Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The original production was not favorably reviewed by New York critics, who generally focused on the upper-class characters. Most found the play unpleasant. Nonetheless, the play ran for 657 performances, commanding record attendance from audiences. This was followed by a twenty-city tour, frequent revivals, and film and television productions. Viewers, unlike the critics, apparently recognized the social satire. In real life, Luce acted out the beliefs expressed in the play. Born out of wedlock, to a poor letter copier and an unsuccessful piano salesman, Luce could have settled into the role of pampered wife after her marriage to wealthy alcoholic George Tuttle Brokaw or her second marriage to Time magazine publisher Harry R. Luce. Instead, although her first divorce settlement made it unnecessary for her to work, she worked for Vogue and Vanity Fair magazines, and continued her career after her second marriage.

By the time of her death, Luce had written other plays and Hollywood scenarios, served as a war correspondent during World War II, entered Congress as a liberal Republican (in 1944, she was considered a possible vice-presidential candidate), and served as a U.S. ambassador to Italy. Her life registered her contempt for women preoccupied with personal pleasures. This contempt for a leisured and irresponsible class is depicted, in lighter tone, in stories published as Stuffed Shirts (1933) and, with deepening earnestness, in such anti-fascist plays as Kiss the Boys Goodbye (pr. 1938, pb. 1939), in which southern aristocracy is specifically associated with Nazism.