George S. Kaufman, a playwright, librettist, and humorist who wrote for the Marx Brothers and won Pulitzer Prizes for the Broadway musicals You Can’t Take It with You (1937, with Moss Hart), and Of Thee I Sing (1932, with Morrie Ryskind and Ira Gershwin), died at 71 on this date in 1961. Kaufman was a prominent member of the Algonquin Round Table of writers and show biz personalities, and became a public celebrity through the gossip columns while collaborating with as many as sixteen other writers. He was “a protean figure of the American theater in the first half of the 20th century,” wrote Charles Isherwood in the New York Times, “… a sought-after director and play polisher, and sometime actor too.” As “author or co-author of dozens of plays and musicals dating from the 1920s to the 1950s,” Kaufman had an unsentimental, “hard-boiled quality” as a playwright that may have been honed by his years as a drama critic for the Times and other newspapers. Plays that he wrote or co-authored include The Cocoanuts (1925) and Animal Crackers (1929), both for the Marx Brothers; Dinner at Eight (1932) and Stage Door (1936), both with Edna Ferber; The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939); The Solid Gold Cadillac (1953, with Howard Teichman); and Silk Stockings (1955, with Cole Porter and others). He also won a Tony for directing Guys and Dolls (1950).
“I didn’t like the play, but saw it under adverse conditions — the curtain was up.” —George S. Kaufman