Ex-U.W. Co-ed Becomes 'The Toast of New York'

Jack Gaver

NEW YORK (UPI) Offhand, the matter of becoming a successful playwright seems simple in the case of Lorraine Hansberry. Bullseye first time out.

But, of course, it Isn't simple, never was and never will be.


"I had spent a lot of time and considerable money trying to be an artist." said the comely 28-year-old author of "A Raisin In the Sun," Broadway's latest dramatic hit.

'I Didn't Have It'

"I came to New York from my home In Chicago in 1950, after a couple of years in college (at the University of Wisconsin), with art In mind. Finally, I had to admit to myself that I Just didn't have It as a painter.

"I had been trying to write various things for years, and I decided that I would concentrate on writing. But not just any sort of writing. Six years ago or so, with nothing to prove my point, I Just told myself that I was a playwright and began working at it."

Miss Hansberry's method may be unique. "I didn't set out to write anything in finished form," she explained. "I didn't have a complete play Idea in my head. I wrote experimentally, only to give myself experience. I would think of a dramatic situation that would Interest me, write as much dialog as necessary to work out that situation, and go on to another such exercise."

Only Husband Saw Scripts

This went on year after year, with fragments of scripts piling up unseen by anyone except the writer's husband, Robert Nemiroff, member of a music publishing firm, whom she married In 1953.

But a couple of years ago her "exercising" lpd to the characters and basic situation of "A Raisin in the Sun."

This one she didn't put aside; she wound up with a complete play.

"Four hours of play, to be exact," Muss Hans-berry said. "And not quite the one now on view at the Barrymore theater, although the first act, through all the rewrites that followed, has remained essentially the same."

The historic facts must intrude here, although they have nothing to do with the fact that "A Raisin in the Sun" Is a brilliant first play that would loom large In any season. Miss Hansberry is a Negro, the first woman of her race to have a play presented on Broadway. Her play Is about Negroes living in a slum section of Chicago and hoping for a better life.

Read Play to Friends

"The play originally was much more of a social problem drama than It Is now," the author went on. "There was heavy stress on Negroes moving into a white community. "After I had finished the first draft, we had some dinner guests one night and I read the script to them. One of the guests was the actor, Sidney Poitier, who is our leading man. "There was considerable criticism of the script after my four hours of reading. Mainly, the objection was that I had two plays. I'm stubborn, and I argued but I thought It over for a few days, then went back to work.

It 'Worked Out'

I wound up with a much shorter play that concentrated on the characters and their intimate problems and dreams. All persons have problems and dreams. No one was more surprised than I was when a music business associate of my husband's, Philip Rose, told me he wanted to produce the play.

"It took about a year to raise the money to produce it and to get the right and we had to open our tryout tour without assurance of a Broadway house, but things worked out all right."

And Miss Hansberry is the toast of the town.

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