Happy birthday Elmer Rice!

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Elmer Rice (September 28, 1892—May 8, 1967) was an American playwright. His most famous works were The Adding Machine (1923) and Street Scene (1929), the latter of which won the 1929 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

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Rice was born Elmer Leopold Reizenstein in Manhattan, New York. His grandfather, a pacifist Atheist, had been a political activist in the 1848 revolutions in Germany. Elmer Rice was very close with his grandfather as well as his Uncle, in contrast to his relationship with his father, which was quite distant.

Rice grew up in the tenements and entertained himself with books from the public library. His father had epilepsy, and as it worsened, Rice was forced to take up a series of jobs to support the family. He dropped out of high school as a result, but later passed the state examinations and went on to graduate from New York Law School in 1912.

Rice spent his teens hanging around socialist intellectuals in Greenwich Village, becoming a large part of his political formation.

His legal career only lasted two years. He referred to his experience later in his play Counsellor-at-Law (1931). After leaving the legal profession, he began writing plays. His first, On Trial, was a success. It is said to be the first American drama to tell a story in reverse chronology. Rice turned down an offer of $30,000 for the play, allegedly because he did not believe the offer was a serious one.

After four more unsuccessful plays, Rice wrote The Adding Machine (1923), a play on the growing regimentation of life during the machine age. Though the play was widely critically acclaimed, but made Rice almost no money.

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He went on to write Street Scene (1929), The Left Bank (1931), We, the People (1933), Dream Girl (1945) and many others.

Street Scene, a play that takes place entirely on the front stoop of a New York brownstone, was performed a total of 601 times. It conveys the lives and interactions of people living in the one building. In 1929, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Many of Rice's aspirations in theater were too experimental for commercial theater. Although he did manage to make a considerable amount of money on his dozens of plays, he didn't believe he was a success because it often came at the expense of his vision. He was also highly political, taking part in the American Civil Liberties Union, the Authors League, the Dramatists Guild, and P.E.N.

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Sunday, 28 September 2014
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