Marc Connelly

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Marc Connelly is known primarily for his plays, but he also wrote many short humorous stories for The New Yorker and other magazines, a number of essays, a novel (A Souvenir from Qam, 1965), and an autobiography (Voices Offstage, 1968).

Achievements

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Marc Connelly is known mainly as a writer of polite farce of a conventional stamp. He enjoyed the partnership of a first-rate collaborator ( George S. Kaufman) in his early years, the services of the stars of Broadway to speak his words, and one enduring artistic and commercial success, The Green Pastures, which won the 1930 Pulitzer Prize in Drama and made him a millionaire. He broke new ground in wedding his romantic views to expressionistic techniques in a way that was suitable for the popular audience of the day. Although his early successes were generally predictable comedies of manners, he was never content to restrict his plays to a single type, freely using features of the progressive theater of the time. His greatest work, The Green Pastures, which may seem condescending and simplistic to present-day readers, represented a breakthrough for the theater of 1930: an all-black cast in a recasting of the Bible, set in the rural South. Connelly’s dreams of an earthly paradise in which the common person can find fulfillment despite self-doubts and the burden of anxiety about the world are realized most completely in this play, set far from New York with characters different from the often fatuous urban types he had drawn so successfully. When audiences of the mid-1920’s wanted someone to celebrate their heady exuberance and make them laugh, Connelly provided the gags and the situations to which they could respond; when the audiences of the Depression era wanted to find some hope in the future, Connelly responded again with a worldview pure in its simplicity, self-assured in its happy resolutions of misfortune, and delightful in its crackling wit.

Four of Connelly’s collaborations with Kaufman in the years before The Green Pastures were successful: Dulcy and To the Ladies arose from a character already popular in a New York newspaper column; Merton of the Movies, one of the earliest satires on Hollywood, adapted cinematic techniques to the stage; and Beggar on Horseback introduced expressionism to Broadway. Later, The Wisdom Tooth, written by Connelly alone and chosen by Burns Mantle for Best Plays of 1925-1926, once more employed two realistic scenes flanking a fantasy.

Connelly’s good taste, solidly American values, and ready wit made him a successful writer in other areas as well, from his radio play, The Mole on Lincoln’s Cheek (1941), to his fiction, both long and short. In the same year that The Green Pastures won the Pulitzer Prize , Connelly also won the O. Henry Award for the 1930 short story “Coroner’s Inquest.” He was given honorary degrees by Bowdoin College (1952) and Baldwin-Wallace College (1962).

Connelly’s plays have rarely been revived in recent years, and except for The Green Pastures, his works are read only by historians of the stage. Nevertheless, his lasting achievement, The Green Pastures, is a monument of the American theater, distinguished by the purity of its sentiment, the richness of its language, and the charm of its imagination and humor.

Bibliography

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Brown, John Mason. Dramatis Personae: A Retrospective Show. New York: Viking Press, 1963. This comprehensive history of the American theater in the twentieth century also covers the long career of Marc Connelly in theater, radio, and Hollywood.

Daniel, Walter C. “De Lawd”: Richard B. Harrison and “The Green Pastures.” New York: Greenwood Press, 1986. In this volume, Daniel reviews African American contributions to the American theater and the...

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role of Connelly in stage history.

Harriman, Margaret Case. The Vicious Circle: The Story of the Algonquin Round Table. New York: Rinehart, 1951. A glimpse into Connelly’s years with the Algonquin Round Table.

Nolan, Paul T. Marc Connelly. New York: Twayne, 1969. Nolan provides a concise but useful study of the colorful author and supplements his book with a useful bibliography.

Quinn, Arthur Hobson. A History of the American Drama from the Civil War to the Present Day. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1964. This standard account includes some material on Connelly and his era.

Wainscott, Ronald H. The Emergence of the Modern American Theater, 1914-1929. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1997. This wide-ranging study of American theater looks at topics such as American expressionism and examines George Kaufman and Connelly’s Beggar on Horseback.

Woollcott, Alexander. The Enchanted Aisles. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1924. A glimpse into Connelly’s years with the Algonquin Round Table.

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