Milwaukee Chamber Theatre

William Inge, Playwright

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Compiled by Fly Steffens, MCT Literary Intern

William Inge was born in May of 1913 and raised in Independence, a small southeastern Kansas town. Inge developed a curiosity for theatre during his adolesceingent and teen years, inspired by touring companies traveling from Kansas City, Missouri to Tulsa, Oklahoma. After receiving his bachelor's degree in speech and drama from the University of Kansas in 1935, he intended to pursue work in the theatre. However, financial hardship led him to accept a scholarship to study for a master's degree at the George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville, Tennesee. Inge found his studies to be unsatisfying without involvement in the theatre, and over the next few years found work as a summer road laborer, a news announcer, and a high school English teacher. "I sort of based my life on the theatre," said Inge. "Having given up the theatre, I had given up the basis that I'd set for my life upon. I was terribly confused. I went home to Kansas and began to flounder."

Eventually he returned to Peabody and completed a master of arts degree in 1938. He taught for a few years at Stephens College in Colombia, MO, and then moved to St. Louis, where he worked as the arts and entertainment critic for the St. Louis Star-Times. His position at the Star-Times led him to be acquainted with Tennessee Williams, who took Inge to see a performance of his play The Glass Menagerie in Chicago. "I was terrifically moved by the play," said Inge. "I thought it was the finest (play) I had seen in many years. I went back to St. Louis and felt, 'Well, I've got to write a play.'"

Inge's first play, a one-act entitled Farther Off From Heaven, premiered in Dallas, Texas in 1947 and was later expanded into the full length play The Dark at the Top of the Stairs in 1957.  Inge wrote two more plays that went to Broadway, Come Back, Little Sheba and the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Picnic, before Bus Stop debuted on Broadway in 1955. Inge continued to work on plays and films, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Splendor in the Grass in 1961.

Criticism of his work lead him to return to teaching at the University of California at Irvine. Throughout his career, Inge was incredibly closed about his personal life - he struggled with alcoholism and shielded his homosexuality to maintain a positive public image. Growing increasingly depressed, Inge quit teaching after only two years. Inge committed suicide in his Hollywood home at the age of 60.  He was buried in his hometown of Independence, where his headstone simply reads, "Playwright."



1913: William Motter Inge born May 3rd in Independence, Kansas, the fifth and last child of Maude Sarah Gibson and Luther Clayton Inge.

1927-1930: Attends Montgomery County High School, Independence, Kansas.

1930-1935: Attends University of Kansas at Lawrence. Received bachelor of arts degree in 1935.

1932: Acts in a Kansas tent show during the summer.

1933-1934: Drops out of the University of Kansas for a year and plays juvenile roles in tent shows.

1934: Works for the summer with the Maxinkuchee Mummers sponsored by Culver Military Academy in Indiana.

1935-1937: Attends George Peabody College for Teachers to study for master of arts degree in English. Leaves two weeks before graduation because of illness.

1936: Works on road gang in Kansas during the summer.

1936-1937: Works as a news announcer and scriptwriter for radio station KFH in Wichita, Kansas.

1937-1938: Teaches English in the high school of Columbus, Kansas.

1938: Completes work for MA in English at George Peadbody College for Teachers. Completes master's thesis entitled "David Belasco and the Age of Photographic Realism in the American Theatre."

1938-1943: Teachers English composition and drama at Stephens College, Columbia, Missouri.

1943-1946: Serves as art, music, book, and drama critic for the St. Louis Star Times.

1945: Meets Tennesee Williams; writes first play, Farther Off from Heaven.

1946-1949: Teaches English at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri.

1947: Margo Jones's Theatre 47 of Dallas, produces Farther Off from Heaven.

1949: Theatre Guild gives Come Back, Little Sheba a tryout in Westport, Connecticut.

1950: Come Back, Little Sheba opens on Broadway and wins the George Jean Nathan Award.

1953: Picnic opens on Broadway. Inge receives Pulitzer Prize, Drama Critic's Circle Award, and Donaldson Award. Outer Critics' Circle votes Picnic the best play of 1953.

1955: Bus Stop opens on Broadway.

1957: The Dark at the Top of the Stairs opens on Broadway.

1959: A Loss of Roses opens on Broadway. "Four Plays by William Inge" published. Inge returns to teaching at University of California at Irvine.

1961: Inge's movie Splendor in the Grass is released and wins Academy Award for Best Original Script; Bantam Books publishes script.

1962: Summer Brave and Eleven Short Plays is published.

1963: Natural Affection opens on Broadway.

1964: Out on the Outskirts of Town airs on national television.

1965: Screen version of Bus Riley's Back in Town released.

1966: Where's Daddy? opens on Broadway.

1970: Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff published.

1972: Writes "The Boy from the Circus," unpublished.

1973: Dies of carbon monoxide poisoning on June 10th. His death is ruled a suicide.

Source: "William Inge" by R. Baird Shuman

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