Sidney Kingsley Biography

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Sidney Kingsley was born Sidney Kirshner on October 22, 1906, in New York City. He spent most of his life in the New York area. Involved in the theater from an early age, he was already writing, directing, and acting in one-act plays at Townsend Harris Hall in New York City while a teenager. After he was graduated from high school in 1924, Kingsley attended Cornell University, where he was a member of the Dramatic Club and acted with Franchot Tone. At Cornell, he continued to write plays: His play “Wonder-Dark Epilogue” won a prize for the best one-act play written by a student. After receiving his bachelor of arts degree in 1928, Kingsley did some acting with the Tremont Stock Company in the Bronx. Although he had a role in the 1929 Broadway production Subway Express, he decided at that time that acting was not the career for him.

That year, Kingsley went to California, where he worked for Columbia Pictures as a play reader and scenario writer, but he soon returned to New York. At this time, he was working on his own play, originally entitled Crisis, later to be Men in White. During the writing he began to research the subject matter systematically, a procedure he would employ during the composition of several other plays. Because his play was to be about doctors, he visited various hospitals in the New York City area—Bellevue, Beth Israel, and Lebanon—to gather material and to render as accurate a social picture as he could. (One story has it that he once masqueraded as an intern.) Although several would-be producers had options on the play, it was finally presented by the soon-to-be-famous Group Theatre. It was their first major success, and the play established Kingsley as a prominent American playwright, winning for him the Pulitzer Prize (in a controversial decision) and the Theatre Club Award. It was also a financial success; Kingsley reportedly received forty-six thousand dollars for the motion-picture rights. Kingsley had become a principal figure in the theatrical community of New York.

Kingsley directed all of his plays except The Patriots. Perhaps because he himself was an amateur painter and sculptor, he showed great concern throughout his career for the physical appearance of his plays onstage. His second drama, Dead End, owed its immediate impact in no small part to a spectacular New York setting created by Bel Geddes. Animated by the energetic argot of his New York boys, the Dead End Kids, Kingsley’s second play was even more popular and critically acclaimed than his first effort. Although the next two plays, Ten Million Ghosts and The World We Make, were not the popular hits his first two had been, they also featured memorable visual effects. By this time, Kingsley was regarded as a dramatist of social realism and spectacular staging effects, one whose plots inclined to melodrama and whose sympathies were clearly with the less fortunate.

In July, 1939, Kingsley married actress Madge Evans, a marriage that would last until her death in 1981. She retired from her film career soon after the marriage and assisted Kingsley in the historical research for his new play, tentatively entitled Thomas Jefferson. She later appeared in the 1943 production version, The Patriots. Kingsley found himself inducted into the United States Army in March, 1941, about the time he finished the first version. He spent his free time polishing the play and was rewarded by largely favorable notices, most of which found Sergeant Kingsley’s dramatization of the precarious nature of freedom in the early republic pertinent to the contemporary struggle of the United States in World War II. Later in 1943, Kingsley was promoted to lieutenant.

After his discharge from the army, Kingsley spent some time working for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on the movie scripts for Cass Timberlane (1947) and Homecoming (1946). Much of the time in the late 1940’s, however, he was back in New York, haunting detective squad rooms to gather material for his new production, Detective...

(The entire section is 1,913 words.)