Dunnigan's Daughter

S. N. Behrman
New York: Random House, 1946
First edition in dust jacket

Dunnigan’s Daughter distinguishes the legal separation of Behrman from the Playwrights’ Company. Rumors and published accounts seemed at odds. It had been bruited about that the Playwrights’ Company indicated unhappiness with Behrman’s text; Robert Sherwood offered to collaborate with Behrman on Dunnigan’s Daughter. However, given that Elmer Rice and Maxwell Anderson had nearly four times the number of productions as had Behrman, and that half of those were adjudged failures (financially if not artistically), an attitude of superiority may have piqued Behrman to issue impossible demands. He later observed, "We did not foresee [in its founding] having to produce the output of writers who mask sterility with incessant productivity." Behrman insisted that Elia Kazan, on the heels of their previous success with Jacobowsky and the Colonel, assume the directorial chores of Dunnigan’s Daughter. Kazan refused to work for anyone other than the Theatre Guild. The impasse resulted in Behrman’s resignation from the producing organization, and he never returned even though he was invited to do so. In Dunnigan’s Daughter, the idealism of Jim Baird, in government service, defies the opportunism of tycoon Clay Rainier, who buys and sells petty bureaucrats as easily as the Vermeer purchased for his wife’s birthday, or as easily as he bought his wife, the titular character. Epitomizing the self-made man, Rainier intends legally to disrupt the agricultural Mexican countryside by diverting precious irrigation water at its source to provide for his own expanding local mine operation. He justifies the deprivation of the farmers by extolling the salutary effect for his workers. Baird does not share Rainier’s reasoning and arouses the Mexican farmers to counter-action. Several love entanglements round out this central conflict. For all its strident social concern, Dunnigan’s Daughter cannot be regarded as an anomaly in Behrman’s canon. Meteor explored the people’s lives affected by the commercial efforts of a ruthless, success-at-all-odds capitalist. The intentions of the two works differed markedly. Nearly two decades after the fact, Behrman disclosed: "The play [Dunnigan’s Daughter] started as a comedy, but was deflected by the forces that take place in the theatre, and the protagonist of that force deflected that play ... [a man who] now admits – is good enough to admit – that he ruined that play for me." George Jean Nathan observed that Behrman appears to "believe that a study of human beings in relation to one another can in these times be important only if they be treated as so many Harold Laskis and Dorothy Thompsons." Even actor Luther Adler had been encouraged to put on makeup resembling artist-socialist Diego Rivera in support of the productions’ deflection. The final script contains no shadow of the earlier characters caught in a crisis of ethics and whose lives, on a small university campus in Pennsylvania, are affected by expropriation of oil wells in Mexico.

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