Other Literary Forms

John William Van Druten was primarily a dramatist but also a prolific screenwriter. In addition, he published a body of literary reviews, poems, and short stories. His letters and papers are housed in the New York Public Library.

Achievements

John William Van Druten’s most successful plays were light comedies that modernized the drawing-room comedy genre. He specialized in small-cast, one-setting plays that emphasized character and witty dialogue over plot or action. Beginning with Young Woodley in 1925, Van Druten wrote five plays that were selected among the top ten plays of their respective years, and I Am a Camera received the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1951. He usually directed his own plays and also directed The King and I (pr. 1951) for Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. He was nominated for an Academy Award for best screenplay for Gaslight (1944). It was not unusual to find two of Van Druten’s plays running simultaneously on Broadway. Although he was a successful playwright, his pleasant comedies were not great plays. His sentimental script for I Remember Mama, based on family values and situations, may well prove to be his most enduring work. Van Druten’s I Am a Camera was adapted into the musical Cabaret (1966) by John Kander and Fred Ebb.

Van Druten wrote when the Broadway theater and films were especially alive and vibrant. There was an audience for every genre of theater and drama. His five most successful plays (Young Woodley; The Voice of the Turtle; I Remember Mama; Bell, Book, and Candle; and I Am a Camera) made him known on Broadway.

Bibliography

Chapman, John, ed. Best Plays of 1950-1951 and Best Plays of 1951-1952. New York: Dodd, Meade, 1951, 1952. These two volumes, which include plays by Van Druten, contain production facts, interviews, statistics, critical responses, and summaries of the featured plays for the year.

Mantle, Burns, ed. Best Plays of 1925-1926, Best Plays of 1943-1944, and Best Plays of 1944-1945 New York: Dodd, Meade, 1927, 1944, and 1945. These three volumes, which include plays by Van Druten, contain production facts, interviews, statistics, critical responses, and summaries of the selected plays of the year.

Weber, Bruce. “A Play Outside the Mainstream of Its Time and Ours.” Review of The Voice of the Turtle, by John William Van Druten. New York Times, September 14, 2001, p. E3. This review of the revival of Van Druten’s The Voice of the Turtle by the Keen Company at the Blue Heron Arts Center in New York examines how its 1940’s sentiments translate into modern times.