Like a character from his own sparkling plays, Philip Barry had the good fortune to be handsome, clever, and rich. Born into an Irish-Catholic middle-class family (his dying father left him unprovided for in his will), he was fortunate in his opportunities for education, marriage, and the fulfillment of his talent. After finishing public high school in Rochester, New York, Barry was accepted into Yale University in 1913, when he was seventeen. From his freshman year he showed a keen interest in literature; he read avidly and wrote poems and stories for the Yale literary magazine. He spent a year in London as a code clerk for the American embassy during World War I and afterward returned to the United States, receiving a degree from Yale in 1919.
Barry’s interest in the theater, evident even in his early teens, now ripened into an ambition that would make him one of the most successful playwrights of his time. He enrolled in George Pierce Baker’s Workshop 47 drama course at Harvard University in 1919 and earned Baker’s respect and friendship. Baker perceived the authenticity of Barry’s talent and gave him the encouragement and knowledge that made the workshop indispensable not only to Barry but also to a generation of American dramatists, including Eugene O’Neill.
Barry’s first full-length play, A Punch for Judy, was completed at the workshop and produced in 1921. By this time, he had met Ellen Semple, a wealthy debutante, and the two were married in July, 1922. For a wedding present the couple was given a house in Cannes, on the French Riviera, and for the rest of his life Barry moved between Broadway and Cannes as his career blossomed.
His first major success was the comedy You and I, which ran on Broadway for 170 performances. The play was characteristic of the well-made comedy of manners that became Barry’s...
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