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Sidney Kingsley; Playwright Won Pulitzer Prize

March 22, 1995| From Times Staff and Wire Reports

OAKLAND, N.J. — Playwright Sidney Kingsley, who won a Pulitzer Prize before he was 30 years old, has died. He was 89.

Kingsley, who died Monday, won the coveted prize in 1934 for the hospital drama "Men in White."

He was known for tackling stories with serious social messages.

Kingsley's early award-winning effort depicted the dilemma faced by doctors who must balance the demands of medicine with finding satisfaction in their personal lives. The play ran on Broadway for 351 performances, was successfully produced in Europe and later was made into a hit movie.

The Pulitzer jury in 1934 actually voted unanimously for Maxwell Anderson's "Mary of Scotland," but was overruled by the advisory board of the Columbia School of Journalism, which makes award recommendations to the trustees of Columbia University.

In 1943, Kingsley received the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for "The Patriots," a drama about Thomas Jefferson's conflict with Alexander Hamilton over the nature of democracy.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who invited Kingsley to sit beside him at the unveiling of the Jefferson Memorial, developed great respect for the playwright. He had Kingsley's 1935 play, "Dead End," performed at the White House--the first command performance of a play by the chief of state.

The play, which also became a hit movie, focused on the conditions of New York City's slums. It inspired Roosevelt to establish a slum clearance commission.

Kingsley's 1951 dramatization of Arthur Koestler's novel on Soviet Communism, "Darkness at Noon," earned him a second New York Drama Critics Circle Award.

It also prompted a scathing review by a Communist paper claiming that the play was "dull, verbose, often ludicrous and utterly lacking in suspense."

"If the Daily Worker hadn't jumped all over 'Darkness at Noon,' I would have considered that I had failed to achieve my purpose," Kingsley commented gleefully. "The Worker has made me very happy."

Also in 1951, the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Institute of Arts and Letters presented Kingsley with the Award of Merit Medal for Outstanding Work in the Drama. In 1986, the organizations gave him a Gold Medal for Drama.

Kingsley was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in 1983 and, in 1988, he received the William Inge Award for Lifetime Achievement in the American Theatre.

He began writing plays in high school, earning a fellowship to Cornell University.

Kingsley's wife, actress Madge Evans, died in 1981. The couple had no children.

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