John Van Druten
John William Van Druten
1 June 1901
|Died||19 December 1957 (aged 56)|
|Resting place||Coachella Valley Public Cemetery|
John William Van Druten (1 June 1901 – 19 December 1957) was an English playwright and theatre director. He began his career in London, and later moved to America, becoming a U.S. citizen. He was known for his plays of witty and urbane observations of contemporary life and society.
Van Druten was born in London in 1901, son of a Dutch father named Wilhelmus van Druten and his English wife Eva. He was educated at University College School and read law at the University of London. Before commencing his career as a writer, he practised law for a while as a solicitor and university lecturer in Wales.
He first came to prominence with Young Woodley, a slight but charming study of adolescence, produced in New York in 1925. However, it was banned in London by the Lord Chamberlain's office owing to its then controversial portrayal of a schoolboy falling in love with his headmaster's wife. In Britain, it was first produced privately (by Phyllis Whitworth's Three Hundred Club) and then at the Arts Theatre in 1928. When the ban was lifted, it had a successful run at the Savoy Theatre in the West End with a cast including Frank Lawton, Derrick De Marney, and Jack Hawkins. The play was filmed twice. It was revived at the Finborough Theatre, London, in 2006.
He was one of the more successful playwrights of the early 1930s in London, with star-studded West End productions of his work, including Diversion (1927), After All (1929), London Wall (1931) with Frank Lawton and John Mills, There's Always Juliet (1931), Somebody Knows (1932), Behold, We Live (1932) with Gertrude Lawrence and Gerald du Maurier, The Distaff Side (1933), and Flowers of the Forest (1934).
He later emigrated to America, where he wrote Leave Her to Heaven (February 1940), a drama set in London and Westcliff-on-Sea in Essex, which was shortly followed by major successes with Old Acquaintance (NY December 1940 – May 1941 and London with Edith Evans) and The Voice of the Turtle (1943), which ran for three seasons in New York and was filmed with Ronald Reagan. I Remember Mama (play) (1944) ran for 713 performances. It was later made into a movie and a television series. In 1944, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. His play Make Way for Lucia (1948), based on the Mapp and Lucia novels of E.F. Benson, was premiered in New York, but did not have its first professional British production until 1995.
His 1951 play I Am a Camera, together with Christopher Isherwood's short stories, Goodbye to Berlin (1939), formed the basis of Joe Masteroff's book for the Kander and Ebb musical Cabaret (1966). When I Am a Camera opened on Broadway in 1951, The New York Times drama critic Walter Kerr wrote a famous three-word review: "Me no Leica."
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, he was in a relationship with Carter Lodge (died 1995). Lodge was the manager of the AJC Ranch that van Druten, British actress Auriol Lee and Lodge bought together in Coachella Valley. When the relationship ended, Lodge continued to live on the ranch with his new partner, Dick Foote. When van Druten died in 1957, he left the entire property of the ranch to Lodge and the rights in his work, including "I Am a Camera", which entitled Lodge to earn a percentage from the movie Cabaret (1972).
He died at Indio, California on 19 December 1957 of undisclosed causes. He is buried in the Coachella Valley Public Cemetery.
Van Druten directed the last nine productions of his own plays (see above).
At the St. James Theatre, New York in March 1951 he directed the first production of The King and I (1,246 performances). He also restaged this production at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, in London, October 1953 (946 performances).
At the Theatre Royal, Brighton in November 1954 he staged a production of The Duchess and the Smugs.
Van Druten wrote two autobiographies:
He also published two novels: a version of Young Woodley (1928), and The Vicarious Years in 1955.
He also published a book on his work, Playwright at Work, just after the Second World War.