honesty and dignity force Daisy to rethink her ideas.
Hoke also has strong notions about Jews. Unlike Daisy, however, his prejudices are positive. ‘‘I'd druther drive for Jews,’’ he tells Boolie during his interview. ''People always talkin' 'bout they stingy and they cheap, but doan' say none of that roun' me.’’ He holds Jews in higher esteem than their Christian counterparts for no truly valid reason—the same way that Daisy's prejudices have no basis.
Both Daisy and Hoke are formidably stubborn, but they have different ways of showing this trait. Daisy tends toward verbal protestation, as when Boolie tells her that he is going to hire a driver. Though she speaks loudly and vehemently, the play aptly demonstrates Daisy's habit of eventually succumbing, though she acts like she is not doing so even while it is happening. She also attempts to maintain control of her own life by placing herself in charge of the unimportant details that comprise her surroundings, including the speed at which Hoke drives. Hoke, in contrast, speaks little but takes firm action. He sums up his strategy for getting his way in the initial job interview: ‘‘I hold on no matter what way she run me. When I nothin' but a little boy down there on the farm above Macon, I use to wrastle hogs to the ground at killin' time, and ain' no hog get away from me yet.’’ The following exchange, which takes place on their first car ride together, typifies each character's determination:
DAISY: ... Where are you going? HOKE: To the grocery store. DAISY: Then why didn't you turn on Highland Avenue? HOKE: Piggly Wiggly ain' on Highland Avenue. It on Euclid, down near the— DAISY: I know where it is and I want to go to it the way I always go. On Highland Avenue. HOKE: That three blocks out of the way, Miz Daisy. DAISY: Go back! Go back this minute! HOKE: We in the wrong lane! I cain' jes'— DAISY: Go back I said! If you don't, I'll get out of this car and walk! HOKE: We movin' You cain' open the do'! DAISY: This is wrong! Where are you taking me? HOKE: The sto'. DAISY: This is wrong. You have to go back to Highland Avenue! HOKE: Mmmm-hmmmm. DAISY: I've been driving to Piggly Wiggly since the day they put it up and opened it for business. This isn't the way! Go back! Go back this minute! HOKE: Yonder the Piggly Wiggly. DAISY: Get ready to turn now. HOKE: Yassum.
The exchange also shows their manner of dealing with each other. Daisy quite vocally makes demands. Hoke, quietly, ignores them and continues on his chosen path. To get her way, Daisy makes threats (‘‘I'll get out of this car and walk.’’) and validates her superior knowledge (‘‘I've been driving to the Piggly Wiggly since the day ... they opened it for business.’’). As her futile protests grow more frantic, Hoke responds by not responding (‘‘Mmmm-hmmmm.’’). When Daisy finally accedes that Hoke has gotten his way (‘‘Yonder the Piggly Wiggly.’’), she again grasps control of the situation (''Get ready to turn now.''), at which point Hoke is smart enough to let her salvage her pride (‘‘Yassum.’’). This pattern repeats itself over the years, but becomes increasingly shortened. Decades later, Hoke is driving Daisy to a banquet for Martin Luther King, Jr.:
DAISY: You forgot to turn. HOKE: Ain' this dinner at the Biltmo'? DAISY: You know it is. HOKE: Biltmo' straight thissaway. DAISY: You know so much. HOKE: Yassum. I do. DAISY: I've lived in Atlanta all my life. HOKE: And ain' run a car in onto twenty years.
Both Hoke and Daisy know that, despite their age or race, they have basic human rights. As Daisy points out to Boolie at the very beginning of the play, ‘‘I am seventy-years old as you so gallantly reminded me and I am a widow, but unless they rewrote the Constitution and didn't tell me, I still have rights. And one of my rights is the right to invite who I want—not who you want—into my house.’’ Daisy, of course, loses this argument, primarily because it is theoretical and really has little meaning in her daily life. In the grand scheme, Daisy's rights are not trodden upon to any significant extent.
Hoke has a different experience. Though Daisy does not realize it, she continually questions his human dignity, and the audience can gather, other whites in Southern society do just the same. On the trip to Alabama, Hoke needs to urinate. When Daisy tells him that ''there's no time to stop'' and that they will ‘‘be in Mobile soon,’’ Hoke also feels compelled to remind Daisy of his rights—and follow up on his declaration:
HOKE: Yassum. (He drives a minute then stops the car.) Nome. DAISY: I told you to wait! HOKE: Yassum. I hear you. How you think I feel havin' to ax you when can I make my water like some damn dog? DAISY: Why, Hoke! I'd be ashamed! HOKE: I ain't no dog and I ain' no chile and I ain' jes' aback of the neck you look at while you goin' wherever you want to go. I a man nearly seventy-two years old and I know when my bladder full and I getting' out dis car and goin' off down de road like I got to do. And I'm takin' de car key dis time. And that's de end of it.
Unlike Daisy, Hoke must stick to his resolution because much higher stakes are involved.
Although Hoke makes points such as this, and even though Daisy comes to move away from her prejudice and to accept Hoke as a friend, she still cannot bring herself to treat him as an equal. The Martin Luther King, Jr., banquet best shows Daisy's struggle. She wants Hoke to accompany her but waits until the last minute to tell him, ‘‘Boolie said you wanted to go to this dinner with me tonight.’’ With pride, Hoke refuses to attend: ''next time you ask me someplace, ask me regular.'' Only at the end of the play is Daisy able to treat Hoke in a way consistent with her feelings: she takes his hand.
Daisy and Hoke are also drawn together partially because they both reside outside the norm of Southern society. Daisy, not surprisingly, refuses to acknowledge this truth. The temple bombing perfectly illustrates this concept. Daisy can't believe that her synagogue has been the object of attack. ‘‘Well, it's a mistake. I'm sure they meant to bomb one of the conservative synagogues or the orthodox one. The temple is reform.’’ Hoke understands the mindset of prejudiced people: ‘‘It doan' matter to them people. A Jew is a Jew to them folks. Jes' like light or dark, we all the same nigger.’’ This "otherness" help Daisy and Hoke to form a meaningful, lasting friendship that is mutually beneficial. Daisy strengthens Hoke's inner world, giving him access to the tools that will bring greater self-respect, such as a steady income, a car, and the ability to read. Hoke strengthens Daisy's outer world, helping her to become a better person, one who can move beyond her proscribed point of view and embrace concepts, such as civil rights, that will bring positive change to others. At the end of the play, their cohesiveness is demonstrated by this simple act: ‘‘(He cuts a small piece of pie with the fork and gently feeds it to her. Then another as the lights fade slowly out.).’’
Source: Rena Korb, in an essay for Drama for Students, Gale Group, 2001.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 520
Hay fever (the ailment not the play) prevented me from writing a column last week. Here are a couple of the more interesting productions that opened in the last two weeks.
Comfortable is one word for Alfred Uhry's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Driving Miss Daisy. Sentimental is another. What has become of this American award? I had just begun to think that if David Mamet could win it (for Glengarry Glenn Ross) then perhaps we could start taking it seriously again. Mamet was an original talent, without any doubt. This piece is an example of cosy American liberalism murmuring reassuring noises to itself. Purring is general, all over Broadway.
It is 1948. Rich, crusty old Atlanta Jewess (Wendy Hiller as Daisy) is persuaded by long-suffering son Boolie (Barry Foster) to employ poor illiterate old black chauffeur Hoke (Clarke Peters). Daisy, in her seventies, is unfit to drive, but wishes to soldier independently on (hurray for indomitable old bats like Daisy). The last thing she wants is an old black in the house (boo, but we know she will learn), least of all one who might disturb her frank idea of the stereotype nigger ('they all take things'). But the author has a stereotype of his own in store. Enter Hoke, as honest as the day is long (hurray again), quietly dignified (goes without saying, but more cheers), loyal to his old charge and full of homely Deep South insight; oppression breeds wisdom in a black man's soul, yessir.
It is not the message that deprives the piece of bite so much as its user-friendly serrations; an autumnal glow just will bathe every prejudice in sight. And of course there is the utter predictability of the play's ending. Twenty-five years on, in 1973, shared racial suffering and common humanity have sealed a geriatric concord. At the end, old Hoke visits older Daisy in the nursing home to feed her Thanksgiving pie.
Both lead actors are excellent. The considerable virtues of the production lie in the playing. Clarke Peter's Hoke is sparky, outspoken and engagingly ingenuous. Wendy Hiller completely eschews the Jewishness of Daisy, but that which would be unforgivable on Broadway is not much missed in the West End. Her cantankerous hauteur manages to be funny, vilely prejudiced and quaintly heroic—virtu refusing to give any quarter. But experience and old age bring her round. Her style of tight, crusty humour, of inarticulate expressiveness, does its best to cut across sentimentality. This is most notable in the scene where Hoke is driving her to the synagogue, burnt down by anti-semites. The event prompts Hoke's own youthful memories of lynched blacks dangling from trees. Daisy's tears at this point confirm a sense of identity with Hoke that her snobbery has been resisting throughout. Wendy Hiller ages so touchingly, and accurately, too (she is into her nineties by the end)—making faint, fluttering, expressive gestures of protest and despair with her hands. In fact both actors manage to create an air of simple, characterful spontaneity that almost overcomes the formulaic promptings of the text.
Source: Christopher Edwards, ‘‘Southern Comfort,’’ in Spectator, Vol. 260, No. 8345, June 18, 1988, pp. 38-39.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1641
New American plays, banished from New York's main stem, are cropping up in out-of-the-way quarters in modest productions. I belatedly popped in on two such works of reputation, both of them set in the South. My seat was warm for only one act of Robert Harling's Steel Magnolias at the Lucille Lortel Theatre—an excruciatingly cute concoction in the Beth Henley manner about a bunch of gabby women in a beauty parlor trading artificial wisecracks (sample: "I'm not crazy—I've just been in a bad mood for forty years’’). At the John Houseman Theatre, however, Alfred Uhry's Driving Miss Daisy, which might sound equally unappealing in bare outline, proved to be an experience of considerable power and sensitivity.
It was also exquisitely acted and directed, one of those rare moments in theater when every aspect of production seems to be controlled by a single unifying imagination, Driving Miss Daisy plays for about 90 minutes without intermission, further documenting my only formula for popularity on the stage these days—that critics and audiences will embrace most warmly those productions that last an intermissionless hour and a half. (Paradoxically, they are only slightly less enthusiastic about those lasting between four and nine hours with breaks for lunch and dinner.) I can't say why this is so—perhaps it is a consequence of the fast forward buttons on our VCRs. I only know that brevity now seems to have become a more important factor than quality in determining theatrical success.
Driving Miss Daisy has both appealing brevity and considerable quality. It is a first play by Uhry, who has hitherto been associated with musicals (he wrote book and lyrics for The Robber Bridegroom). If his talent holds against the inevitable pressures, we have another gifted playwright in our midst. Uhry comes from a German-Jewish family in Atlanta. His play is apparently autobiographical, a series of vignettes about the relationship between an aging Southern Jewish matriarch (presumably his grandmother) and her only slightly less venerable black chauffeur. Having once again totaled her car, Daisy Werthan is now considered too feeble to drive. Her son, Boolie, employs Hoke Coleburn to transport her back and forth to the supermarket, the synagogue, the cemetery where her husband is buried—invariably over Daisy's contentious objections. The play concerns the evolving intimacy between these two aged people, the gentle, bemused black man and the cranky Southern Jewess who resists his services—a kind of I'm Not Rappaport without the jokes. The old alliance between Jews and blacks is somewhat strained these days. It was already strained in the South during the period of the play, 1948 to 1973. Although ‘‘Miss Daisy’’ (as Hoke calls her, using the common form of subordinate Negro address) persists in believing that she feels no bigotry toward blacks, she is deeply opposed to Hoke's presence in her house, and not just because he reminds her of her helplessness. Daisy embodies all the racial prejudices of her class toward the "other'' that Hoke represents.
Including an assumption about thieving black people. Daisy complains to her son that she is missing a can of salmon, having found the empty can under the coffee grounds. Hardly a generous spirit, she assumes that Hoke has stolen this 33-cent item and wants him dismissed. Hoke enters, offering her another can of salmon, to admit he helped himself because the pork chops she gave him were "stiff."
But Hoke, though unfailingly courteous, is not merely a passive image of virtue. It takes him six days to persuade Daisy to let him drive her car ("the same time it took the Lord to make the world''), and when he finally gets her in the Oldsmobile, grumbling and complaining, driving becomes an occasion for a battle of wills. ‘‘Hold on, you're speeding,’’ she tells him, as he hurtles along at 19 miles per hour; they have a quarrel about the proper route to the supermarket; she complains that he parked the sedan in front of the synagogue (‘‘like I was Queen of Romania’’) instead of at the side entrance. A former teacher, Daisy is sensitive about being wealthy (‘‘I don't want you, I don't need you, and I don't like you saying I'm rich’’), while Hoke tries to persuade her there's nothing wrong with having a little money.
They disagree about everything and Hoke spends his days moping in the kitchen, a talkative man deprived of conversation. Only when they drive to visit her husband's grave does some intimacy spring up between them. Unable to make out the writing on the gravestone, Hoke arouses Daisy's tutorial instincts by admitting he's illiterate. Before long she is teaching him to read phonetically, and later gives him a handwriting copy book as a gift.
Daisy denies this is a Christmas present. She disapproves deeply of Jews who observe that holiday, chief among them her daughter-in-law, Floreen, whose idea of heaven on earth, she says, is ‘‘socializing with Episcopalians.’’ Floreen is an invisible character, deftly characterized by the playwright with simple strokes through Daisy's attitude toward her. Floreen puts reindeer in her trees, a Christmas wreath in every window. (‘‘If I had [her] nose,’’ snorts Daisy, ‘‘I wouldn't go around saying Merry Christmas to anyone.’’) Despite her nose, Floreen ends up as a Republican National Committee-woman, the type of woman who goes to New York to see My Fair Lady rather than attend the funeral of Daisy's brother in Mobile.
The trip to Mobile inspires tender and nostalgic memories in Daisy, who recalls tasting salt water on her face at her brother's wedding. As for Hoke, he admits to having never left Georgia before, and "Alabama ain't lookin' like much so far.'' Yet even this intimate journey inspires arguments. Hoke has to pass water; Daisy wants him to wait until they reach a Standard Oil gas station. But colored people aren't allowed to use white rest rooms and Hoke, shouting he will not be treated like a dog, stops the car and disappears into a bush. Her small piping "Hoke?'' signifies a belated realization of just how much she needs him.
Going to the synagogue one morning, both of them see a big mess in the road. The temple has been bombed. By whom? "Always the same ones,'' says Hoke. Daisy is convinced the hoodlums meant to bomb the conservative synagogue, but as Hoke observes,"A Jew is a Jew—just as in the dark we're all the same nigger.’’ This shared suffering moves Hoke to speak of a time when the father of his friend was lynched, his hands tied behind his back and flies all over his body. "Why did you tell me that story?’’ asks Daisy. ‘‘Stop talking to me.’’
By the time she's nearing 90, and extremely feeble, Daisy has developed enough social conscience to help organize a United Jewish Appeal banquet honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. Now it is her son, a successful banker with business to conduct with a racist clientele, who is hesitant about public demonstration of Jewish-black friendship. But Daisy persists. ‘‘Isn't it wonderful the way things are changing?'' she says to Hoke, who grumbles, "Things ain't changed that much.’’ Daisy has waited until the very day of the King memorial to invite him to join her at the banquet—and with quiet pride he refuses.
Growing senile in her 90s, confused and rambling, convinced she's teaching school again, Daisy realizes, with a start, that Hoke, the black man, is her best friend. And when her son and Hoke come to visit her in the nursing home, it is Hoke she wishes to talk to. "How old are you?'' he asks. "I'm doing the best I can." "Me too,’’ he responds, ‘‘... that's all there is to it.’’ In the final action of the play, a sweet, delicate moment, he feeds her two pieces of pie.
This odd love story, though it never underestimates the difficulty of intimacy between the races, could easily grow mawkish. It is a tribute to Uhry's discreet understatement that the sentiment does not grow into corn—or into The Corn Is Green. It is also a testimony to the gracefully detailed direction of Ron Lagomarsino and the splendid acting performances of Dana Ivey as Daisy Werthan and Morgan Freeman as Hoke Coleburn. (Ray Gill, playing Boolie like a portly young Charles Durning, is also effective in a more sketchy role.) The way Ivey and Freeman each age 25 years in the course of the action has been widely admired, and it should be. This is not a technical stunt, but the achievement of two gifted actors fully inhabiting their roles. Padded and spectacled in her flowered dress and lace collar, Ivey gives Daisy a growing fragility, inwardness, and snappishness that personifies perfectly realized old age, while Freeman's gray-haired, hatchet-faced, stooped, vaguely cadaverous Hoke is a portrait of a dignified, endearing soul. When he simulates driving the car, sitting on a stool, gently turning the wheel, and raising his eyes as if to watch his passenger in a rearview mirror, he creates a space filled with serenity.
The economy of the acting is matched by that of the production. Thomas Lynch's setting consists of a scrim, a few sticks of furniture, and two stools that represent the front and back seats of the car. Arden Fingerhut's lighting enhances the multiple scene changes. And Robert Waldman' s string trio composition—viola, cello, and banjo—blends atmospheric music with the twangy sounds of the South. Driving Miss Daisy is all of a piece, combining elements of sense and sensibility, not to mention generous portions of pride and prejudice. It is the work of decent people, working against odds to show how humans still manage to reach out to each other in a divided world.
Source: Robert Brustein, ‘‘Elegy for Old Age,’’ in New Republic, Vol., 197, No. 3793, September 28, 1987, pp. 28-30.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 729
There is a kind of play as redolent of the good old days as 5-cent beer and about as likely to make a comeback. What a sweet surprise, then, to find Driving Miss Daisy, a two-and-a-half-character play by Alfred Uhry (author and lyricist of The Robber Bridegroom, which I missed), at the tiny upstairs theater of Playwrights Horizons; it is full of an old-style unpretentiousness, coziness, and—despite genuine emotions—quietude. It concerns Miss Daisy Werthan, a crotchety, parsimonious, monumentally stubborn 72-year-old Atlanta widow, who, while insisting she can still drive, has to bow to the combined wills of her son, Boolie, and all the insurance companies in the land and accept a black chauffeur, Hoke, whom Boolie has hired for her.
Hoke is delighted that the Werthans are Jews, whom, in the past, he has found much easier to work for than Baptists. But he has never met the like of Miss Daisy for taciturn intractability, almost whimsical orneriness. He himself is a proud and determined man, respectful but never servile, possessed of amusingly ingenious ways to drive an iceberg as well as a car. The play covers, in bright but unflashy episodes, twenty-five years in these two lives, with Boolie providing an intermittent, droll or exasperated, obbligato to a duet that progresses from discord to close harmony in small, credible steps.
It is to Uhry's credit that there is no cheating. Miss Daisy, in her prosperity, never forgets her hard, impecunious childhood and struggling schoolteacher days; though she is not exactly a champion at the other virtues (except perhaps at propriety), in the generosity sweepstakes she was left at the starting gate. Her always-offstage maid, Idella, has come to terms with this; Boolie, who pays Hoke out of his pocket (‘‘highway robbery,’’ Daisy calls his modest salary), plays along with it; it is Hoke who, slowly, good-humoredly, dismantles Daisy's suspiciousness and isolation, even if he can never quite get her 'ungivingness' to give.
Still, Daisy teaches Hoke to read and write even as he teaches her about human rights and wrongs, and a prickly (on her part) and wary (on his) affection develops between them, the limits of which she will not overstep even after she, well into her nineties and after many changes in cars and conditions, declares him her best friend. Even more than a delicate miniaturist's talent, the playwright exhibits tact: He milks neither the sentiment nor the humor of the situation, and also resists, without avoiding the issues of racism and anti-Semitism, giving us a social tract. Neither the bombing of the synagogue to which Hoke has been regularly driving her nor the testimonial dinner for Martin Luther King, Jr. that, despite her son's cautious abstention, she insists on attending can induce Miss Daisy to accept Hoke as her equal in every way.
The dialogue is savory and spirited, and although not a moment of Driving Miss Daisy becomes momentous, not a minute of its 80 is boring. Even the predictable, in Uhry's hands, manages to be idiosyncratic enough to be palatable, and connoisseurs of filigree pleasures should feel snugly ensconced here. Those pleasures are vastly enhanced by a tastefully trimmed-down production, smartly and unfussily directed by Ron Lagomarsino and designed with elegant economy by Thomas Lynch (scenery), Michael Krass (costumes), and Ken Tabachnick (lights). But the evening's jewel is the acting. Dana Ivey, in splendid command of the accent, gives a performance exemplarily clean of outline yet rich in detail. I am not wholly sure that (without a chance for elaborate makeup) she really reaches 97 in the end, a feat even more rare on the stage than in life. And Ray Gill infuses the almost incidental role of Boolie with uncommon restraint and suggestiveness.
Primus inter pares, however, is Morgan Freeman. A specialist in tough, violent, often malign parts, he plays Hoke with an easygoing steadfastness both ironic and overwhelmingly humane. His pliability is strength in action, his sarcastic muttering cauterizes as much as it cuts, his wry warmth is as devoid of self-abnegation as of self-righteousness, and his overarching shrewdness is always clearly at the service of decency and good sense. I cannot think of another actor who could get such emotional variety from mere ‘‘Yes'm’s," or whose last-ditch self-assertion could be more quietly commanding. A magnificent performance.
Source: John Simon, ‘‘Daisy and Miller,’’ in New York, Vol. 20, No. 18, May 4, 1987, pp. 122, 124.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 618
There was a real Miss Daisy. She was a friend of my grandmother's in Atlanta, back in the forties when I was a child. She was a "maiden lady'' as we called it then, the last of a big family, and she lived in what I remember as a spooky old Victorian house. There was a Hoke, too. He was the sometime bartender at our German-Jewish country club, and, I believe, he supplemented his income by bartending at private parties around town. And Boolie ... well, I didn't really know him, but he was the brother of my dear Aunt Marjorie's friend Rosalie. They were real people, all right, but I have used only their names in creating the three characters in Driving Miss Daisy. I wanted to use names that seemed particular to the Atlanta I grew up in. The actual characters, though, are made of little bits and pieces of my childhood. Quite a bit of my grandmother, Lena Guthman Fox, and her four older sisters have gone into Miss Daisy herself. And I guess my mother, Alene Fox Uhry, is in there too. Hoke is based on my grandmother's chauffeur, Will Coleman, but also on Bill and Riley and Marvin and Pete and other black chauffeurs I knew in those days. And Boolie is so many pieces of so many men I know (including me, I suppose) that it would be hard for me to say what exactly comes from what.
I find that there is unusual interest in my offstage character Florine, Boolie's wife. Many people have said (by mail or in person) that they know Florine, she is their aunt, their cousin, their old friend from home, etc., etc., etc., and who was she really? I will never tell.
When I wrote this play I never dreamed I would be writing an introduction to it because I never thought it would get this far. The original schedule was a five-week run at Playwrights Horizons, a New York nonprofit theatre, in the spring of 1987, and I made sure various family members from Atlanta would get to town during that period. The theatre seated seventy-four people. Just the right size, I thought, for a little play that could surely have appeal only to me, my family, and a few other southerners. To my amazement, the appeal was much wider. When the five weeks was up, the engagement was extended for another five weeks, and by then the demand for tickets was so great that we had to move to a bigger theatre.
Flash forward a year and a half. Now there are several companies playing and many more productions planned in all parts of the world. I am in the process of writing the screenplay. I have won the Pulitzer Prize. Even as I write these words they seem unbelievable to me. When I wonder how all this happened (which I do a lot!) I can come up with only one answer. I wrote what I knew to be the truth and people have recognized it as such.
And I have been remarkably lucky. My wife, Joanna, has believed in me for thirty years. How can you ever thank somebody for that? And my daughters, Emily, Elizabeth, Kate and Nell, have always been loving and understanding about what I do for a living. Flora Roberts, my agent for twenty-five years, has always been my friend too, as well as a wonderful sounding board. I must also thank Jane Harmon, Robert Waldman, Andre Bishop, Ron Lagomarsino, Dana Ivey, Morgan Freeman, and Ray Gill for caring so much.
This has been one helluva ride!
Source: Alfred Uhry, "Preface," in Driving Miss Daisy, Theatre Communications Group, 1986, pp. vii—ix.