Maurine Dallas Watkins
Maurine Dallas Watkins (1896-1969) is little remembered today, despite being the author of Chicago (1926) the smash Broadway comedy about two “merry murderesses” with showbiz aspirations that would, fifty decades after its premiere, inspire the smash Broadway musical of the same name. The play was based on Watkins’s observations as journalist covering the Windy City’s sensational Jazz Age murder trials.
Watkins’ career encompassed more than Chicago—she earned a playwriting degree from Yale School of Drama (earning the highest grade yet given in the course for her thesis play, Chicago), she wrote the controversial Broadway play Revelry (1927) based on scandals in the Harding administration, and she wrote or co-wrote at least ten films, including Up the River (Best Picture nominee, 1930), the screwball comedy No Man of Her Own (1932) and Libeled Lady (a 1937 comedy starring Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow). In 1929, influential critic Burns Mantle considered Waktins so significant that he devoted several pages to her career in American Playwrights of Today, notably more than the passing mention given her contemporaries S.N. Behrman, Susan Glaspell, and Ben Hecht.
In her later years, Watkins became a born-again Christian. She distanced herself from her early hit—at one point actually paying $500 a year not to have Chicago produced. With the onset of facial cancer, she became a recluse. On the rare occasions she left her house, she wore a heavy veil to obscure her damaged face. Upon her death, she left the bulk of her $2 million fortune to endow prizes in classical languages at various universities, reflecting her secret lifelong obsession with the classics