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Jack Kirkland began his career as a journalist, working for seventeen newspapers, including the St. Louis Times and the New York Daily News. He soon moved on to writing plays. In 1928, he wrote Frankie and Johnnie, which was eventually raided by the authorities after two years for allegedly immoral performances. While sick in bed in 1931, a friend lent Kirkland Erskine Caldwell's book, Tobacco Road. He began to adapt the pungent story of one poor rural family's life while working on screenplays in Hollywood. In 1933, his adaptation of Tobacco Road opened on Broadway, and although it was initially met with critical resistance, it proved to be a hit with audiences, becoming one of the longest running shows in Broadway history. In addition to being the playwright, Kirkland was also one of the show's primary investors. At the time of his death, his stake in the production was rumored to be worth over $2 million. The play was made into a film by 20th Century Fox in 1941. He would write another eleven plays, most of which were adaptations of novels, including John Steinbeck's Tortilla Flats. With his fourth wife, actress Haila Stoddard, he directed and produced the play Georgia Boy, and both were active in the Bucks County Playhouse.
Jack Kirkland at the 1941 opening of the Bucks County Playhouse. Sunday Call-Chronicle. Image courtesy of the Spruance Collection of the Bucks County Historical Society.
Education and Training
Columbia University, New York, New York, 1919-1921
Teachers and Influences
Erskine Caldwell, John Steinbeck, Mary Lasswell, Pat Frank, Nelson Algren, Kyle Onstott
Colleagues: Shirley Temple, Gary Cooper, Henry Hull, James Barton
Jack Kirkland (left) with John Barton, Mrs. Kirkland and their daughter Robin at Kirkland Farm, 1940. Image courtesy of the Spruance Collection of the Bucks County Historical Society.
Connection to Bucks County
Jack Kirkland moved to Springtown, upper Bucks County, in 1937 and stayed at his self-named Kirkland Farm until 1956 when he returned to New York. He was very active in garnering support for the Bucks County Playhouse. His fourth wife, Haila Stoddard performed in sixteen productions at the Bucks County Playhouse, including its premier production of Springtime for Henry in 1939. Kirkland was a strong supporter of the Bucks County Playhouse.
Colleagues and Affiliations
Kirkland's social circle included George S. Kaufman, Moss Hart, Kenyon Nicholson, St. John Terrell, and Theron Bamberger. Kirkland's eldest daughter Patricia is a Broadway actress. His daughter Gelsey Kirkland, born while they lived at Kirkland Farm, is a much-admired former dancer with the New York City Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre.
Jack Kirkland and Haila Stoddard at the 1941 opening of the Bucks County Playhouse. Sunday Call-Chronicle. Image courtesy of the Spruance Collection of the Bucks County Historical Society.
Ladies at Play, collaborated on scenario, 1926
Forever After, 1926
McFadden's Flats, 1927
Zoo in Budapest, co-written Melville Baker, 1933
Now and Forever, co-written with Melville Baker, 1934
Mills of the Gods, co-written with Melville Baker, 1935
The Gilded Lily, co-written with Melville Baker, 1935
Wings in the Dark, as scenarist, 1935
Sutter's Gold, as scenarist, 1935
Manhattan Madness, as scenarist, 1938
The Amazing Mr. Fabre, as scenarist and director with Henri Diamont-Berger, 1951
Golden Coach, as scenarist with Jean Renoir, 1954
Fifth Avenue Folly, with Charles Green, 1964
Frankie and Johnnie, 1928
Tobacco Road, adapted from Erksine Caldwell's novel, 1933
Co-produced Bright Honor and Forbidden Melody with Sam H. Grisman, 1936
Tortilla Flat, adapted from John Steinbeck's novel, directed by Kirkland and co-produced with Sam H. Grishman, 1938
I Must Love Someone, producer, in collaboration with Layla Georgie, 1939
Suzanna and the Elders, producer, 1940
Tanyard Street, 1941
They Can't Get You Down, co-producer with Dwight Wilman, 1941
Moon Vine, producer, 1943
Suds in Your Eye, based on a novel by Mary Lasswell, director, 1944
Georgia Boy, adapted from Erksine Caldwell's novel, co-producer and director with Haila Stoddard, 1945
Strange Boarders with George Batson, directed by Kirkland, 1947
Mr. Adam, adapted from novel by Pat Frank, director and producer, 1949
Man With the Golden Arm, based on a novel by Nelson Algren, 1956
Mandingo, based on a novel by Kyle Onstott, 1961
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