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Thornton Wilder

(1897-1975) was a novelist and playwright whose works celebrate the connection between the commonplace and the cosmic dimensions of human experience.  He is the only writer to win Pulitzer Prizes for both drama and fiction: for his novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey, and two plays, Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth.  His other nov­els include The Cabala, The Woman of Andros, Heaven’s My Destination, The Ides of March, The Eighth Day and Theophilus North. His other major dramas include The Matchmaker (adapted as the musical Hello, Dolly!) and The Alcestiad. The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden, Pullman Car Hiawatha and The Long Christmas Dinner are among his well-known shorter plays. He enjoyed enormous success as a translator, adaptor, actor, librettist and lecturer/teacher, and his screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt remains a classic psycho-thriller to this day. Wilder’s many honors include the Gold Medal for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. More information on Thornton Wilder and his family is available in Penelope Niven’s definitive biography, Thornton Wilder: A Life (2013) as well as on the Wilder Family website;

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To Ruth Gordon


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Excerpts from Isabel Wilder’s foreword to

The Collected Short Plays of Thornton Wilder.

"… the first of Thornton’s long plays, “Our Town,” was produced to immediate success… while Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” adapted by him for Ruth Gordon, was a conspicuous success.  In the summer of 1939 Thornton returned home wonderfully free at last of all outside commitments, with his head full of plans for his own work. He had the beginnings of two projects, both plays. One did not have a name yet. The other was “The Alcestiad.” September came and Hitler’s armies flooded Holland and Belgium. Thornton had no choice: “The Alcestiad” was not a play for a war-torn world; the untitled project which became

“The Skin of Our Teeth” was."

“Soon after Pearl Harbor Thornton was commissioned a captain in the Air Force… The morning that Mother and I said good-bye to him he patted his bulging duffle bag: ‘I have the manuscript of  “The Alcestiad” in my kit…’  Two years later, while he was waiting in a camp near Boston to be separated from the Air Force (a lieutenant colonel now), his papers were lost. The commanding officer of the post offered a three-day pass. Thornton went straight from the Back Bay station to the Boston Public Library on Copley Square, where he drowned himself once more in the Golden Age of Greece. A few days later he was for the first time in more than three years seated at his own desk in Hamden, Connecticut."

To Harold Clurman


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To Isabel WIlder


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"A single sheet of paper from that time is before me now. Printed on one side in big block letters is:



On the reverse in his small careful penmanship is:

(Sketches up to and including the Teiresias scene of Act I had been made before the War and lost)

Draft One of the first act, May and July 1945

Draft Two, begun July 8, 1945

This Draft Three begun (after completion of Act II and half of Act III) on Dec

The unfinished date would be 1945.

 The loss of the manuscript meant more to my brother than these few notes convey; his eagerness to get back to his peacetime profession fired his enthusiasm and carried him along for the seven months of work recorded here. But, like millions of other soldiers, he had returned home not only a disoriented and exhausted man but a changed one. He was not able easily to recapture his prewar vision of Alcestis and he did not have the reserve of physical and nervous energy to sustain the excitement and tension to finish his work… 
My brother’s thoughts were still lively with his own recent experiences of Hitler’s and Mussolini’s wars… Thornton suddenly saw his next work plain. And so it happened that the novel The Ides of March was written and published in 1947. It opened the way for his return to civilian life, to teaching and lecturing again, to the theatre and to Alcestis.


Click here to hear Thornton Wilder reading a section of “The Drunken Sisters” (scroll down to the second to last on the page)

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