Philip James Quinn Barry, Sr.

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Philip James Quinn Barry, Sr.

Birthdate: (53)
Birthplace: Rochester, Monroe County, New York, United States
Death: Died in New York, New York, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of James Corbett Barry and Mary Agnes Barry
Husband of Ellen Marshall Barry
Father of Philip Barry, Jr.

Occupation: Playwright
Managed by: Jonathan Seth Wolfson
Last Updated:

About Philip James Quinn Barry, Sr.

Philip James Quinn Barry (June 18, 1896 – December 3, 1949) was an American playwright born in Rochester, New York.

Early life

Philip Barry was born on June 18, 1896 in Rochester, New York to James Corbett Barry and Mary Agnes Quinn Barry. James would die from appendicitis a year after Philip's birth, and his father's marble and tile business faltered from then on. His oldest brother, Edmund, who was 16 at the time, left school to take over the business and become something of a father for Philip.

His play The Youngest follows a true story that actually happened to Barry. In 1910, he discovered that New York State laws that he was entitled to the entire family estate when his mother had to sell off some property. He claimed later that he never intended to keep the money. After clerical service in London during World War I and having earned his B.A. from Yale University, it was 1919 when he took advantage of the anomaly. Before signing over the estate, his mother and two elder brothers wanted him to stay with the family in Rochester. He convinced his family to let him take George Pierce Baker's renowned Workshop 47 at Harvard University.

Writing career

It started at the age of 9 when he had a story called Tab the Cat published by a Rochester newspaper. Only four years later he wrote a three-act drama called No Thoroughfare, which was also his first mature attempt in 1918, but both went unproduced. When he was at Yale, he focused on poetry and short fiction while he worked for the Yale Literary Magazine.

But in 1919, when he returned from London, the Yale Dramatic Club put on his one-act play, Autonomy. By the time he had enrolled in Baker's class by the end of the year, he was spending all of his time writing plays. His first play for Baker was A Punch for Judy in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the spring 1921. Even though it was not a professional production, it went up at the Morosco Theatre for two productions (which would later be the site for the posthumously premiere of Second Threshold in 1951). Then the Harvard workshop took it on tour to Worcester, Utica, Buffalo, Cleveland, and Columbus, but it failed to grab the attention and backing of a New York producer. Robert E. Sherwood met him and thought he was a "exasperating young twirp". Both Sherwood and Robert Benchley would become personal friends and professional colleagues, especially Sherwood who would later finish writing Second Threshold.

While back in Cambridge, he got engaged to Ellen Semple but was determined to make it as a playwright before he settled down. She remained in New York and he in Cambridge, and he wrote The Jilts which reflected his own life's problems about how marital obligations might thwart an artistic career. It was originally titled The Thing He Wanted to Do and in 1922 it won Herndon Prize as the best play written in Baker's workshop. Then on July 15, he and Semple got married. The play would later be renamed You and I, and would open on Broadway in 1923 and would later be included (along with 8 future plays) in Burns Mantle's Best Plays series. It ran at the Belmont Theatre in New York for 170 performances followed by a successful tour and many productions in college and regional theaters. 1923 also marked the birth of his first son Philip Semple Barry. The Youngest would follow the next year with a 104 performance run.

Joseph Patrick Roppolo noted that his next play, In a Garden, served as a prototype of the Barry play in which a gracious tone seems at odds with the often disturbing implications. The play has similar elements to Luigi Pirandello works. The final scene also resembles A Doll's House scene with Nora Helmer leaving Torvald. The show contains references to Sigmund Freud's theories on the unconscious mind and phallic symbolism. Both W. David Sievers and David C. Gild thought the show was an "innovative 'psychodrama' that enacts therapeutic Freudian techniques in a theatrical context", a method they also find in such later plays as Hotel Universe and Here Come the Clowns.

Even though he knew it "would probably ruin the man who produced it" because of its calculated departures from Broadway formulas, White Wings went up in 1926 and failed. The show was seen as a precursor to Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth. The show follows a group of proud street cleaners at the turn of the twentieth century and the theme in the play is one of the greats in modern drama: the increasing mechanization of life. Archie Inch, the story's protagonist, is caught between the "White Wings" or the men who clean up after horse-drawn carriages and his sweetheart Mary Todd, who loves her father and the vehicles he has designed in the emergence of the automobile. There is a lot of symbolism used in this play, with the horses representing tradition and motorcars representing progress. The shows ending is a happy one, and unlike Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape and Dynamo, Elmer Rice's The Adding Machine, Ernst Toller and Georg Kaiser works, this one was weak in comparison due to its comedic resolution. The show was having a successful run after three weeks, but the Booth Theatre had another show that was opening, so Barry and producer Winthrop Ames had to absorb the loss from the limited 27 performance run. Also in 1926, he had his second son, Jonathan Peter.

In 1927, Barry returned to France and began work on two new plays. Paris Bound had an outstanding 234 performance run and it became his first hit. His other play, John, did not bode so well. It lasted under two weeks. The writing was cited as being to grandiose and mundane, and the casting was another thought as to why it did not succeed. It had Yiddish actor Jacob Ben-Ami as John and British actress Constance Collier as Herodias. He then strove to write a crowd pleaser, Cock Robin , with Rice, whom he had met enroute to Cannes aboard the RMS Tuscania. The show would run for 100 performances.

His next show, originally titled The Dollar, was dropped in favor of Holiday, and it ran for 230 performances.

Hotel Universe only lasted for 81 performances and added to the financial woes of the Theatre Guild. The show is set in a villa in southern France, and it contains six unhappy characters in search of meaning if not an author, though in effect they find one in Stephen Field, the aging invalid whose lonely daughter, Ann, they have all come to cheer up. When Stephen is shown in the play in the later half, it is discovered that the others are suffering from suicidal disillusionment and unresolved pasts. Each visitor begins to act out roles based on past traumas, similar to those developed for clinical use in the 1920s by Jacob L. Moreno. After Eleanor Flexner saw it, she said its philosophizing was "little more than a jaunt to a Never-Never land."

Tomorrow and Tomorrow came out in 1931, and it was compared favorably to Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude. The story was based on Kings II 4:8-37, where a childless Shunammite woman is rewarded with a son after feeding the prophet Elisha. The woman in Barry's play, Eve Redman, is the young wife of a businessman whose grandfather founded the college in the Indiana town where they live. The prophet is Dr. Nicholas Hay, a young psychologist who is visiting. He gives lectures at the college, and advocates education there be open to women, an opportunity Eve seizes. He teaches her the "science of the emotions", and she changes her outlook. They fall in love and eventually produce the child that Eve has always longed for, the one that her husband Gail, apparently cannot give her. Gail believes the child is his though.

Though remembered for his comedies about manners, he also wrote serious dramas, often on religious themes. His 1927 play John is about the Baptist, and Barry himself described his 1938 allegory Here Come the Clowns as a study of "the battle with evil," in which his hero, Clancy, "at last finds God in the will of man." Many of Barry's plays were adapted for television in the 1950s.

His best known work is The Philadelphia Story (1939), which was made into a popular 1940 film starring Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and James Stewart. Hepburn, a close friend of Barry, had appeared in the play on Broadway, and bought the movie rights (with the help of her ex-boyfriend Howard Hughes), and successfully restarted her previously flagging Hollywood career with the film version. The movie was also remade as High Society, starring Sinatra, Crosby, Kelly and Armstrong.

Barry's play Holiday was filmed twice, the best known being George Cukor's 1938 version starring Grant and Hepburn.

Philip Barry died in New York City in 1949, aged 53, of a heart attack.


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Philip James Quinn Barry, Sr.'s Timeline

June 18, 1896
Rochester, Monroe County, New York, United States
August 8, 1923
Age 27
New York, United States
December 3, 1949
Age 53
New York, New York, United States