Jacobowsky and the Colonel

S. N. Behrman
New York: Random House, 1944
First edition in dust jacket
Inscribed by Behrman

    (On front free endpaper)  For Burton Tripp, / Wish there were more / policemen like him! / With appreciation, / from / S N Behrman. / New York: June 1944.

Signed by cast members of the original Broadway production, including Louis Calhern, Edward Kreisler, Louise Dowdney, E.G. Marshall, Annabella, Harold Vermilyea, Bob Merritt, Donald Lee, Coby Ruskin, Kitty Mattern, Herbert Yost, Frank Overton, William W. Sanders, J. Edward Bromberg, Philip Coolidge, Jules Leni, Harry Davis, Joseph Kallini, and Bettina Cerf (the Assistant Stage Manager).

Burton Tripp played a gendarme in the original Broadway production.

Relations within the ranks of the Playwrights’ Company became further strained in 1944 with Jacobowsky and the Colonel. Excited by Behrman’s interest in his dinner-table anecdote one evening in Hollywood, Franz Werfel attempted to dramatize his own plot. Thwarted, he elicited further assistance from the Theatre Guild, who promptly set Clifford Odets to work. The project foundered. Behrman, who, rightly or wrongly, claimed inheritance to Werfel’s "idea" beyond the extension of The Playwrights’ Company’s purview, and the Theatre Guild, who asserted absolute rights to any work emanating from Werfel’s concept, joined independent forces in a presentation that emerged as a commercial success for all, winning for Behrman and Werfel the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Play of 1944 – the only theatrical award presented to Behrman in his lifetime – but also rupturing Behrman’s relationship with author Werfel. If, in the Guild’s omniscience, they first determined Odets to be the perfect collaborator, then it remains small wonder that Werfel would find Behrman’s audaciously saucy, tragi-comic interpretation wanting. Ultimately Werfel wrote his own lugubrious play taking the same title. S.L. Jacobowsky, a Polish Jew always just one step ahead of the advancing Nazis, finds himself at a seeming dead end in Paris following his flight from Vienna. There remains only the option of the purchase of an outrageously priced automobile, and while Jacobowsky has funds, he cannot drive. The eternal optimist, he completes the exchange. Chance introduces him to Tadeusz Boleslav Stjerbinsky, a colonel of the Polish Army, determined to join loyal exiles in England. Stjerbinsky has no mode of transportation to the coast, but he is skilled at driving an automobile. He is also intolerant of Jews. Nonetheless Jacobowsky sets out with the colonel. Too late he discovers that the colonel is also a romantic, whose affair of the heart brings the odd-couple travelers on a circuitous route and within kilometers of the German Army merely to rescue Marianne, the colonel’s soul mate. Complications ensue when Marianne indicates a fondness for Jacobowsky, much to the colonel’s fury; but before the gentlemen can complete an honorable duel, they are discovered by a Nazi patrol. Wits and luck preserve them, and the final curtain falls on a now-tolerant colonel and Jacobowsky sailing to safety across the English Channel.

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