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William Inge

May 3, 1913, saw the birth of internationally acclaimed playwright and screenwriter, William Inge, whose life would turn out to be as dramatic and revealing as anything ever penned for the stage.  Born in Independence, Kansas, Inge was the youngest of five children.  He acquired his taste for the theatre early in life.  His local boy scout troupe held its weekly meetings in a Civic Center that included a 2000-seat theater, and the boys were often invited to stay after their meetings to watch various touring performers playing there.

Small-town life was instrumental in Inge's youth.  He would later attribute his understanding of human behavior to growing up in his Kansas environment.  "I've often wondered how people raised in our great cities ever develop any knowledge of humankind," he said.  "People who grow up in small towns get to know each other so much more closely than they do in cities."  Inge used his knowledge of people and of life in a small town in many of his plays.  [Hear William Inge]

Educated at the University of Kansas at Lawrence where he was graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Speech and Drama in 1935, Inge went through a succession of jobs before settling into writing.  He worked as a highway laborer, news announcer, and high school teacher before returning to school to earn a Master of Arts Degree from the George Peabody College for Teachers in 1943.  He dropped out before receiving his degree and later said, "I sort of based my life on the theatre.  Having given up the theatre I had given up the basis that Id set my life upon.  I was terribly confused.  I went home to Kansas and began to flounder."

Inge moved to St. Louis, where he became the drama and music critic for the St. Louis Times.  While he was there, he met Tennessee Williams, who invited him to attend a production of The Glass Menagerie in Chicago.  He was so inspired by Williams' work that he decided to try his own hand at playwrighting.  "I was terrifically moved by the play," he said.  "I thought it was the finest I had seen in many years.  I went back to St. Louis and felt, Well, Ive got to write a play." 

He completed his first script, Farther Off from Heaven (1947), and sent it to Williams, who recommended it for production.  The play was produced by Margo Jones in Dallas, Texas.

Inge's next literary effort, Come Back, Little Sheba (1950), earned him the title, "most promising playwright of the 1950 Broadway season."  But his career was still in its infancy.  He followed his Sheba success with Picnic (1952).  The play was enormously popular during its run, and it won for him the Pulitzer Prize, Drama Critics Circle Award, Outer Circle Award, and Theatre Club Award. 

Following his success, Inge wrote Bus Stop (1955), which he would later adapt into a popular film starring Marilyn Monroe.  Then he penned The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1957), a reworking of his first play, which premiered on Broadway.  It was an autobiographical drama that many consider his finest play.  Inge later described it as his "first cautious attempt to look at the past, with an effort to find order and meaning in experiences that were once too close to be seen clearly."

As critics began to compare Inge to Tennessee Williams, calling him the next megastar of the American theater, the author followed The Dark at the Top of the Stairs by a series of box-office flops, including A Loss of Roses (1960), Natural Affection (1963), Where's Daddy? (1966), and The Last Pad (1970).  One notable exception during this period was Splendor in the Grass (1961), starring Natalie Wood, Pat Hingle, and Warren Beatty. It won Inge an Academy Award for Best Screenplay.

By the early 1970s, after trying his hand at writing two relatively obscure novels, Inge had convinced himself that he could no longer write.  He fell into a deep depression.  On June 10, 1973, at his home in the Hollywood Hills where he lived with his sister, Helene, William Motter Inge took his own life.  He was 60 years old.

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