Sidney Kingsley

Sidney Kingsley

Sidney Kingsley was born in New York on 18th October, 1906. Educated at Cornell, he wrote one-act plays for the University's drama club.

Kingsley joined the the Group Theatre as an actor when it was was formed in New York by Harold Clurman and Lee Strasberg. Others involved in the group included Elia Kazan, Stella Adler, John Garfield, Paul Green, Howard Da Silva, Franchot Tone, John Randolph, Joseph Bromberg, Michael Gordon, Clifford Odets and Lee J. Cobb. Members of the group tended to hold left-wing political views and wanted to produce plays that dealt with important social issues.

In 1933 the Group Theatre performed Kingsley play, Men in White. The play, which was set in a hospital and dealt with moral issues such as abortion, was the Group's first box-office success. Highly acclaimed by the critics, Men in White won the Pulitzer Prizein 1934.

Kingsley's next play, Dead End (1935) dealt with the connections between slum housing and crime, was also highly successful. His next two productions, the anti-war play, Ten Million Ghosts (1936) and The World We Make (1939) were unpopular with the critics and and had only short-runs. However, his historical drama, The Patriots (1943), won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award.

Kingsley also wrote film scripts for Hollywood. This included Men in White (1934), Dead End (1937), Homecoming (1948) and the Detective Story (1951).

After the Second World War, most of the members of the Group Theatre were investigated by House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Some like Elia Kazan, Clifford Odets and Lee J. Cobb testified and named other members of left-wing groups. Those that refused to do this such as Stella Adler, John Garfield, Howard Da Silva, John Randolph, and Joseph Bromberg were blacklisted.

Kingsley, no longer able to write for Hollywood, concentrated on writing for the theatre. This included an adaptation of Arthur Koestler's novel, Darkness at Noon (1951), Lunatics and Lovers (1954) and Night Life (1962). Sidney Kingsley died on 18th October, 1995.

Primary Sources

(1) Elia Kazan wrote about the Group Theatre production of Men in White in his autobiography, A Life (1988)

Men in White was a triumph and in time won the Pulitzer Prize. It gave the Group its first great success and the members a long flow of full salaries. With this sudden affluence, sixty dollars per week, I made investments, not in stock and bonds but in lessons for myself. I had to be ready for any role. I believed I could do any part.

The members of the Group took the success of Kingsley's play in a characteristic way. It made them look down on the bourgeois critics, who'd praised the work, even more than they had before and provided them with even more intense reasons to scorn our middle-class audience. They didn't think more of the play because the theatre was packed eight times a week or of its author because he was wearing laurel. They believed that the style of Lee Strasberg's production and their own ensemble playing had provided Sidney Kingsley's bone-bare text with what it didn't deserve. All this reached Sidney, who resented it.

Last updated: 16th August, 2002