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Joseph Kesselring

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Joseph Otto Kesselring (July 21, 1902 – November 5, 1967) was an American playwright who was best known for writing Arsenic and Old Lace, a hit on Broadway from 1939 to 1944 and in other countries as well.


He was born in New York City to Henry and Frances Kesselring. His father's parents were immigrants from Germany. His mother was an English Canadian.US Census 1920, New York Borough of Manhattan, enumeration district 913, Sheet 19A Kesselring spent much of his life in and around the theater. In 1922, he began teaching vocal music and directed stage productions at Bethel College, a Mennonite school in North Newton, Kansas. After two years, Kesselring left teaching and returned to the stage, working for two years with an amateur theatrical group in Niagara, New York.Dramaturgy: Notes from the Director , Methacton Community Theater website. Retrieved February 19, 2010. He began working as a freelance playwright in 1933, completing 12 original plays, of which four were produced on Broadway: There's Wisdom in Women (1935), Arsenic and Old Lace (1939), Four Twelves are 48 (1951), and Mother of that Wisdom (1963). Arsenic and Old Lace was his masterpiece. It ran for 1444 performances on Broadway and 1337 performances in London, and became a staple in high school and dinner theater circuits. Arsenic and Old Lace (film)The 1944 movie adaptation was also a comedy hit.
Arsenic and Old Lace appeared at a time of strong isolationist sentiment regarding European affairs, of the sort that was very strong where Kesselring went to college. The play suggested that the elite running America had a murderous heritage. Kesselring lived in a college house that would later be the basis of the set of Arsenic and Old Lace, and locals have tried to identify who were some of the character models he used. Kesselring was an Episcopalian who did not fit in well with the strait-laced college. He dropped out of college in 1924.See Keith L. Sprunger, "Another Look Another Look: Joseph Kesselring, Bethel College, and the Origins of Arsenic and Old Lace, Menonnite Life (May, 2013).
Kesselring died on November 5, 1967, in Kingston, New York, at the age of 65.
In 1980, the National Arts Club created the Joseph Kesselring Prize for up-and-coming playwrights. It was funded by Kesselring's widow, Charlotte. Among the playwrights who have won the prize are Tony Kushner, David Adjmi, Doug Wright, Anna Deavere Smith, David Auburn, Rajiv Joseph, Melissa James Gibson, Jo Carson, Nicky Silver, David Lindsay-Abaire, José Rivera, Naomi Wallace, Philip Kan Gotanda, Kira Obolensky, Tracey Scott Wilson, and Marion McClinton. The Kesselring Fellowship , The National Arts Club, The Exchange website. Retrieved February 19, 2010.

External links

  • Joseph O. Kesselring writings, 1932-1970, held by the Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

  • Category:1902 births
    Category:1967 deaths
    Category:American people of German descent
    Category:Vaudeville performers
    Category:People from Kingston, New York
    Category:Writers from New York City
    Category:Opposition to World War II
    Category:Bethel College (Kansas) faculty
    Category:20th-century American dramatists and playwrights
    Category:American people of Canadian descent

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