Playwright, actor, and director George Emlyn Williams was born to a working-class Welsh family; he never heard English spoken until he attended Holywell County School at age ten. Yet his talent as a linguist changed his life when Grace Cooke, a London social worker, recognized his extraordinary ability and helped him win a scholarship to Saint Julien’s in Switzerland and then to Christ Church College, Oxford, from which he received his degree in 1927.
Williams became involved in Oxford University Drama Society productions, first acting and then writing a one-act play, Vigil, produced with the playwright in the lead. Even this initial effort presaged some of the characteristics of Williams’s best work: the Welsh background, the fascination with murder, and the roles that he created for himself.
In 1927, Full Moon, his first full-length play, was staged. During the next several years, while acting in London in productions of plays by Luigi Pirandello, Émile Zola, Sean O’Casey, and others, Williams found time to write his first important drama, A Murder Has Been Arranged. The most noteworthy element is the main character, Maurice Mullins, a bright, attractive young man who misuses his charm for a nefarious end, the murder of his uncle.
Williams’s next few efforts were not successful, although his adaptation of The Late Christopher Bean (changed from its New England setting to an English one) received excellent reviews, primarily as the result of Dame Edith Evans’s appearance as Guenny, a Welsh maid. During these years, the playwright continued to act in London and New York and did several film roles as well. In 1935 Night Must Fall established Williams as a major dramatist.
In the introduction to The Collected Plays, Williams remarked, “There was only one living playwright sufficiently interested in my acting to write a part which only I could play. Me!”...
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