Original Document
Original Document
Anne Kaufman Schneider and Kitty Carlisle Hart recall the influx of writers into Bucks County, 2000.

Michael J. O'Malley (MO'M): Do you recall what attracted Broadway to Bucks County?

Anne Kaufman Schneider (AKS): Nathanael West had an awful lot to with it. He spent a couple of weeks across the Delaware River at Frenchtown finishing his novel, Miss Lonelyhearts. He convinced his brother-in-law, S. J. Perelman, to look at a farm up for sale about a mile from Erwinna. They came up with enough money to buy the place, which was nothing more than ramshackle. He turned a small building into a studio for writing. That's where he wrote A Cool Million in 1934. West wasn't a great commercial success, but my father had great faith in him. My father wasn't a great friend of the Perelmans, but he believed he had great promise.

MO'M: The Kaufmans were among the earliest Broadway expatriates. Who - or what - led them to Bucks County?

AKS: What really took my parents there was that my mother, Beatrice, had a childhood friend, a best friend, named Dorothy Pratt. Mother and Dorothy both got kicked out of school at the end of their first year. Dorothy was married to Richard Pratt, who was very involved with architectural preservation in Bucks County and then in Philadelphia. For a long time he had a very fancy job with the Ladies Home Journal - he was the architectural editor. The Pratts had a house in Frenchtown and that's why Dorothy Pratt encouraged my mother. "It's great out here and it's nice and you should come and look," she said. I think that was in about 1935, very soon after my father had a fairly nasty, well-publicized affair with Mary Astor, and I think my mother really wanted to use that time to put down some roots. We had never owned a house anywhere. I'm sure it was Dorothy Pratt who convinced her to come, and they bought the house.

Dick Pratt was interesting. He wrote a book on historic houses, A Treasury of Early American Homes. He and Dorothy had worked together on guides to historic houses. They lived on a farm in Bucks County, and they developed architectural and landscaping ideas for the Journal. Dorothy put my mother on to Pennsylvania Dutch antiques and art, and American furniture. The Pratts had done quite a bit of searching for antiques in Pennsylvania, particularly for Gaudy Dutch and Gaudy Welsh, and they bought a lot. And then mother steered Moss in collecting antiques for his house in Bucks County.

A little while later, in 1936, my mother and father bought a stone farmhouse in Holicong for forty-five thousand dollars from Juliana Force. She was the director of the Whitney Museum in New York. She discovered Bucks County before World War I while she was collecting art.

MO'M: Isn't it true that your parents entertained the great names in theater?

AKS: Every weekend brought a new and changing stream of famous people to Bucks County. My father was shy and nervous - very reserved - but he was quite hospitable. My parents entertained Lillian Hellman, the playwright, when she wasn't staying with the Perelmans. There were so many others - Edna Ferber, of course, with whom my father wrote The Royal Family, and Richard Rodgers, the composer. Harpo Marx was another guest. There were so many theater celebrities....

The theater people - the writers, the directors, the lyricists, the actors, and the producers - congregated around our house. And Moss's. They also spent time with Jerry and Rhea Chodorov. From Friday through Sunday, it was nonstop. If it was dinner at our house on Saturday, it would be dinner at Moss's, or with the Chodorovs, on Sunday, and so forth. The next weekend it would begin all over again.

MO'M: One of [Kaufman and Hart's] great plays, The Man Who Came to Dinner, was based on an experience in Bucks County. Can you tell us something about this collaboration?

Kitty Carlisle Hart (KCH) The best place to begin is with Moss's guest book, which is on exhibit at the Michener Museum in Doylestown. In it, Alexander Woolcott wrote "This is to certify that I had one of the most unpleasant times I ever spent." Moss couldn't wait to tell George. He said it would "have been awful if he had broken a leg and been on my hands for the rest of the summer."

AKS That was really how they got the idea for The Man Who came to Dinner. Our house, which my father called Cherchez la Farm, was literally bulging at the seams with guests, and Moss was asked to put up Woolcott. It was a dreadful night for poor Moss. Woolcott chased away the producer Max Gordon, who was another of Moss's guests. Then he demanded Moss's own bedroom.

Moss was telling my father the horror story when they both stopped and looked at each other. It was as if lightning struck. The Man Who Came to Dinner was born. And they began to work on it almost immediately.

Alexander Woolcott emerged in the play as the central character, Sheridan Whiteside, an acerbic and annoying radio celebrity and critic. The character was pompous and bombastic and venomous and irascible. Very, very Woolcott.

My father and Moss dedicated the play to Alexander Woolcott. He was delighted to be the model for a smash hit. The Man Who Came to Dinner opened in 1939 at the Music Box Theater and ran for seven hundred and thirty-nine performances before it closed in 1941. Most people remember Woolcott today for being the inspiration for Whiteside, and not as a writer and critic....

MO'M: What are your memories of the Bucks County Playhouse?

AKS: The Playhouse was star-studded. Summer stock - what we used to call "straw hat theaters" - was a dream of St. John Terrell - he was a struggling young actor and producer in his twenties - and he and Kenyon Nicholson, the playwright, took their idea for a theater to investors interested in the old gristmill in New Hope in the fall of 1938. They broke ground the following March, and the theater opened that July. People were lined up in the streets of New Hope trying to get tickets and trying to get in to see the stars. It was the biggest thing that ever happened in New Hope up until that time. On opening night there was my mother and father, Moss, Burgess Meredith, Richard Bennett, and Florence McGee. Even Al Hirschfeld [a theater caricaturist] came in from New York to capture the event in a cartoon. The first season was a success, but Terrell left after a year. Those early days were marvelous.

MO'M: Did the local residents ever realize that such famous talents lived among them?

AKS: Probably not. We pretty much kept among ourselves and our company.

KCH: I don't think so. No one from outside our circle was invited over to the house. They probably would have said, "Here's all these crazy writers. What do we need with them?"....

MO'M: Kaufman and Hart also set George Washington Slept Here in Bucks County?

AKS Moss really got a lot of coverage just out of buying the farm. George Washington Slept Here was the last play he and my father wrote together. It was a hit on Broadway in 1940. It's hilarious. It's a comedy about a family from the city who attempts to restore a run-down farm in Bucks County.

MO'M: Both playwrights were avid croquet players?...

AKS My father was mad about croquet. The matches at our house in Bucks County were legendary - outrageous, really - with the players a real "who's who" in the theater. He asked me to come back from my honeymoon to play. He called me up the day after I was married and said, "Come on, I need a fourth. You have to come back and play." So, being a good daughter, I came back and played. I was a very good player, too. Mother was a good player....

MO'M: Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman were both recognized as talented directors....

AKS My father directed John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men - for which he received no credit. Steinbeck came to Bucks County in 1937 so my father could adapt the novel for the stage. Steinbeck did later call him "Broadway's greatest director."

Credit: Michael J. O'Malley III, "Broadway Takes a Bow in Bucks County: A Conversation With Kitty Carlisle and Anne Kaufman Schneider," Pennsylvania Heritage 26:4 (Fall, 2000).
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