12-07-1975

Thornton Wilder

THORNTON WILDER, American playwright died (b. 1897); In 1926 Wilder’s first novel The Cabala was published. In 1927, The Bridge of San Luis Rey brought him commercial success and his first Pulitzer Prize in 1928. From 1930 to 1937 he taught at the University of Chicago.

In 1938 he won the Pulitzer for drama for his plays Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth. World War II saw him rise to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Army Air Force and he received several awards. He went on to be a visiting professor at the University of Hawaii and to teach poetry at Harvard. Though he considered himself a teacher first and a writer second, he continued to write all his life, receiving the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in 1957 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963. In 1967 he won the National Book Award for his novel The Eighth Day. He died in his sleep, December 7, 1975 in Hamden, Connecticut, where he had been living with his sister, Isabel, for many years.

Wilder had a wide circle of friends and enjoyed mingling with other famous people, including Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather, Montgomery Clift and Gertrude Stein. (Sensing any patterns here?) Although he never discussed his sexuality publicly or in his writings, his close friend Samuel M. Steward is generally acknowledged to have been his lover. This relationship is explored in the fascinating new biography of Steward, AKA Phil Andros, written by in Justin Spring, Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor , Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade

For more on Secret Historian: http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Historian-Steward-Professor-Renegade/dp/0374281343

Wilder’s father, Amos Wilder was a stern, teetotaling Congregationalist who expected his son to be scholar-athlete and a muscular Christian. When Thornton announced that he had been cast as Lady Bracknell in a school production of The Importance of Being Earnest, the senior Wilder informed him that he would rather that Thornton not play female roles. Papa would not absolutely forbid it, but he assumed that his son would want to honor his father’s wishes. Thornton reluctantly conceded, but later wrote to his father in China, “When you have changed your mind as to it, please notify.”