George Emlyn Williams was born on November 26, 1905, in the village of Mostyn, Wales, the first surviving child of Richard and Mary Williams. Like most other children of his village, the young George spoke only Welsh until he was eight, and like most boys in that part of Wales, he could look forward to a life in the mines.
Williams was an imaginative child, however, and when he was ten, he won a scholarship to the Holywell County School, where he came to the attention of Miss Grace Cooke, a London social worker and the model for Miss Moffat in The Corn Is Green. Recognizing his talents—especially his facility with languages—she helped him secure a scholarship to Oxford, where he went in 1923. His choice of theater as a vocation was not surprising: As a child, he would cut characters from illustrated catalogs and create plays by inventing stories for them with himself as hero.
At Oxford, Williams—now using Emlyn as his first name—appeared in 1923 in his first play, a French farce. In 1924, he wrote his first play, a bittersweet version of Cinderella, never produced or published, and the following year, his first play was produced by the Oxford University Drama Society. Vigil is a one-act thriller about a cruel master who lures men to their deaths and who in turn is killed by his servant. As with so many of Williams’s plays, there was a role in it for its author.
The year Williams received his M.A., 1927, was also the year the Drama Society, under the direction of J. B. Fagan, produced Williams’s first full-length play, Full Moon, a story of conflict between romantic and possessive love. Fagan, a playwright as well as a producer, thought enough of Williams as an actor to give him a role in his own play And So to Bed, in which Williams made his London debut in April, 1927, and his New York debut in November, 1927. During the New York run, Williams wrote Glamour, which in 1928 became his first play to be seen in London. Not until 1930 and A Murder Has Been Arranged, however, did he gain the attention of the critics. A murder mystery with supernatural overtones, it features a protagonist, Maurice Mullins, whose surface charm conceals his ruthlessness, anticipating Dan in Night Must Fall and Fenn in Someone Waiting. Reviews were good, but business was not.
The two plays that followed—Port Said (revised in 1933 as Vessels Departing) and Spring 1600 (revised in 1945)—were neither critical nor popular successes. If Williams’s career as playwright seemed at a standstill, however, his career as actor was flourishing, with roles in plays byÉmile Zola, Sean O’Casey, Luigi Pirandello, Georg Kaiser, and Edgar Wallace.
The year 1935 was an important one for Williams. He married Molly O’Shann, and his first child, Alan Emlyn, was born. It was also the year in which Night Must Fall was produced. This psychological thriller ran for a year in London, provided Williams with one of his best roles, and established him as an important playwright. (Interestingly, 1935 is also the year in which the action of his novel Headlong occurs.)...
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