From the Dramaturgs of THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER

In preparation of the production of The Man Who Came to Dinner, our Dramaturgs thoroughly researched not only the history of the play and its playwrights, but also the decade in which it the play written and the well-known personalities who inspired some of its characters. Here, we provide you with insider access to their findings.


The Cost of Living

  • $1 in the late 1930’s = $15 today
  • The average cost of a house was $7,000
  • The average car cost $800
  • Average wage was $1,209/year


  • Gandhi’s Salt March
  • Pluto Discovered
  • Stalin Begins Collectivizing Agriculture in the U.S.S.R.


  • Al Capone Imprisoned for Income Tax Evasion
  • Auguste Piccard Reaches Stratosphere
  • Christ Monument Built on Rio de Janeiro Hilltop
  • Empire State Building Completed
  • Scottsboro Boys Accused of Rape
  • U.S. Officially Gets National Anthem


  • Air Conditioning Invented
  • Amelia Earhart First Woman to Fly Solo Across the Atlantic
  • Lindbergh’s Baby Kidnapped
  • Scientists Split the Atom
  • Zippo Lighters Introduced


  • Adolf Hitler Appointed Chancellor of Germany
  • Assassination Attempt on FDR
  • FDR Launches New Deal
  • First Nazi Concentration Camp Established
  • Loch Ness Monster First Spotted
  • Prohibition Ends in the U.S.
  • Wiley Post Flies Around the World in 8 1/2 Days


  • Bonnie and Clyde Killed by Police
  • Cheeseburger Created
  • The Dust Bowl
  • The Great Terror Begins in the Soviet Union
  • Mao Zedong Begins the Long March
  • Parker Brothers Sells the Game “Monopoly”


  • Alcoholics Anonymous Founded
  • Germany Issues the Anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws
  • John Maynard Keynes Suggests New Economic Theory
  • Social Security Enacted in U.S.


  • Carnegie Publishes How to Win Friends and Influence People
  • Hoover Dam Completed
  • King Edward VIII Abdicates
  • Nazi Olympics in Berlin
  • Spanish Civil War Begins


  • Amelia Earhart Vanishes
  • Golden Gate Bridge Opened
  • The Hindenberg Disaster
  • Japan Invades China


  • Broadcast of The War of the Worlds Causes Panic
  • Chamberlain Announces “Peace in Our Time”
  • Evian Conference About Jewish Refugees From Nazi Germany
  • “Extinct” Fish Found (Coelacanth)
  • Hitler Annexes Austria
  • House Un-American Activities Committee (a.k.a. the Dies Committee) Is Established
  • March of Dimes Founded
  • The Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht)
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Is the First Full-Length Animated Cartoon
  • Superman First Appears in Comic Books
  • Volkswagen Beetle First Produced
  • “Wrong-Way” Corrigan Heads to Dublin Instead of New York


  • First Commercial Flight Over the Atlantic
  • German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact Signed
  • Helicopter Invented
  • Refugees on the St. Louis Refused Entry Everywhere
  • World War II Begins
  • Man Who Came to Dinner premieres on Broadway



George KaufmanGeorge Kaufman

  • November 16, 1889 – June 2, 1961
  • Born in Pennsylvania
  • Began career as journalist and drama critic; was drama editor for The New York Times from 1917 – 1930
  • Broadway debut on September 4, 1918 with the melodrama Someone in the House (coauthor Walter C. Percival)
  • There was a play written or directed by Kaufman every Broadway season from 1921 – 1958
  • Married to Beatrice Bakrow in 1917 until her death in 1945, then married Luelen Macgrath in 1949

Moss HartMoss Hart

  • October 24, 1904 – December 20, 1961
  • Born in New York City, grew up in the Bronx
  • Jewish
  • Married to Kitty Carlisle in 1946, had two children
  • Died of a heart attack in 1961
  • Won the Pulitzer Prize for You Can’t Take It With You in 1936 (with Kaufman)
  • Wrote 9 plays, 4 screenplays, and his autobiography

The pairing began when Moss Hart was recognized for his exceptional talent at age 25 by Broadway producer Sam Harris. Harris said that the play would go into production if Hart entered into a collaboration with George S. Kaufman, a well-known playwright. The relative unknown jumped at the chance to work with Kaufman, and the pair wrote Once in a Lifetime, which opened in 1930 and was a huge success. The duo continued writing together, but according to Hart’s autobiography “Act One” , tensions began to run high after a slew of lukewarm receptions. The Man Who Came to Dinner was their second-to-last production together, and after their next production, the pair separated. Unlike Gilbert and Sullivan, Kaufman and Hart remained close friends – Hart just felt the need to prove that his writing was not dependent on the already-successful Kaufman.


Character Inspirations

The Characters from The Man Who Came to Dinner are based on the close friends of the authors, George Kaufman and Moss Hart. Below are some of the character’s inspirations.

Dr. Gustav EcksteinAdolph Metz was inspired by

Dr. Gustav Eckstein

  • Born 1890
  • Medical doctor, scientist, teacher, writer
  • Expert on animal behavior
  • Studied under Ivan Pavlov
  • Was especially interested in the mating habits of canaries
  • Friends with Alexander Woollcott



Harpo MarxBanjo was inspired by

Harpo Marx

  • November 23, 1888 – September 28, 1964
  • Born in New York City on the Upper East Side (rich neighborhood)
  • Jewish
  • Had no formal education; dropped out in second grade
  • Was called Harpo because he played the harp
  • First appearance in film in 1921 in Humor Risk
  • A theater critic wrote, “Adolph Marx performed beautiful pantomime which was ruined whenever he spoke.”
  • Part of the comedy team, the Marx Brothers; played the silent man
  • He was famous for his sight gags, namely the seemingly infinite number of pockets in his topcoat.
  • In 1933, he spent six weeks in Moscow performing as a goodwill performer.
  • Married Susan Fleming in 1936
  • Later played the role of Banjo in Los Angeles opposite Woollcott

Examples of Harpo’s physical comedy: and

Noël CowardBeverly Carlton was inspired by

Noël Coward

  • December 16, 1899 – March 26, 1973
  • Born in Teddington, a suburb of London
  • Made his stage debut at age 11
  • Began writing plays in his teens; Hay Fever, Private Lives, Blithe Spirit, and over 40 others are attributed to him
  • Ran the British propaganda office in World War II, and used his influence to work with the Secret Service to gain America’s help
  • Also wrote songs; wrote, directed, and performed in his operetta, Conversation Piece (1933)
  • Had an annual income of  £50,000 during the Great Depression (at the time, the pound was roughly worth four times the dollar)
  • Was knighted in 1969
  • Received a Tony Award for lifetime achievement

A video of a song written and performed by Coward, called “Nina”:

Lizzie BordenHarriet Stanley was inspired by

Lizzie Borden

  • July 19, 1860 – June 1, 1927
  • Lived in Fall River, Massachusetts
  • Religious upbringing
  • Father owned many textile mills; family was wealthy, but known for their frugality
  • On August 4, 1892, her parents were brutally murdered, and she was put on trial for their deaths.
  • She was ultimately acquitted for the murders, but ostracized from Fall River.

Lizzie Borden is immortalized in the children’s rhyme:

Lizzie Borden took an axe

And gave her mother forty whacks

When she saw what she had done

She gave her father forty-one

Gertrude LawrenceLorraine Sheldon was inspired by

Gertrude Lawrence

  • July 4, 1898 – September 6, 1952
  • Born in the Newington area of Southwark, London
  • Had her first public performance in 1904, and began working shortly afterwards
  • Met Noël Coward while working on Gerhart Hauptmann’s Hannele; they had a very close relationship
  • In 1923, Coward developed his first musical revue, London Calling!, for her.
  • After Charlot’s Revue of 1926, Woollcott singled Lawrence out in his review, saying she was “the personification of style and sophistication” and “the ideal star.”
  • Won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her originating role as Anna in The King and I

Lawrence performing a Cole Porter number:

Alexander WoollcottSheridan Whiteside was inspired by

Alexander Woollcott

  • January 19, 1887 – January 23, 1943
  • Born in Colts Neck Township, New Jersey
  • Journalist, critic, and radio man
  • Started writing for the New York Times at age 22, then at 27 was named the drama critic
  • Worked with CBS Radio; “The program’s format began as a dinner party in the studio’s private dining room, with the microphones in place. Table talk would lead into a live network radio broadcast, and each panelist would begin with a provocative response to the topic.” (McAleer)
  • Described as “the best writer in America, but with nothing in particular to say” (Thurber, “The Years with Ross”)


“All the things I really like to do are either immoral, illegal, or fattening.”

“A hick town is one where there is no place to go where you shouldn’t go.”

“The English have an extraordinary ability for flying into a great calm.”

“Take what you can get! Grab the chances as they come along! Act in hallways! Sing in doorways! Dance in cellars!”

“Many of us spend half of our time wishing for things we could have if we didn’t spend half our time wishing.”

Glossary for The Man Who Came to Dinner