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Who is Marc Connelly?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Marc Connelly is an American playwright best known for his play The Green Pastures. He was born in 1890 and died in 1980 in New York City, winning a number of awards over his ninety years, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Connelly was also a member of the Algonquin Round Table, and was often referred to as its wittiest member.

The Algonquin Round Table was a group of various writers, actors, and bon vivants who gathered in the Algonquin Hotel each day for lunch. Together, they would pass witty remarks about events of the day, one another, and other celebrities. As a number of members of the Round Table were journalists and members of the media, the best of these witty remarks often found their way into news columns, and therefore into the broader world.

Woman posing
Woman posing

The Round Table originally began in 1919 as a joke, before maturing into a place for writers and intellectuals to meet and build connections that often led to collaborations. Marc Connelly was one of the charter members of the 1919 Round Table, along with fellow playwrights Robert E. Sherwood and George S. Kaufman, writer Dorothy Parker, columnists Heywood Broun, Alexander Woollcott, and Franklin Pierce Adams, actor Robert Benchley, publicist John Peter Toohey, and the editor of the New Yorker, Harold Ross. All three of the playwright members of the Round Table went on to win Pulitzer Prizes, with Kaufman winning four.

Membership in the Round Table included more than just the lunches at the Algonquin, and Marc Connelly was a part of the group’s other activities, from games like charades to time spent on the privately-owned Neshobe Island. Members of the group often collaborated as well, both officially and unofficially, and Marc Connelly frequently got advice from other members on his plays, as well as help producing them, and beneficial publicity from journalistic and editorial members.

The membership, including Marc Connelly, collaborated officially as a group only once, to produce a revue entitled No Sirree!. It was staged for one night only, in 1922, and featured Connelly in a number of roles, including the opening chorus, and “The Greasy Hag, an O’Neill Play in One Act,” alongside George Kaufman and Alexander Woollcott. Connelly joined with Kaufman after the show to try producing it professionally, using professional actors, entitling it The Forty-niners. The show ran for fifteen performances before closing, an absolute flop.

Marc Connelly and George Kaufman continued to work together on projects, writing four comedies together during the 1920s: Dulcy in 1921, Little Old Millersville in 1922, Merton of the Movies in 1922, and Beggar on Horseback in 1925. On his own in 1931, Connelly produced his greatest work, The Green Pastures, which retold the story of the Old Testament from an African-American perspective, resettling it in New Orleans. The Green Pastures was derived from the 1928 collection of short stories by Roark Bradford, Ol’ Man Adam an’ His Chillun. The play was eventually adapted into a film in 1936, which met with condemnation from a number of sectors for being sacrilegious, but was largely well received.

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