“One day, a speculator tried to convince [playwright George S. Kaufman] and some other [Algonquin] Round Table members to buy shares in a gold mine somewhere out west. Trying a little too hard to impress the potential investors, he said, ‘The mine is so rich, you can actually pick up chunks of gold from off the ground.’ Adopting an air of incredulity, Kaufman said with a straight face, ‘You mean, I’d have to bend over?’” —Dr. Mardy Grothe, Viva la Repartee: Clever Comebacks and Witty Retorts from History's Great Wits and Wordsmiths (2005)
One hundred thirty years ago today, George S.Kaufman—in turn, drama editor, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Tony-winning director, and throughout, inveterate wit—was born in Pittsburgh. Five years ago, I wrote a post discussing his life in some detail, but I could not resist writing about him again.
Right now, it’s hard for me to think of another figure who so influenced the course of American comedy, whether through the plays he wrote, usually with others (16 collaborators in all, including Moss Hart on the Pulitzer Prize-winning You Can’t Take It With You) or through those he directed (the musical Guys and Dolls).
The next time you watch an American comedy on stage or film, just remember: there’s an excellent chance that the architecture of the plot and jokes was influenced by Kaufman.