Thursday, June 17, 2010


Zoe Akins

(Zoë Akins)
A STORM is riding on the tide
Grey is the day and grey the tide
Far-off the sea-gulls wheel and cry
A storm draws near upon the tide
A city lifts its minarets
To winds that from the desert sweep
And prisoned Arab women weep
Below the domes and minarets
Upon a hill in Thessaly
Stand broken columns in a line
About a cold forgotten shrine
Beneath a moon in Thessaly
But in the world there is no place
So desolate as your tragic face

(Zoe Akins, 1914)
I AM the wind that wavers
You are the certain land
I am the shadow that passes
Over the sand
I am the leaf that quivers
You, the unshaken tree
You are the stars that are steadfast
I am the sea
You are the light eternal
Like a torch I shall die
You are the surge of deep music
I but a cry!

(Zoe Akins, 1914)
The ships are lying in the bay
The gulls are swinging round their spars
My soul as eagerly as they
Desires the margin of the stars
So much do I love wandering
So much I love the sea and sky
That it will be a piteous thing
In one small grave to lie

Zoe Akins was an artist who became successful as a Broadway playwright. For Akins, this was a hard earned title, which she achieved after years of false starts and near misses. She wrote over 40 plays, 18 of which appeared on the Broadway stage between 1919 and 1944. Also in her oeuvre are two novels, numerous short stories and essays, several film and television scripts, and two volumes of poetry. Akins constantly tried to balance her writing style so that it would suit her own moral code and simultaneously appeal to a paying audience. She was a woman in a field dominated by men, but she persevered and accomplished much…..
(Book Flyer on “Zoe Akins,Broadway Playwright”, Contributions in Drama and Theatre Studies by ALAN KREIZENBECK at
Zoe Akins.....was born in Humansville, Missouri on October 30, 1886. She was educated at home, at Monticello Seminary in Godfrey, Illinois, and at Hosmer Hall in St. Louis. For many years, Akins lived in St. Louis where she wrote poetry and criticism for Reedy's Mirror. Later she contributed to leading magazines. She was married to Captain Hugo C. L. Rumbold on March 13, 1932.
Akins first stepped into the dramatic field in 1914 with "Papa." A sophisticated comedy, it was too liberal for that day. She followed this with "The Magical City" and "Declassee," the latter achieving a measure of success. Her efforts during the 1920s did not quite measure up to the expectations of the audiences, but when "The Greeks Had a Word For It" was produced in 1929-1930, it brought her deserved recognition as a popular dramatist. Akins' greatest achievement in the writing field came when she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1935 for her dramatization of Edith Wharton's story, The Old Maid.
Other plays written by Akins include: "Foot-Loose," "Daddy's Gone A-Hunting," "The Little Miracle," and "The Love Duel." She also authored many screenplays, two volumes of poetry, Interpretations, and The Hills Grow Smaller, and a novel, Forever Young.....(This Week in Missouri History)
(Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 8: Zoe Akins." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide)

Daddy's Gone A Hunting, 1925
Photo Derek Boothroyd

Daddy's Gone A Hunting is about Julian, a poor young artist, and Edith, his wife, struggled for five years in a dismal Harlem flat. Handicapped by inadequate knowledge he could not depict his beautiful thoughts on canvas and was forced to sketch for fashionable magazines to provide for his wife and infant daughter, Janet. He sank into utter despondency and told Edith he could only achieve skill by studying in Paris. She approved of his idea, and he went to Paris alone, while Edith worked as a forewoman in a fashionable Fifth avenue shop. She was befriended by Mrs. Greenough, a wealthy widow, whose son was charmed by Edith, but realized her longing for Julian's return. Meanwhile in Paris, Julian had not accomplished anything, and his closest friends, Oscar, another artist, and Olga, a brilliant pianist, could not lift him from the rut of indifference. Three years later he returned home, bringing his friends with him. Edith was hurt by his attitude and although (sic) he was moderately succesful, they drifted farther apart. She left to go to the Greenoughs. Hearing of Janet's illness, and overcame by loneliness, Julian came to find Janet dying. In his common bond of sorrow, he effected a reconciliation with his wife at last.

The 1935 Pulitzer Prize
Drama for "The Old Maid"
Adaptation of Edith Wharton's The Old Maid
From Associated Content, Inc.

Certainly, Akins' story of the relationship between two Southern cousins in the years between 1833 and 1854 (The Old Maid) is nothing spectacular. Delia Lovell married James Ralston, left her old beau Clem Spender out in the cold. Delia's cousin Charlotte comforted Clem by spending the night with him. Charlotte became pregnant, secretly farming out her daughter, Tina, to another family. The years passed; Charlotte set up a day nursery so that she may remain close to her daughter (still in the dark as to the true identity of her mother). Meanwhile, Charlotte had become engaged to Ralston's brother Joseph. The troublesome Delia, who discovered her cousin's secret, contrived to prevent Charlotte from marrying Joseph, then arranges to have Charlotte raise Tina as her niece rather than her daughter. More years passed; Tina regarded Delia as her mama and Charlotte as just an "old maid." At Tina's wedding, Charlotte almost revealed the truth to her daughter, but.....It's all slick romance-magazine stuff, and hardly worthy of the Pulitzer. On the other hand, the film version of The Old Maid, starring Bette Davis as Charlotte and Miriam Hopkins as Delia, is a classic of its kind, and one of Davis' best vehicles. The story is given additional substance by moving the early scenes up to the time of the Civil War, making Clem Spender (George Brent) less of a cad by killing him off at Vicksburg, thus rendering it impossible for Clem to make an honest woman of Charlotte. From the vantage point of the 1990s, when film stars found it difficult to turn out more than one picture a year, it was incredible that The Old Maid was but one of four first-rate Bette Davis films to be released in 1939; the others were Dark Victory, Juarez, and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.
(Adapted from Hal Erickson at All Movie Guide)
Zoë Akins was the third woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, after Zona Gale in 1921 and Susan Glaspell in 1931. (Until Beth Henley won the Pulitzer for Drama in 1981, the first since Ketti Frings in 1958, only five women had won the award. Mary Coyle Chase won in 1945 for Harvey.) The 1935 Pulitzer was contoversial for two reasons: Many critics felt that The Old Maid was little more than a tearjerker, and that it was Lillian Hellman who should have won the award, for her play The Children's Hour.
Many believed that The Children's Hour failed to win the Pulitzer because of its overtones of lesbianism, and that the award to The Old Maid was, in essence, an act of censorship. Lillian Hellman never did win a Pulitzer…..
The Old Maid was Zoë Akins' last Hollywood credit. After her Pulitzer Prize for The Old Maid, Akins had three more plays produced on Broadway, but none were as remotely successful as The Old Maid or the more successful of her earlier works. O Evening Star, a comedy about the movie industry, opened on January 8, 1935 and promptly closed after five performances. Afrter that flop, it was five years before another Akins play made the boards of The Great White Way. The Happy Days, a domestic comedy, opened on May 13, 1941 and closed with the month of May after 23 performances
Two years to the day after The Happy Days closed, Mrs. January and Mr. X, another domestic comedy by Akins, fared a little better with audiences, but not by much. Opening on May 31, 1944, Mrs. January and Mr. X , which starred the legendary comedienne Billie Burke, closed after 43 performances. It was Akins last Broadway play. Surprisingly, none of her plays has ever been revived on Broadway…..
Zoë Akins died in Los Angeles, California, on October 29, 1958, one day before what would have been her 72nd birthday.
(Zoe Akins, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Playwright by JON C. HOPWOOD - Featured Arts & Entertainment Contributor, August 18, 2008 at Associated Content, Inc.)

Time Line:
1886 - Akins was born in Humansville, Missouri on October 30, 1886.
1896 - Studied in Illinois and Saint Louis, where she started to write.
1911 - Published her collections of poems, "Interpretations".
1914 - Wrote the dramatic piece Papa.
1929 - Wrote "The Greeks Had a Word For It".
1930 - Started writing screenplays for films.
1932 - Married Hugo Rumbold.
1935 - Received the Pulitzer Prize Award for her dramatization of Edith Wharton's The Old Maid.
1958 - On October 29, 1958, a day before her seventy-second birthday she died in her sleep.

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