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WESTSIDER MARC CONNELLY
WESTSIDER MARC CONNELLY
Actor, director, producer, novelist, and Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist

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Eleven years ago, during my senior year in high school, I saw a movie just before Christmas that made a deep impression. It was a film of a stage play called The Green Pastures — a fascinating look at life in biblical times, performed by an all-black cast.

The memory of that film remained in my consciousness like a religious experience, although I never knew who wrote the play or when it was written. So it was a welcome surprise to learn that this week's interview would be with the play's author, Marc Connelly.

Connelly was born in a small Pennsylvania town in 1890, the son of a pair of travelling actors. He wrote The Green Pastures in 1930; it won that year's Pulitzer Prize for drama. In his 70-year career Connelly has written dozens of plays. One of the most versatile talents in the American theatre, he has excelled as an actor, director, producer, playwriting professor at Yale, and popular lecturer. He has written musicals, stage plays, movie scripts and radio plays.

He was one of the original staff members of the New Yorker magazine, and became part of the famous round table at the Algonquin Hotel. One of his short stories won an O. Henry award. His first novel was published when he was 74 years old. Today, still an active playwright, he lives peacefully at Central Park West, comfortable in his role as an elder statesman of American letters.

I feel a certain freedom about repeating the comments Connelly made during our interview because the first thing he said at the door was "I never read anything about myself. … It's not modesty; it's more terror — for fear that some dark secret will emerge."

Yes, he said, he's very busy these days. "I've just completed a comedy which I'm waiting to have done. I'd rather not mention the title before it comes out. It's a comic fantasy."

He recently taped an appearance on the Dick Cavett Show, which will be aired sometime this month. And he's working on a musical version of Farmer Takes A Wife, a Broadway play that he co-authored in 1934. It became a successful film the next year, with Henry Fonda's screen premiere.

"They're always reviving my plays. Last summer they did Merton of the Movies (which he wrote with George F. Kaufman in 1922) in that big theatre complex in Los Angeles. It was quite successful. The boy that plays John-Boy on the Waltons played Merton. It was quite good; I went to see it."

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