Alfred Uhry (b. 1936)

Alfred Uhry, a playwright, lyricist, and screenwriter, is best known for his play Driving Miss Daisy, which premiered in New York in 1987 and was later adapted into a film. Uhry has received a Pulitzer Prize, an Academy Award, and several Tony Awards for his work—the only playwright to win all three awards.

Education and Early Career

Alfred Fox Uhry was born in Atlanta on December 3, 1936, to a prosperous family of German-Jewish descent. He attended Druid Hills High School, and after graduation he attended Brown University in Rhode Island, where he received a degree in English and drama in 1958. Uhry then relocated to New York City, where he taught English at the Calhoun School. In 1975, after several failed attempts at writing a successful play, he collaborated with Robert Waldman to adapt Eudora Welty's short novel The Robber Bridegroom into a musical. The production received a Tony Award nomination for Best Book of a Musical, and it marked Uhry's first success as a playwright.

Driving Miss Daisy

After many long years working in theater, Uhry encountered his next big success in 1987. On April 15 Driving Miss Daisy opened at the Studio Theater at Playwrights Horizons in New York City. Set in Atlanta, Driving Miss Daisy spans a quarter of a century, from 1948 to 1973, with the action taking place before, during, and after the civil rights movement. The plot centers on two characters, an elderly Jewish widow named Miss Daisy Werthan and her African American driver, Hoke Colburn. The characters, inspired by Uhry's grandmother Lena Fox and her chauffeur, Will Coleman, are universal figures that appeal to a wide audience. Miss Daisy and Hoke struggle to determine their personal and social roles as the world they have always known changes before their eyes. The original production featured Atlanta native Dana Ivey as Miss Daisy, Morgan Freeman as Hoke, and Ray Gill as Miss Daisy's son, Boolie. Driving Miss Daisy was an immediate success, and it earned Uhry the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for drama.
In 1989 Uhry wrote the screenplay adaptation of Driving Miss Daisy for a film starring Jessica Tandy, Morgan Freeman, and Dan Aykroyd. The movie was filmed in and around the Atlanta area and features Druid Hills, Lullwater Road, Agnes Scott College, and The Temple. The film received an Academy Award for Best Picture, and Uhry received the award for Best Screenplay.

Later Works

The Last Night of Ballyhoo (1997) and Parade (1998) also draw on Uhry's heritage as a southern Jew, and they mesh aspects of both cultures (southern and Jewish) and their literary traditions. The Last Night of Ballyhoo was commissioned for the Olympic Arts Festival in 1996 and debuted at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. The play chronicles the lives of a close-knit Jewish family with mainstream southern Christian traditions living comfortably in Atlanta. A young Orthodox Jewish man from New York arrives while World War II (1941-45) is breaking out in Europe, and he challenges the family's abandonment of its Jewish heritage. The play moved to Broadway on February 27, 1997, and featured a cast that included Jessica Hecht, Celia Weston, Dana Ivey, Terry Beaver, Paul Rudd, Arija Bareikis, and Stephen Largay. In 1997 Ballyhoo received a Tony Award for Best Play as well as the Outer Critics Circle Award.
The musical Parade tells the story of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager convicted of murdering a young girl in Atlanta in 1913. A mob removed Frank from his jail cell in Milledgeville one night and "paraded" him to Marietta, where they lynched him. In 1986, some seventy years later, the Georgia Board of Pardons reversed Frank's conviction. The play's title refers both to a Confederate Memorial Day parade and to the procession that carried Frank to his death. (Uhry may have been moved to write the play because of personal connections; his great uncle owned the factory where Leo Frank worked, and his grandmother—the model for Miss Daisy—was a friend of the Frank family.) The play opened at the Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater in New York City on December 17, 1998, and featured Brent Carver and Carolee Carmello as Leo and Lucille Frank. Parade was nominated for nine Tony Awards in 1999, and it won two.
Uhry's lesser-known theatrical works include contributions to Swing (1980), Little Johnny Jones (1982), and America's Sweetheart (1985). He also wrote the screenplays for several films, including Mystic Pizza (1988), which featured Julia Roberts in her first major role, and Rich in Love (1993). Uhry is married to Joanna Kellogg. They have four daughters and live in New York.
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Further Reading
Ben Brantley, "Theater Review: Southern Jewish Angst as One-Liners," New York Times , February 28, 1997.

Michael Taub "Alfred Uhry," in Contemporary Jewish-American Dramatists and Poets: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook , ed. Joel Shatzky and Michael Taub (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999).

Alex Witchel, "Remembering Prejudice, of a Different Sort," Atlanta Journal-Constitution , February 23, 1997.
Cite This Article
Terry, Miriam. "Alfred Uhry (b. 1936)." New Georgia Encyclopedia. 25 November 2013. Web. 20 August 2014.
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