S. N. Behrman Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

S. N. Behrman wrote two “profile”-type biographies: Duveen (1952) and Portrait of Max: An Intimate Memoir of Sir Max Beerbohm (1960). The Suspended Drawing Room (1965) is a collection of (mostly) familiar essays focusing on such notables as Robert E. Sherwood, Ferenc Molnár, and A. E. Kazan. The Worcester Account (1954), the best of Behrman’s prose works, is a collection of pieces originally published in The New Yorker. The Burning Glass (1968) is a semiautobiographical novel, and People in a Diary (1972; reissued as Tribulations and Laughter, 1972) is a memoir containing brief, often poignant essays and sketches. Behrman was also the author of numerous screenplays, including several adaptations of his own and others’ works.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Although S. N. Behrman’s career as a dramatist spanned several decades, his major impact on the American theater covered roughly two and a half decades, from 1927, with the great success of The Second Man (178 performances in New York City), to 1944, with Jacobowsky and the Colonel, which had a run of 415 performances, also in New York City. Excluding his earlier apprenticeship plays, written during and after studies at Harvard University, Behrman’s career as a dramatist ranged from 1923, with Bedside Manners (in collaboration with J. Kenyon Nicholson), to 1964, with But for Whom Charlie. During this period, the playwright offered to the New York stage—without counting other locales—a total of twenty-two plays in full production, most of them enjoying considerable or at least moderate success. Only three plays were (relatively speaking) unsuccessful: Wine of Choice, Dunnigan’s Daughter, and But for Whom Charlie. Even these works, however, attracted some favorable critical notice. Along with Jacobowsky and the Colonel, which later became a motion picture, Fanny (written as a musical comedy in collaboration with Joshua Logan) and I Know My Love enjoyed the longest runs. These works were essentially entertainments, written with a shrewd sense of the audience response yet without the writer’s special touches of mannered comedy. Earlier, during the “vintage” years, as critic Kenneth T. Reed describes the period between 1927 and 1936, when the writer...

(The entire section is 634 words.)


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Asher, Donald. The Eminent Yachtsman and the Whorehouse Piano Player. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1973. In a 256-page memoir about Asher’s father, Daniel Asher, upon whom is based a central character in Behrman’s The Cold Wind and the Warm, the author includes a portrait of Behrman and a vivid description of early twentieth century life in the tenement ghetto of Massachusetts’s Worcester, where Behrman and Daniel Asher grew up.

Gassner, John. “S. N. Behrman: Comedy and Tolerance.” In The Theatre in Our Times. New York: Crown, 1954. Gassner draws examples from Behrman’s major plays to establish his distinction as an able writer of high comedy. He finds that the playwright’s artistic and ideological vision encompasses comic detachment and a thematic advocacy of indulgence and tolerance in confronting a reality that is contradictory and commonly two-sided.

Gross, Robert F. S. N. Behrman: A Research and Production Handbook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992. This sourcebook provides a detailed record of Behrman’s work as a Broadway playwright and Hollywood screenwriter, from the 1920’s to the mid-1960’s, and encompasses published and unpublished primary materials (plays, film scripts, fiction, and essays) and the critical responses. Includes plot summaries and critical overviews for...

(The entire section is 472 words.)