What does Thornton Wilder, the musical Hello Dolly!, Coeur d Alene, Idaho and my cousin Mallory Cooney King have in common? Quite a lot, actually – Wilder, the author of a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, and two Pulitzer Prize winning plays, The Skin of Our Teeth and Our Town , wrote the 1938 farce, The Merchant of Yonkers, which he revised and retitled The Matchmaker in 1955. Hello Dolly! is a musical with lyrics by Jerry Herman and book by Michael Stewart based on Wilder’s play, The Matchmaker. In Coeur d Alene, Hello Dolly ! is one of the musicals highlighted this season as part of Summer Theater and Mallory, the talented stage performer who starred as Dorothy in last years Wizard of Oz has a featured role.
While Wilder's Merchant of Yonkers was a flop, he revised his work – expanding the role of Dolly Levi as the brassy widow, and gave it a new title, his play then became a huge success, not only on Broadway, but on the movie screen as well.
This should be a lesson for all of us writers. Don’t be discouraged. If one source fails, try and try again. Especially if we’re confident we have a story to tell. Write and re-write. We will get it right, and someone eventually, will find delight in the words we share.
Thornton Wilder (1897 – 1975) was an American playwright and novelist who according to New World Encyclopedia, “ inspired novels and plays reveal his views of the universal truths in human nature and he often used the same characters in a range of geological and historical periods showing that human experience is similar regardless of time or place.”
Our Town, a popular play (one of my favorites, maybe because my dad, Ronald W. (Skip) Cooney portrayed the Stage Manager in his Thomas Jefferson High School production, and I remember Grandma telling me my dad, with his hair colored gray looked so much like Grandpa) set in fictional Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, was inspired by his friend Gertrude Stein, and her novel The Making of Americans. I must admit I only recently learned this, and now look forward to reading Stein’s novel, and learn more about her influence on Wilder. In Wilder’s Our Town, he clearly shows us the importance of daily routine and everyday life, simple though it may be, and the great blessing we are one to the other.
What a marvelous body of work Wilder left behind, his legacy is wide and far reaching, his last novel, Theophilus North published in 1973. Still, I wonder if some may have forgotten his huge contribution to the story and success of Hello Dolly! . With its long reign and many revivals I venture to say if not for Wilder, there would be no Hello Dolly!
Thankfully, that’s not the case, and tomorrow afternoon I'm happy I'll be one of many sitting in the audience watching this timeless musical, and smiling as my young cousin and other talented members of Coeur d Alene Summer Theater sing and dance to the great numbers of Hello Dolly ! I’ll also think of Thornton Wilder, and how his play inspired the story of Dolly Levi to grow to something more than perhaps he could even imagine.
For information about Coeur d Alene Summer Theater visit http://www.cdasummertheatre.com/
For more about Thornton Wilder visit http://www.tcnj.edu/~wilder/biography/frame.html