World War I -- Life Histories/Section 001/Hatcher Hughes

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Hatcher Hughes
Born12 February 1881
Polkville, North Carolina
Died19 October 1945
New York City
OccupationPlaywright
Years active1918–1934
SpouseJanet Ranney

Biography[edit]

Hatcher Hughes was a prize-winning North Carolinian playwright and a professor of English at Columbia University. During World War I he served as a captain with the American Expeditionary Forces in France. He is most remembered for his contribution to the dramatic arts, specifically, his Pulitzer Prize Winning play “Hell- Bent fer Heaven” written in 1924.

Early Life[edit]

Hatcher Hughes was born in Polkville, Cleveland County, North Carolina on February 12th, 1881 to Andrew Jackson Hughes and Martha Jane Gold Hughes. As the tenth child of eleven, he attended local schools in North Carolina and "during vacations visited his mountain kinfolk” where he “unconsciously absorbed their highland dialect”[1]. These childhood experiences would later help form the plot of his most famous play, “Hell- Bent fer Heaven,” which is a “melodramatic account of a fanatic North Carolinian Morningside Preacher” that earned him the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.[2]

In 1907, he earned a Master’s degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he achieved prominence in the university literary clubs, was editor of the annual and was elected a member of the Golden Fleece.In 1907, he earned a Master’s degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he achieved “prominence in the university literary clubs” where he was editor of the annual and was elected a member of the Golden Fleece (Walser, 2).While at college he funded his degree by working as a journalist, and in-between his sophomore and junior years he took a two- year job in Yorkville, South Carolina to help pay his tuition. </ref> While at college he funded his degree by working as a journalist, and in-between his sophomore and junior years he took a two- year job in Yorkville, South Carolina to help pay his tuition.

Professional Life[edit]

In 1909, he moved to Columbia University intending to pursue a doctorate but was instead appointed as a lecturer in English at the university. At Columbia he initiated a course in practical playwriting and organized the Morningside Players.[3]. This type of professional move was unconventional for the time and, according to Leake, a writer for the Dramatist who interviewed Hatcher Hughes in 1937, the Little Theater movement was not regarded as “the favorite intellectual pastime it now is and players had fresh ground to break and difficulties to overcome which amateur laboratory groups no longer encounter”[4]. Hatcher’s contribution to theater should therefore be viewed as particularly impressive and his reputation, as not only a distinguished lecturer but also playwright, earned him the nickname “play doctor” on Broadway[5]. His time at Columbia was interrupted in 1917 when the university temporarily closed down due to the war and he enlisted to serve with the American Expeditionary Forces in France. After his war service, Hughes returned to Columbia to lecture and continued to write plays including “A marriage made in heaven” (1918) and Runit (1925).

Personal Life[edit]

In 1930, Hughes married actress, Janet Cool Ranney, and in 1935 they had one daughter who they named Ann Ranney Hughes[6]. In her childhood memoirs, Ann emphasized the importance of the family farm in West Cornwall, Connecticut for her father which he bought with his Pulitzer Prize Winning money[7]. He is famous for having once said that, despite his success as a playwright and his reputation in theatre “he had rather be a farmer than a college professor”[8]. On October 19, 1945 Hatcher Hughes died after attending a play in New York City.

World War I Service[edit]

In a series of letters to his mother from 1917-1924, Hatcher Hughes writes about his preparations for War at Fort Lee, Virginia, and his experiences as a captain with the American Expeditionary Force in France.[9]

Fort Lee,Virginia[edit]

Fort Lee was a training camp in Virginia for American soldiers prior to their departure for the Western Front in France and Germany. At its peak during the War, the camp was training so many soldiers that it had the third- largest population in Virginia with only Richmond and Norfolk exceeding it.[10] During the war, 60,000 male soldiers were trained at Fort Lee including Hatcher Hughes who trained there prior to being deployed with the 80th division of the American Expeditionary Force in France in the summer of 1918.[11] During the fall of 1918 an influenza epidemic reached Camp Lee and it is estimated that 10,000 soldiers became sick with the flu while almost 700 died.[12] Hatcher Hughes was likely present for at least some of this epidemic but there is no evidence to suggest that he himself got influenza. At the end of the War the 80th and 31st divisions returned to Fort Lee and closed it after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919.[13] They were inactivated at Camp Lee on June 26, 1919.[14]

80th Infantry Division "Blue Ridge" Logo[15]

80th Division of the American Expeditionary Force in France[edit]

The troops of men that came to Fort Lee for training were predominantly from Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia and were members of the 80th “Blue Ridge” Division of the American Expeditionary Force. By 1918, this division reached numbers of 23,000 and on June 8, 1918 they sailed to France.[16] Upon arrival in France, the 80th Division joined forces with the British Third Army near Artois, France where they fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1918 and the Meuse- Argonne Offensive[17]. The 80th division enjoyed great success and were ranked as the top National Army Division by the U.S. War Department (Lee). One of the most significant reputations they earned for themselves was that they “always led and captured two Huns for every man wounded” where the term Hun refers to the German enemy.[18] This success on the battlefield was down to the success of their general operations which meant they accrued a far smaller percentage of casualties than any other American Expeditionary Force division. After the War was officially declared over they 80th Division remained in France to help close down and stabilize their operations. They returned to the U.S. in May 1919 and were inactivated at Camp Lee on June 26, 1919.[19]

Contribution to 20th Century Theater[edit]

As a reputed dramatist, Hughes predominantly wrote folk plays and his most famous work, Hell Bent for Heaven was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. He was always very active in theater affairs and, aside from his work as a lecturer in drama and work on Broadway, he spent some time serving as chairman of the National Council on Freedom from Censorship.[20] His first play was written in 1918 and was called “A Marriage Made in Heaven” and was followed by Wake Up, Jonathon (1921). His next two plays were folk plays and were called Hell- Bent for Heaven (1924) and Ruint (1925) these were two of his most popular works. Following his folk plays he wrote three satiric comedies called, “Honeymooning on High: a Silly Play for Silly People (1927), “It’s a Grand Life” (1930) and “The Lord Blesses the Bishop” (1934).

“Hell Bent Fer Heaven,”1924[edit]

Federal Theatre, La Cadena and Mt. Vernon, presents "Hell-bent fer heaven!" 1941[21]

In 1924, Hell Bent fer Heaven won the Pulitzer Prize for “the original play which shall best represent the educational value and power of the stage.” Within the play there are several references to Hughes’ own life. The dialect of the play is defined as “rural slang” which is made up of abbreviations and nonstandard English which Hughes was exposed to as a young child when he spent vacations in the North Carolinian mountainside. World War I also has a strong influence in the play; the main character, Sid, is a returning war soldier and the character David, who is perhaps a mouthpiece for the author, comments that is impossible to know the real reasons for why the war began. This perhaps suggests that Hughes personally questioned the war effort and the motives behind war.

In 1926 “Hell-Bent fer Heaven” was adapted into a film of the same title by Marian Constance Blackton. The movie, starring Patsy Ruth Miller and John Harron, was produced and distributed by Warner Brothers.[22]

Pulitzer Prize scandal[edit]

There is some debate regarding the situation around Hughes receiving the Pulitzer Prize and to this day there remains an element of speculation. In newspapers at the time, such as the Atlanta Constitution, it was reported that the play committee first recommended that the prize be awarded to George Kelly for his play “The Show-Off”.[23] However, the higher committee was influenced by a Professor Matthews, a colleague of Hughes’ at Columbia, which influenced the reversal of the prize being awarded from Kelly to Hughes.[24]

“Ruint,”(1925)[edit]

Ruint was produced in 1925 and is a folk comedy play which, in a similar way to “Hell Bent for Heaven,” features the mountain folk of North Carolina and their unique dialect which Hughes was exposed to as a child. This was one of Hughes’ more successful plays and tells the tale of a group of North Carolinian mountain people who unite together to take their revenge on a northern visitor who is rumored to have “Ruint” or ruined a local girl. As the comedy progresses it is realized that all is well as he only kissed her.[25]

References[edit]

  1. Walser, Richard. 8 May 1975. The Hatcher Hughes papers, 1914-1982, #4210, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  2. Walser, Richard. 8 May 1975. The Hatcher Hughes papers, 1914-1982, #4210, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  3. Walser, Richard. 8 May 1975. The Hatcher Hughes papers, 1914-1982, #4210, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  4. Leake, Grace. The Dramatist, Holland Magazine, Feb 1937. N.A., The Hatcher Hughes papers, 1914-1982, #4210, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  5. Leake, Grace. The Dramatist, Holland Magazine, Feb 1937. N.A., The Hatcher Hughes papers, 1914-1982, #4210, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  6. Powell, William Stevens. Dictionary Of North Carolina Biography. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 16 Mar. 2015.
  7. Moss, Ramney. Remembrance from my Childhood. January 1982. The Hatcher Hughes papers, 1914-1982, #4210, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  8. Walser, Richard. 8 May 1975. The Hatcher Hughes papers, 1914-1982, #4210, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  9. Moss, Ramney. Remembrance from my Childhood. January 1982. The Hatcher Hughes papers, 1914-1982, #4210, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  10. Wineman, Bradford A. "Fort Lee." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 23 Nov. 2010. Web. 4 Mar. 2015. http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Fort_Lee#start_entry
  11. U.S. Army. "History." Fort Lee & Combined Arms Support Command. March 24, 2014. Accessed March 02, 2015. http://www.lee.army.mil/about/history.aspx
  12. U.S. Army. "History." Fort Lee & Combined Arms Support Command. March 24, 2014. Accessed March 02, 2015. http://www.lee.army.mil/about/history.aspx
  13. Wineman, Bradford A. "Fort Lee." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 23 Nov. 2010. Web. 4 Mar. 2015. http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Fort_Lee#start_entry
  14. Anthony, Lee. "80th Infantry Division - History." 80th Infantry Division - History. Accessed March 02, 2015. http://www.80thdivision.com/80thHistory.htm.
  15. 80th Infantry Division. Digital image. 80th Infantry Division. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2015. <http://www.80thdivision.com/Blue%20Ridger.htm>.
  16. Anthony, Lee. "80th Infantry Division - History." 80th Infantry Division - History. Accessed March 02, 2015. http://www.80thdivision.com/80thHistory.htm.
  17. Anthony, Lee. "80th Infantry Division - History." 80th Infantry Division - History. Accessed March 02, 2015. http://www.80thdivision.com/80thHistory.htm.
  18. Anthony, Lee. "80th Infantry Division - History." 80th Infantry Division - History. Accessed March 02, 2015. http://www.80thdivision.com/80thHistory.htm.
  19. Anthony, Lee. "80th Infantry Division - History." 80th Infantry Division - History. Accessed March 02, 2015. http://www.80thdivision.com/80thHistory.htm.
  20. Leake, Grace. The Dramatist, Holland Magazine, Feb 1937. N.A., The Hatcher Hughes papers, 1914-1982, #4210, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  21. California Federal Art Project. Federal Theatre, La Cadena and Mt. Vernon, Presents "Hell-bent Fer Heaven!" Digital image. Libary of Congress. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2015. <http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3f05531/>.
  22. Constantakis, Sara. "Hell-Bent Fer Heaven." Drama for Students. Ed. Sara Constantakis. Vol. 31. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2014. 36-51. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.
  23. Cobb, Lucille. "Library Literary Notes: Prize Plays--and Others." The Carnegie Library: The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta), June 20, 1924.
  24. Cobb, Lucille. "Library Literary Notes: Prize Plays--and Others." The Carnegie Library: The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta), June 20, 1924.
  25. Walser, Richard. 8 May 1975. The Hatcher Hughes papers, 1914-1982, #4210, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.