Maurine Dallas Watkins
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She was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and attended Crawfordsville High School, followed by five colleges (including Hamilton College, Transylvania University, Butler College (Indianapolis, IN), and Radcliffe College). While at Butler, Watkins joined the Gamma chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta Women's Fraternity and was initiated in 1919. After these colleges, she took a job as a reporter with the Chicago Tribune. After her Tribune tenure—which lasted less than seven months—she enrolled at Yale in the 47 Workshop (see below).
She covered two 1924 murders and the subsequent trials of Belva Gaertner, a twice-divorced cabaret singer, and Beulah Sheriff Annan. Watkins focused on the sensational aspects of the two cases, two "jazz babies" corrupted by men and liquor, characterizing Beulah as "beauty of the cell block" and Belva as "most stylish of Murderess Row."
Watkins also reported on the famous Leopold and Loeb case, which quickly overshadowed the coverage of the Belva Gaertner verdict. Soon after, she left journalism to take up writing plays, studying under George Pierce Baker at Yale University. As a class assignment in his famous 47 Workshop course, she wrote a marginally fictionalized account of the two murders, calling it first The Brave Little Woman, then Chicago, or Play Ball (first copyrighted version: pre-production manuscript), and finally Chicago (second copyrighted version: post-production script). Beulah Annan became "Roxie Hart"; Belva Gaertner, "Velma Kelly"; Albert Annan, "Amos Hart"; and the two lawyers, William Scott Stewart and W. W. O'Brien, were combined in a composite character, "Billy Flynn" (O'Brien seems to have been the closest direct match).
Director Sam Forrest was replaced by George Abbott at the request of Jeanne Eagels (Roxie Hart); but Eagels quit the show within a few days, and Francine Larrimore replaced Eagels. Chicago opened on Broadway on 30 December 1926 (though the run is listed as 1927). The play ran for a respectable 172 performances, then toured for 2 years (with a then-unknown Clark Gable appearing in a Los Angeles production as Amos Hart). A 1927 silent film version produced and supervised by Cecil B. DeMille and starring former Mack Sennett bathing beauty Phyllis Haver as Roxie Hart, was remade as Roxie Hart in 1942 with Ginger Rogers in the title role. This 1942 film version eliminated all the murderesses except the unnamed Velma Kelly, while the stage and screen musical version eliminated Jake, Babe, and several others.
Watkins wrote about twenty plays, but Chicago was her most successful. She journeyed to Hollywood to write screenplays, including the 1936 comedy Libeled Lady with William Powell, Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, and Spencer Tracy.
Watkins faded into obscurity in the 1940s. She developed a disfiguring facial cancer and, by 1968, was reclusive, leaving her apartment only when heavily veiled. She had been a lifelong Christian and left her fortune of over $2,300,000 to found contests and chairs in Biblical studies at some 20 universities, including Princeton.
In the 1960s, Watkins was approached by Bob Fosse, who sought the rights to Chicago for a musical adaptation, but she resisted his offers. Following her death in 1969, her estate sold him the rights, leading to the development of Chicago: A Musical Vaudeville with a score by John Kander and Fred Ebb. It was first produced in 1975, revived in 1997, and filmed in 2002.
- Chicago (1927) (play)
- Up the River (1930)
- Doctors' Wives (1931)
- Play-Girl (1932)
- The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932) (play Tinsel Girl)
- No Man of Her Own (1932)
- Child of Manhattan (1933)
- Hello Sister (1933) (uncredited)
- The Story of Temple Drake (1933) (uncredited)
- Professional Sweetheart (1933)
- Search for Beauty (1934)
- Strictly Dynamite (1934) (story)
- A Wicked Woman (1934) (dialogue)
- Libeled Lady (1936)
- Up the River (1938) (story)
- I Love You Again (1940) (story)
- Roxie Hart (1942)
- Easy to Wed (1946)
- Chicago (2002) (play)
- Thomas H. Pauly (Ed.): Chicago: With the Chicago Tribune Articles that Inspired It. Southern Illinois University 1997. ISBN 0-8093-2129-7, ISBN 978-0-8093-2129-2
- Judith Ann Schiff, "How Yale begat Chicago," Yale Alumni Magazine, May/June 2012.
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