Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Success of Playwright Mary Chase

Last week, I went to the New Dinner Theatre to see Harvey.  Some of you may have seen the movie version of Harvey with James Stewart, but I hadn't.  I'm not going to write about the play, Harvey, but about the playwright. 

I want to tell you about Mary Chase and what inspired her to write this screenplay, which she won a Pulitzer Prize in 1945.  Mary Coyle Chase was born on February 25, 1906 in Denver, Colorado.  Her childhood revolved around the fairies, pookas, and spirits of Irish folktales told by her mother and uncles.  Celtic legend also influenced Chase's understanding of mental illness.  She quoted her mother, Mary McDonough, as saying, "Never be unkind or indifferent to a person others say is crazy.  Often they have deep wisdom.  We pay them great respect in the old country, and we call them fairy people, and it could be they are sometimes."


Chase graduated high school at the early age of fifteen in 1921, and attended the University of Colorado for a time.  She spent much of the next decade as a newspaper reporter. Mary Coyle married Robert Chase in 1928.  She left the newspaper world to focus on her family and her personal writing projects.

During WWII, she was inspired to write Harvey.  Every morning when Mary left home at 8:15 with her boys; a woman would emerge from the door of the apartment house and go in the opposite direction, to the bus to go downtown to work...she didn't know the woman, but she heard the woman was a widow with a son who was a bombardier in the Pacific.  One day, Mary heard the son was lost.  

A week or so went by and Mary saw the woman.  She moved slower now, and Mary was haunted by her.  A question began to haunt her: Could she ever think of anything to make that woman laugh again?  Harvey opened on Broadway November 1, 1944.  It was an instant sensation.  War-weary audiences, many of whom had lost someone on the front, laughed with abandon again. 

Most of this information can be found in the booklet presented to people at the theatre. 

Now, for my take on this play is that it is truly a drama and not a comedy in any way, although there are funny moments.  It made me think of my favorite uncle, Uncle Ray, when he came home from WWII.  He just wanted to be happy, and he never wanted to talk about the war.  I'm sure Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome had been a term back then; he had it.  Elwood P. Dowd reminded me of Uncle Ray, and I loved Elwood for reminding me of my favorite uncle. 

To me, Harvey, demands you to think about the seriousness of this play.  It's not just about an invisible rabbit.  It's is about deciding to be happy. 

Everyone have a great week, and I'll see you next Sunday.

Sandra K. Marshall


Edie Ramer said...

I have seen the movie with Jimmy Stewart quite a few times. I love the quirkiness - and its pathos. It's like Love Actually, another favorite film, which has some poignancy along with the humor.

Rose Anderson said...

What a wonderful tale, Sandy. Thanks for sharing it.

Kari Rogers Miller said...

I LOVED the movie....and I have it in my repertoire of old movies.

Thanks for the behind the scenes story of the author.


Sandy said...

Thank you, Edie. It does deal lightheartedly with mental illness.

Thank you, Rose. I'm glad you liked it.

You're welcome, Kari.

Melissa Keir said...

What a great post. I loved your line about everyone deciding to be happy. I have depression and OCD which requires me to take meds. It's really helped a lot but there are still those moments... and in those times I have to remind myself to be happy. To make that choice and move forward.

My Uncle came home from Vietnam and killed himself. He wasn't the same and it wasn't anything anyone talked about. I will have to watch the movie with a different set of eyes now.

Thank you again for sharing!

Sandy said...

Your welcome, Melissa. I'm glad you decide to be happy. I'm sorry about your uncle. It's sad there was no one around at that time to understand what those young men went through back then.

Angela Smith said...

I'm not familiar with this play, but it sounds fantastic and I love the history behind it and what motivated her. Thanks for sharing!

Sandy said...

Thank you, Angela. The history of the playwright is what caught my attention, too.