Biography

S. N. Behrman
New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1933
First edition in dust jacket
Inscribed by Behrman

    (On front free endpaper)  For Bill Couselman, / My neighbor in art! / Sam Behrman / Westwood. Cal. / Feb. 1933.

Biography, which Theatre Guild producer Lawrence Langner rated as "the best comedy the Guild ever produced," represents Behrman at an all-time high, a supremely successful example of collaborative theatre art, thanks in large measure to its star, Ina Claire. In Biography, the earliest, most fully developed of Behrmanís emancipated women, Marion Froude Ė a portraitist of minor artistic distinction and a woman of major laissez-faire morality Ė finds herself, by virtue of painter-subject association with her provocative celebrities, the focus of interest by a weekly periodical that proposes to feature her biography if she will only write it. Attracted equally by this literary challenge as by the brash, brooding, and surly editor, Richard Kurt, Marion agrees. Her positive action results in bringing previous lovers into her immediate presence, one of whom, a conservative candidate for senator from Tennessee, fervently hopes not to be included in the memoirs (lest guilt-by-association prove politically and matrimonially damaging); while another, a fading Hollywood star, desperately desires inclusion hoping thereby to bolster his flagging career. The dilemma becomes further complicated by Marionís affair with her editor, an association which clouds her usually clearheaded perceptions. Marionís biography, "a mental spring housecleaning," while providing a healthy purgative for the authoress, ultimately blazes in the fireplace of her West 57th Street atelier, and Marionís business-personal relationship with Richard burns with it. Characterization in this play is dense, complex, and rich. Few, if any, would recognize the inspiration of Marion Froude and Richard Kurt in the Hollywood personalities of Ann Sheridan and Oscar Levant. An unpublished doctoral thesis traces Marionís ancestry to prima donna Grace Moore, illustrator Neysa McMein, and English actress Ellen Terry. Since first viewing her, as a junior at Harvard from a distant second-balcony seat, Behrman spent the next seventeen years in pursuit of Ina Claireís non plus ultra comedy talent before achieving his objective. Thereafter he conceived most of his leading female characters as if Claire were to illumine them onstage. (As late as the early 1960s, the manuscript of But For Whom Charlie describes Gilianís entrance in these terms: "She is radiantly lovely Ė Ina Claire at fifty." In 1953, when the possibility of adapting Serena Blandish to the musical stage presented itself, Behrman voiced his approval of Dolores Grey for the role of the Countess because she looked "Ina Clairish.") For all of her other character studies (including one from the pen of poet T.S. Eliot), Claire remains fixed in the mind of the theatregoer for her interpretation of two of Behrmanís heroines, Marion in Biography and Leonie in End of Summer. Behrman and Claire: their different theatrical talents complemented each other perfectly.


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