George Simon Kaufman was born on November 16, 1889 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States & died on June 2, 1961 New York City, New York, United States, was an American playwright, theatre director and producer, humorist, and drama critic.
Born to a Jewish family, he graduated from high school in 1907 and “tried law school for three months” but grew disenchanted and took on a series of odd jobs, including “selling hatbands”. Kaufman then began his career as a journalist and drama critic; he was the drama editor for The New York Times from 1917 through 1930. Nearly a decade later he achieved great success as a playwright. Kaufman took his editorial responsibilities very seriously.
Kaufman’s Broadway debut was September 4, 1918 at the KnickerbockerTheatre, with the premiere of the melodrama Someone in the House. Kaufman coauthored the play with Walter C. Percival, based on a magazine story written by Larry Evans. The play opened on Broadway during that year’s serious flu epidemic, when people were being advised to avoid crowds. With “dour glee”, Kaufman suggested that the best way to avoid crowds in New York City was to attend his play.
Many of Kaufman’s plays were adapted into Hollywood films. Among the more well-received were Dinner At Eight, Stage Door and You Can’t Take It With You, which won the Best Picture Oscar in 1938. He also occasionally wrote directly for the movies, most significantly the screenplay for A Night at the Opera for the Marx Brothers. His only credit as a film director was The Senator Was Indiscreet (1947) starring William Powell.
After World War II, Kaufman devoted time to directing, continuing writing plays, and appearing on television. He appeared several times on the television show This Is Show Business in the 1950s.
On Broadway, he directed many plays and musicals, including: Hollywood Pinafore (1945), The Next Half Hour (1945), Park Avenue (1946, also wrote the book), Town House (1948), Bravo! (1948, also wrote the book), Metropole (1949), The Enchanted (1950), Guys and Dolls (1950), The Small Hours (1951, also wrote the book), Fancy Meeting You Again (1952, also wrote the book), Of Thee I Sing (1952 revival), The Solid Gold Cadillac (1953, also wrote the book), and Romanoff and Juliet (1957).
Kaufman was also a prominent bridge player. Many of his humorous writings about bridge appeared in The New Yorker and have often been reprinted. They include Kibitzers’ Revolt and the ingenious suggestion that bridge clubs should post information that North-South or East-West are holding good cards. Kaufman was notoriously impatient with less-competent partners at the bridge table. According to legend, one such victim asked permission to use the men’s room. Kaufman: “Gladly. For the first time today I’ll know what you have in your hand.”
Although Kaufman lived in the public eye alongside celebrities and journalists, he was a tireless worker, dedicated to the writing and rehearsal processes. He was particularly revered within the business as a “play doctor.” Late in his life he managed to trade upon his long-developed persona by appearing as a television wag.
Called “Public Lover Number One”, according to The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People, he “dated some of the most beautiful women on Broadway”. Kaufman found himself in the center of a scandal in 1936 when, in the midst of a child custody suit, the former husband of actress Mary Astor threatened to publish one of Astor’s diaries purportedly containing extremely explicit details of an affair between Kaufman and the actress. The diary was eventually destroyed unread by the courts, but details of the supposed contents were published in Confidential magazine and various other scandal sheets. Kaufman had an affair with actress Natalie Schafer during the 1940s.
Kaufman was married in 1917 to Beatrice Bakrow until her death in 1945. Four years later, he married actress Leueen MacGrath on May 26, 1949, with whom he collaborated on a number of plays before their divorce in 1957. Kaufman died in New York City at the age of 71. In 1979, Donald Oliver compiled and edited a collection of Kaufman’s humorous pieces, with a foreword by Dick Cavett.
Kaufman was portrayed by the actor David Thornton in the 1994 film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle and by Jason Robards in the 1963 film Act One.