John Patrick

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John Patrick was one of the most prolific American playwrights on record. In addition to some fifty plays, he was the author of thirty screenplays (many adapted from novels or plays), more than a thousand radio plays, and a television play. Although his plays range in genre and subject matter, the majority are comedies and evidence their author’s craftsmanship and comedic talent. Born John Patrick Goggan in Louisville, Kentucky, he spent a portion of his youth in boarding schools and later attended Holy Cross College in New Orleans. In the 1930’s Patrick began his career in San Francisco as a National Broadcasting Company (NBC) scriptwriter and earned a reputation for radio dramatizations of novels. Patrick first reached Broadway in 1935 with Hell Freezes Over, a short-lived melodrama about polar explorers in Antarctica. Returning to California, he became a Hollywood screenwriter and developed his craft by writing thirty-odd screenplays between 1936 and 1968 for major studios. Leaving Hollywood (to which he often returned for screenwriting assignments) in the late 1930’s, he established himself in Boston, where he wrote The Willow and I, a psychological drama about two destructive sisters competing for the same man, and The Story of Mary Surratt, a historical drama about the Washington landlady hanged by a vengeful military tribunal for suspected complicity in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Both plays received Broadway productions in the 1940’s, but neither was a box office success.{$S[A]Goggan, John Patrick;Patrick, John}

In 1942 Patrick joined the American Field Service in World War II, serving overseas as a captain with a British ambulance unit in Egypt, India, Burma, and Syria. His wartime experience furnished the background for the 1945 play The Hasty Heart, which centers on a dour, terminally ill Scottish sergeant sent to a British military hospital ward in Southeast Asia, where he remains unaware that his illness will bring an early death. His wardmates, knowing the prognosis, find their extended friendship rejected by the play’s misanthropic protagonist, whose suspicious, inflexible, and independent nature makes him distrust human relationships. He gradually warms to his companions, but when learning of his fatal condition, he interprets their proffered fellowship as pity. Ultimately he comes to accept his wardmates’ good will, poignantly demonstrating Patrick’s premise that human interdependency is crucially important. The play enjoyed both critical and popular success and demonstrated its author’s growth as a dramatist in dealing more incisively with plot structure, characterization, and the effect of inner states of mind on conduct and character.

The fruits of his first stage success permitted Patrick to purchase a sixty-five acre farm in Rockland County, New York, which he appropriately called Hasty Hill. There he lived casually as a gentleman farmer, raised sheep, remained unmarried, and continued to write. Turning to comedy, Patrick wrote The Curious Savage, whose heroine is a wealthy, eccentric widow whose lavish endowment of a foundation financing people’s daydreams gets her committed by mendacious stepchildren to a sanitorium. The sanitorium’s inmates prove more attractive than her own sane family, and they help her outwit the latter. Continuing in the comic vein, Patrick followed with Lo and Behold!, a comedy-fantasy about a solitude-loving writer who, after stipulating in his will that his house be kept vacant as a sanctuary, returns as a ghost to find it occupied by three incompatible spirits. Both comedies had only short runs on Broadway in the early 1950’s, but The Curious Savage has enjoyed lasting popularity with community theater audiences.

Following these plays Patrick created his most successful comedy and achieved a Broadway triumph with The Teahouse of the August Moon , based...

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on a novel by Vern Sneider. The play is a satire on the American Army of Occupation’s attempts following World War II to bring democracy to the people of Okinawa. A young colonel with a spotty record abandons standard Occupation procedure and builds a teahouse the villagers have longed for and a distillery that brings them prosperity. His unorthodox practices are condemned by his commanding officer but ultimately supported by Congress. Establishing its author’s reputation as an American dramatist, the play captivated audiences and critics alike to become one of America’s most successful dramas, winning both the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. Patrick adapted it later as a screenplay and still later as the book for a short-lived musical calledLovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen.

Patrick was also the author of a number of comedies that, while attaining neither Broadway acclaim nor, in some cases, New York productions, have proved popular with regional theaters. His comic plays, like the best of his serious ones, are marked by cleverly conceived situations, well-drawn characters, effective dialogue, and a compassionate view of the human species and its frailties. The Teahouse of the August Moon is Patrick’s masterwork, representing the pinnacle of his achievement as a major craftsman of the American theater.


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