Thanksgiving Is Ruined

The Personal is Political. The Political is Personal.

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April 30, 2016

when Thornton Wilder cracked up during a Frank O'Hara play

The story was told by the remarkable and protean    Mary   Molly Manning Howe Adams, in a December 1975 interview with Charles Ruas, in which she discussed the Poets'   Theatre, Cambridge, Mass., USA:

"We started off with the first two, you know, the O'Hara and Bunny's play there.  And we were greatly helped by Thornton Wilder who was then teaching at Harvard.  A great man, I loved him, we all loved him.  
"But suddenly, in the middle of it, it was a very funny play, the first one was marvelous -- 'Change Your Bedding' -- he stood up at the end, the audience roaring laughing throughout, because it was funny, and meant to be funny, at the end of it, Thornton Wilder stood up, shouted at us all, and said 'How dare you!  How dare you!  This is disgusting!  This is a sacred moment in the history of theater.  For the first time, poetry, poetry! can be heard on the stage.  Shut up, you beasts,' he said.  
"He was removed to MGH almost immediately afterwards, he was having a nervous breakdown.   
"But I may say, the audience also had one.  And we didn't dare laugh throughout the next one, for fear he'd stand up and shout at us all again.   
"It made the evening." 

TiR transcribed the above from a newly aired radio show entitled "V.R. Lang, A Memorial, Part 1," podcast listenable here, from the mighty and righteous Clocktower Productions. The anecdote in question is recounted around 45 minutes in.

Biographer Brad Gooch assembles a basically congruent account, set within his intensely well-researched City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O'Hara (1993), chapter five, "Ann Arbor Variations," drawing upon sources that include a separate interview with Mary Manning / Molly Howe.