Sunrise at Campobello

by Dore Schary

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Critical Context

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Before writing Sunrise at Campobello, Dore Schary made his reputation in Hollywood as a studio executive, first as vice president of production for RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum) Studios, and later at MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) Studios as head of all production. He supervised the production of more than 250 motion pictures, and wrote scripts for more than 40, including Boys Town (1938) for which he shared an Academy Award. When he was dismissed from MGM in 1956 as a result of company restructuring, he turned his talents to playwriting.

Sunrise at Campobello, his first playwriting effort, was a hit on Broadway, earning four Tony Awards, including awards for best play, best director, and best actor to Ralph Bellamy as Roosevelt (who repeated the role in the popular 1960 film version). Eleanor Roosevelt, with whom Schary had conferred while writing the play, was in the audience on opening night.

Schary’s subsequent theatrical works were considerably less successful, most receiving a harsh critical reception and closing within a few weeks. His Brightower (pr. 1970), about a suicidal writer, closed after one performance. He seemed to focus on themes from Sunrise at Campobello but with unconvincing results. The Highest Tree (pr. 1959, pb. 1960), about an atomic scientist opposed to nuclear proliferation, featured an aristocratic family who was supposed to be cohesive and supportive but came across as profoundly dull and tedious. One by One (pr. 1964) explored the romantic relationship of a couple, both of whom are disabled, one as a result of polio. Despite potentially engrossing subject matter, the failure of these plays lends some credence to the assertion by some critics that Sunrise at Campobello was not necessarily a great play, but rather a great story, populated with characters cherished by the audience.

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Critical Overview