George Simon Kaufman was a humorist, journalist, drama critic, actor, director, playwright, screenwriter, and television personality. He is noted primarily as one of the most successful comic playwrights on Broadway and as a driving force in the American theater between 1920 and 1950.
Kaufman was born in 1889 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His father, Joe Kaufman, was an unsuccessful businessman, and the family often lived in shoddy boardinghouses. His mother, Henrietta Myers Kaufman, was a hysterical woman obsessed with dying. Because of his upbringing, Kaufman was haunted by fears of failure and death. Overprotected by his neurotic mother, the physically weak Kaufman learned how to fight using words. After a failed attempt at law school and a series of odd jobs, Kaufman had some of his humorous sketches published in “Always in Good Humor,” Franklin Pierce Adams’s column in the New York Evening Mail. Adams helped Kaufman land a job as the humor columnist for the Washington Times. By 1917, Kaufman had become the drama editor for The New York Times, a position which he held until 1930.
After reading one of Kaufman’s scripts, producer George C. Tyler hired Kaufman to rewrite portions of an unsuccessful play featuring Lynn Fontanne. Eventually, Kaufman collaborated with Marc Connelly to write another vehicle for Fontanne. Dulcy was Kaufman’s first success and was singled out for its wit, satire, topical humor, and fast-paced verbal battles, which were to become the hallmark of the Kaufman style. Next, Kaufman and Connelly attacked the American success myth in To the Ladies and the commercialization of art in Beggar on Horseback, an expressionistic satire that won for Kaufman both critical and popular acclaim. Kaufman also helped to launch the careers of the Marx Brothers with The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers. Teaming with Morrie Ryskind and George and Ira Gershwin, Kaufman won a Pulitzer Prize for the satirical musical Of Thee I Sing. Not only was it the...
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