American society was a hot topic in 1930s and 40s soph-coms (yes, I’m still trying to coin that) and none was more deliciously scathing than The Philadelphia Story (1940, dir. George Cukor). And while Donald Ogden Stewart’s Oscar-winning screenplay may have been his masterpiece, his career was as prolific as they come.
Born in Columbus, Ohio in 1894, Donald Ogden Stewart graduated from Yale in 1916, after which he served in the Naval Reserves during World War I. He began writing after the war, and, after writing a parody of H. G. Wells’ The Outline of History, became a member of the Algonquin Round Table. His fellow Algonquinians included Dorothy Parker, Ernest Hemingway (who supposedly based the character Bill Gorton in The Sun Also Rises on Stewart), Robert Benchley and George S. Kaufman. Upon his arrival in Hollywood, he started adapting plays into scripts (including Kaufman’s Dinner at Eight (dir. George Cukor) in 1933, for which he provided additional dialogue). During the 1930s, he wrote such screenplays as Manhattan Melodrama (1934, dir. W. S. Van Dyke), Holiday (1938, dir. Cukor), Love Affair (1939, dir Leo MacCarey) and in 1940, he adapted Philip Barry’s play The Philadelphia Story, for which he won a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. After that, he wrote A Woman’s Face (1941, dir. Cukor), Keeper of the Flame (1942, dir. Cukor), Without Love (1945. dir. Harold S. Bucquet), also adapted from a Phillip Barry play, Life With Father (1947, dir. Michael Curtiz), among others. If you’ve been following my SCREENPLAY BY series, you won’t be surprised by what happened next: he was blacklisted in the 1950s, moved to England as a result and never came back. Whatever writing contributions he made after that, they all went uncredited. His memoir By a Stroke of Luck was published in 1975, five years before he died at the age of 85.