Short Day's Journey Into Night

Martin Gottfried: Jed Harris: The Curse of Genius; Little, Brown; Boston.

The man who called himself Jed Harris was the leading producer and director of the Broadway of the 20's and 30's. The staccato pacing of Broadway (1926) won him instant attention and a place on the cover of Time magazine. It turned the American stage from the smarmy sentimentality of Abie's Irish Rose to a more realistic, snappier rhythm, which culminated in his production of The Front Page the next year. His mournful, idyllic production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town (1935) is still remembered as the classic version of a classic work. As late as 1947 his production of The Heiress (a stage version of Henry James's Washington Square) was a smash hit. But people were already refusing to work with him, and by the late 50's he was unemployable. Brilliant, obnoxious, shy, a poseur, Harris ruined as many shows as he made, from stubborn pride or inability to work with his peers. His personal life was as chaotic as his professional. His many wives and strings of shiksa lovers, from Ruth Gordon to Judith Anderson, storm through the pages of Martin Gottfried's forcibly written lament over wasted creativity. The theater stories come thick and fast. It was, for instance, Harris who directed Katharine Hepburn in The Lake (1934), when Dorothy Parker penned the classic reviewer’s...

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