Barry, Philip

Barry, Philip
   Son of prosperous Irish American parents from Philadelphia, Philip Jerome Quinn Barry was a sickly child who filled his lonely days with books. He entered Yale University in 1914 and made an impression by his literary activities. Rejected for military service at the time of America's entry into World War I, Barry instead worked for the State Department in London. He continued his education at Yale after the war and began to write plays before enrolling in George Pierce Baker's playwriting class at Harvard. Barry had an initial success with You and I (1923), originally titled The Jilts, a work that established his style of mixing sophisticated, witty comedy with astringent social commentary.
   Barry's lasting contribution stems from this combination, a formula permitting him to create a 20th-century American equivalent to British comedy of manners. Many of his plays feature the "Barry girl," seen most vividly in Tracy Lord of The Philadelphia Story* (1939). The "Barry girl," personified by Hope Williams on stage and Katharine Hepburn* on both stage and screen, is typically a pampered, headstrong young woman who both profits from and rejects the social expectations of wealth and privilege. The Philadelphia Story has proven the most durable of Barry's dramatic accomplishments, a frequently revived work that provided the source for the MGM musical motion picture High Society (1956), with music and lyrics by Cole Porter. Among Barry's other pre-World War II plays, Holiday (1928) and The Animal Kingdom* (1932) were particularly well-received and became popular films. His dramatic output prior to 1930 includes In a Garden (1925), White Wings (1926), Paris Bound (1927), Cock Robin (1928; coauthored by Elmer Rice), and Hotel Universe* (1930). Barry's brand of high comedy declined after World War II, but he remains the singular proponent of sparkling, sophisticated, socially conscious Broadway comedy.
   See also comedy; playwrights.

The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. .

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