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Elmer Rice

  • Highest Rated: 100% Holiday Inn (1942)
  • Lowest Rated: 100% Holiday Inn (1942)
  • Birthday: Not Available
  • Birthplace: Not Available
  • From 1914 until the mid-'40s, Elmer Rice was one of the most prominent playwrights and theatrical directors in America, and made important contributions to motion pictures, both as an author and screenwriter. Born Elmer Reizenstein in New York in 1892, he was a high school dropout who developed an interest in the legal profession and graduated cum laude from New York Law School at age 20. In 1913, the same year that he was admitted to the bar, Reizenstein decided to try his hand at writing plays: The result was On Trial, a courtroom drama that he presented unsolicited to a producer and which proved good enough to get produced on Broadway, where it was a hit, running for a year (considered a very successful run in those days) and earning its author 100,000 dollars. On Trial was also acclaimed as an innovative masterpiece for its pioneering use on-stage of a device that had previously only been utilized onscreen, the "cutback" -- that is, interrupting the action at hand to present prior events to the audience. It was following the completion of the play's run that Reizenstein -- reportedly weary of having his last name misunderstood over the telephone -- decided to shorten it to Rice. On Trial was subsequently adapted into at least three separate film versions, in 1917, 1928, and 1939. Rice, however, considered it nothing more than "a shrewd piece of stage carpentry," and spent the next nine years studying drama intensely, including a period at Columbia University under noted teacher Hatcher Hughes, experimenting with different techniques and ideas. He wrote several student works and one play, Wake Up Jonathan (co-authored with Hughes), that made it to Broadway. After a failure with It Is the Law, he wrote The Adding Machine (1923), a strange, expressionist play about a lifelong office worker, Mr. Zero, who loses his job to the device of the title, murders his boss, is tried and executed, and ends up in heaven operating the very device that cost him his job, until he is returned to earth. The play only ran nine weeks, but The Adding Machine has remained a widely studied and performed piece in drama courses for generations since, right into the 21st century. Rice went out to Hollywood for a time, generating two screenplays, Doubling for Romeo and Rent Free, as well as seeing one of his plays, For the Defense, turned into a film, but he later described that first experience of Hollywood as utterly demeaning. He collaborated in the mid-'20s with Dorothy Parker on Close Harmony, also known as The Woman Next Door, and with Philip Barry on Cock Robin, a murder mystery set backstage at a theater. In 1928, after a string of failures, Rice wrote the play for which he is most famous, Street Scene. A tragic tale set in a New York tenement, Street Scene spoke in the voice of the people, complete with vicious racial and ethnic slurs and raw hatreds on display, all couched in a hauntingly lyrical theatrical framework. It was a gritty, earthy work, utterly unlike the comedies, musicals, and upper-crust romantic stories that dominated theater in those days (and which Rice abhorred). The play was also rejected by virtually every producer on Broadway until William A. Brady agreed not only to mount it, but also to allow Rice to direct it himself. Rice's most fully realized work, the play as staged by its author used its tenement building set and backdrop as virtually a major character itself, woven into every aspect of the action, a novel element in this startlingly piercing work. Street Scene won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1929, and Samuel Goldwyn subsequently purchased the film rights and assigned it to King Vidor to direct. The 1931 Vidor movie version, based on Rice's own screen adaptation, utilized a huge set the size of a city block that gave the screen drama a subtly enveloping quality (almost disposing of the boundaries of the screen). Several of the stage production's original players (including John Qualen, Matt McHugh, and Beulah B

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100% Holiday Inn Screenwriter 1942
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100% Street Scene Screenwriter 1931


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