Friday, August 31, 2012

DuBose Heyward wrote novel Porgy

It is the birthday of writer DuBose Heyward (1885), whose novel Porgy (1925) was the basis of a Broadway play and an opera with music by George Gershwin.

Heyward grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, where a local theater produced a one-act play he wrote in his late 20s, setting him on the path to a literary career. He wrote poetry and fiction, and edited poetry yearbooks, an published a book of poetry. He also was a partner in a successful real estate and insurance company.

Heyward based his title character on a disabled man who was well known in downtown Charleston, who was really named Porgy. He begged from tourists on street corners and sold peanut cakes. Heyward's sensitive portrayal of Southern black life without condescension was lauded by critics. The book became a best seller.

Heyward and his playwright wife Dorothy adapted Porgy as a play of the same name, which opened on Broadway in 1927. George Gershwin contacted DuBose right after reading the book and suggested a collaboration on the folk opera. DuBose wrote the libretto and most of the lyrics, though George's brother Ira wrote "It Ain't Necessarily So" and some others. George Gershwin wrote the music. The opera opened in 1935.

A film version of the opera was released in 1959, starring Diahann Carroll, Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, and Pearl Bailey. Only Pearl Bailey sang her part. The others had to be dubbed. 

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