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.
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 I’d 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
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, I’ve 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
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
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."
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
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.
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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