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Welcome to Epitaph for D’s Art Takes. Here we present the creative legacies of influential people, who are no longer among us. Today we invite you to take a look at the life of the American playwright and novelist, Elmer Rice.

Elmer Rice was born Elmer Reizenstein in New York, in 1892. In 1912, Rice graduated from New York Law School. However, despite his academic background, Rice took up writing shortly after his graduation. Interestingly, the first play he wrote was inspired by his legal background. On Trial (1914) was hugely successful for being a unique on-stage performance. For the very first time, the cinematic trope of having flashbacks to unfold a story – was performed live in front of an audience. The play was highly technical and imaginably difficult to pull off. But it was both critically and commercially successful.

Career & Success

In 1923 came Rice’s second grand success. The Adding Machine (1923) was a comical tragedy about Mr. Zero who faces the threat of losing his job to a machine. The work was created and performed using the techniques of German Expressionism. Arguably, Street Scene (1929) was Rice’s most loved and successful work. The play was set in New York and featured a group of neighbours who lived on the same street. It was first performed at the Playhouse Theatre, and was later adapted into a musical in 1947. This play won a Pulitzer Prize. Rice’s other important works include In We, the People (1933) and Judgment Day (1934).

In the late 30s, Rice decided to retire from commercial theatre. Although, he began working with the Federal Theatre Project in 1935. In addition to writing plays, he also wrote novels. His autobiography is titled Minority Report (1963).

Rice died in 1967.

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