Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Happy birthday, playwright Russel Crouse

Russel Crouse
It is the birthday of Broadway playwright Russel Crouse (1893), whose 32-year writing partnership with Howard Lindsay produced some of the most memorable Broadway shows of all time, including the Cole Porter musical Anything Goes (1934), the long-running Life With Father (1939), The Sound of Music (1960), and State of the Union (1946), which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Crouse was born in Findlay, Ohio, and became a reporter at the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune at age 17. He served in the Navy during 'World War I, and afterward he worked on New York newspapers, including a column for the New York Post. He became head of the publicity department for the Theatre Guild in 1932 and wrote his first Broadway play in 1933. it was a collaboration with humorist Corey Ford that resulted in the musical comedy Hold Your Horses.

In 1934, he teamed up with Howard Lindsay to adapt a play originally written by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse called Anything Goes. The original story was about a shipwreck and the wacky characters who survived it. However, before the show began rehearsals, the luxury cruise ship Morro Castle caught fire and burned off the coast of New Jersey and 137 people died. The show's producer asked Lindsay and Crouse to revise the libretto to eliminate the shipwreck. Instead, the story became the madcap adventures of people on an ocean liner bound for London. The show, with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, became a hit. It was the beginning of a three-decade collaboration of Lindsay and Crouse, that also produced the librettos for Cole Porter's Red, Hot and Blue (1936), Irving Berlin's Call Me Madam (1950), and Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music (1959).

Life With Father was based on the autobiographical novel by writer Clarence Day Jr. about his A-personality father, who demanded perfection of his family. The Lindsay-Crouse play ran for seven years (3,224 performances) on Broadway, setting the record as the longest-running non-musical in Broadway history. At the beginning, the play starred Howard Lindsay and his wife, Dorothy Stickney.

Ås Broadway producers, Lindsay and Crouse, presented the now-classic comedy Arsenic and Old Lace (1940), a play about a pair of murderous elderly sisters. Playwright Joseph Kesselring originally conceived the play as a dark drama but Lindsay and Crouse convinced him that it would work better as a comedy. It was Kesselring's most successful play.

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