Mary Chase (playwright)

Mary Coyle Chase (born Mary Agnes McDonough Coyle; 25 February 1906 – 20 October 1981)[1] was an American journalist, playwright and children's novelist, known primarily for writing the Broadway play Harvey, later adapted for film starring James Stewart.

Mary Coyle Chase
BornMary Agnes McDonough Coyle
(1906-02-25)25 February 1906
Denver, Colorado, U.S.
Died20 October 1981(1981-10-20) (aged 75)
Denver, Colorado, U.S.
Notable worksHarvey
Notable awardsPulitzer Prize for Drama (1945)
SpouseRobert L. Chase

She wrote fourteen plays, two children's novels, and one screenplay, and worked seven years at the Rocky Mountain News as a journalist. Three of her plays were made into Hollywood films: Sorority House (1939), Harvey (1950), and Bernardine (1957).

Early years

Born Mary Agnes McDonough Coyle in Denver, Colorado in 1906, Chase remained in Denver her entire life. She grew up Irish Catholic and poor in the working class Baker neighborhood of Denver, not far from the railroad tracks.[2]

She was greatly influenced by the Irish myths related to her by her mother, Mary Coyle, and her four uncles, Timothy, James, John, and Peter. Charlie Coyle, her older brother, had a strong impact on her sense of comedy, as she imitated his natural gifts at mimicry, one-liners, and comic routines.[3] He went on to become a circus clown.

In 1921, she graduated from West High School in Denver and spent two years studying at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Denver without getting a degree.[4]


In 1924, she began her career as a journalist on the Denver Times and Rocky Mountain News, leaving the News (which the Denver Times was folded into in 1926) in 1931 to write plays, do freelance reporting work, and raise a family. At the News, she started writing on the society pages, but soon became a feature writer, reporting the news from a sob sister, emotional angle, becoming part of the news itself as a comic figure, "our Lil' Mary", or writing funny, flapper era pieces as part of a series of "Charlie & Mary" stories (Charlie Wunder drew the cartoons and Mary wrote the text).

In the 1920s, reporters typically worked in The Front Page tradition: putting in long hours, drinking hard, and stopping at nothing to beat the competition to a story. Running around Denver with photographer Harry Rhoads in a Model T Ford, she recalled, "In the course of a day, Harry and I might begin at the Police Court, go to a murder trial at the West Side Court, cover a party in the evening at Mrs. Crawford Hill's mansion, and rush to a shooting at 11pm."[5] She ended her journalistic career writing in the society pages where she had begun, perhaps as punishment for a practical joke that she played upon an unsuspecting editor.[6]

After leaving the News, in the 1930s Mary worked as a freelance correspondent for the United Press and the International News Service.[7] But her true love had always been the theater, so she began to write plays.

In 1936, her first play, Me Third, was produced at the Baker Federal Theater in Denver as a part of the Roosevelt-era Works Progress Administration (WPA). In the spring of 1937, the play opened on Broadway, renamed as Now You've Done It, but it failed to attract positive reviews and closed down after three weeks.[8] In 1938, Mary wrote Chi House, which was made into a Hollywood film by RKO Radio Pictures called Sorority House (1939), starring Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables fame.[9]

In the early 1940s, she had a series of government, volunteer, and union jobs, serving as the Information Director for the National Youth Administration in Denver, doing volunteer work for the Colorado Foundation for the Advancement of Spanish Speaking Peoples, and working as the publicity director for the Denver branch of the Teamsters Union.[10]


During this time, she was working on the play Harvey, which was very difficult for her to write and which went through numerous revisions, taking her two years to finish.[11] On November 1, 1944, it opened on Broadway and was a smash hit, running for four and a half years, 1,775 performances, from Nov. 1, 1944 to Jan. 15, 1949.

In the history of Broadway productions (which stretches back to 1750), Harvey became the 35th longest-running show (musicals and plays) and, if only plays are counted, the 6th longest-running play on Broadway, after Life With Father, Tobacco Road, Abie's Irish Rose, Deathtrap, and Gemini. Frank Fay and James Stewart were the most famous actors to portray Elwood P. Dowd. Josephine Hull portrayed his increasingly concerned (and socially obsessed) sister on Broadway originally, and won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in the film. Ruth McDevitt, Marion Lorne, Helen Hayes, and Swoosie Kurtz, among other actresses, also portrayed Veta either onstage or on television. James Stewart was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for the film version, but lost out to Jose Ferrer in the 1950 film version of "Cyrano de Bergerac".

In 1945, she won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for Harvey.[12] She is the only Coloradan to have won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, and, in a field dominated by men, was the 4th woman to win the award, after Zona Gale (1921), Susan Glaspell (1931), and Zoe Akins (1935). From 1917-2013, only 14 women have won the Pulitzer in Drama.[13]

Immediately after Harvey, Mary tried to repeat her success on Broadway with the Next Half Hour, a play based on an autobiographical novel she had written called The Banshee. It failed after a three-week run.

In 1950, Harvey was made into a Universal Studios film, starring James Stewart, with Mary collaborating with Oscar Brodney in writing the screenplay.[14] In 1952 and 1953, she launched Bernardine and Mrs McThing on Broadway. Both plays were moderately successful. Bernardine was made into a film, starring Pat Boone and Janet Gaynor (in Gaynor's last film role). In 1958 and 1968, she wrote two children's stories, Loretta Mason Potts and The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House. A 1961 production of her play, Midgie Purvis, starring Tallulah Bankhead, flopped. A 1970 Harvey revival, starring James Stewart and Helen Hayes, was successful and ran for 79 performances while a 1981 musical adaptation of Harvey, entitled Say Hello to Harvey, failed after a six-week run amid negative reviews in Toronto.

Personal life

In 1928, Mary married Robert L. Chase, a fellow reporter at the Rocky Mountain News.[15] Bob was a seasoned, "hard news" reporter, having worked at the Denver Express since 1922, covering the robbery of the US Mint and fighting against the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado state and local politics. The Express eventually merged with the Rocky Mountain News and Bob went on to a 47-year newspaper career at the paper, becoming managing editor and then associate editor. He was a founding member in 1936 (and named vice-president) of the Denver chapter of the American Newspaper Guild, a national labor union representing editors and reporters.[16]

In 1932, their first son, Michael, was born, followed by Colin in 1935, and then Barry Jerome (Jerry) in 1937. Michael became the director of public television in New York, Colin was a professor of English Literature at the University of Toronto, and Jerry worked as a college academic counselor in New York City, and wrote the play, Cinderella Wore Combat Boots.

While working on the musical adaptation, Say Hello to Harvey, in 1981, Mary Coyle Chase suffered a heart attack suddenly at her home in Denver and died at the age of 75.

Recent events

In August 2009, Steven Spielberg announced that he was planning a remake of Harvey, with Tom Hanks or Will Smith playing Elwood Dowd.[17] By December he had abandoned the project, the main reason being the difficulty of finding a star to play the lead role. Tom Hanks was not interested in walking in the shoes of the beloved, iconic star, James Stewart. Robert Downey Jr. was in the mix for several months, but he wanted changes to the script and Spielberg decided to pull the plug, feeling that the two were not on the same creative wavelength. This was not the first attempt at a Harvey remake. In 2002, Dimension Films, a division of Miramax, and MGM tried to get a film going with John Travolta playing the lead. This project ended in 2004, with Michael Eisner's expulsion of the Weinstein brothers from Miramax over the release of Fahrenheit 9/11 by Michael Moore.

On June 14, 2012, the Roundabout Theatre Company opened its Broadway revival of Harvey to positive reviews at the Studio 54 Theatre.[18] The production starred Emmy Award winner Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), returning to Broadway after a successful run in the revival of The Normal Heart in the summer of 2011. Harvey is directed by Scott Ellis and also features Charles Kimbrough (Emmy nominee, Murphy Brown) in the role of psychiatrist William Chumley and Jessica Hecht (Dan in Real Life) as sister Veta. Harvey was scheduled to run until August 5.



  • Me Third (1936)
  • Sorority House (1938)
  • Slip Of A Girl (1941)
  • Harvey (1944)
  • The Next Half Hour (1945)
  • Bernardine (1952)
  • Lolita (1954)
  • Mrs. McThing (1954) (also presented on television)
  • Midgie Purvis (1961)
  • The Prize Play (1961)
  • The Dog Sitters (1963)
  • Mickey (1969)
  • Cocktails With Mimi (1974)
  • The Terrible Tattoo Parlor (1981)
Children's Stories
  • Loretta Mason Potts (1958)
  • The Wicked, Wicked Ladies In the Haunted House (1968)

Film adaptations


  1. Gravestone at Olinger Crown Hill Mortuary in Denver, CO and official Denver County Death Certificate. After her marriage, Mary misrepresented her year of birth, declaring it as 1907 when it was actually 1906, hence conflicting birth dates in various sources. Her New York Times obituary makes the same error, along with numerous reference works.
  2. Wallis Reef, "She Didn't Write It For Money---She Says", The Saturday Evening Post, Sept 1, 1945, p. 109
  3. Mary Coyle Chase, personal letter to Helen Cotton, Nov 9, 1971
  4. Frances Melrose, "Mary Chase: Reporter to Playwright", Rocky Mountain News, Feb 27, 1977, p. 8
  5. Frances Melrose, Rocky Mountain News, Sept 27, 1998, p. 23D
  6. Mary Coyle, Rocky Mountain News, Oct. 25, 1925, Society Section, p. 1 and Mary Coyle, Rocky Mountain News, Sept. 30, 1928, Section Two, p. 1
  7. Kathleen Gough, Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 228: 'Twentieth Century American Dramatists', p. 40
  8. John Mason Brown, New York Post, March 6, 1937; Eleanor Harris, Cosmopolitan, February 1954, p. 101
  9. Frank Nugent, New York Times website,
  10. Frances Melrose, Rocky Mountain News, Feb. 27, 1977, p. 50
  11. Eleanor Harris, Cosmopolitan, Feb. 1954, p. 101
  12. New York Times, May 8, 1945, p. 1
  14. IMDb website,
  15. Rocky Mountain News, June 8, 1928, p. 7
  16. Bill Hosokawa, Thunder in the Rockies, William Morrow & Co, 1976, p. 200-201
  17. and
  18. 'Harvey' hops its way to Broadway this summer at
  • Mary Chase papers, 1928-1981.Houghton Library, Harvard Univerisy
  • Colorado Authors' League website
  • Mary Chase at Find a Grave
  • Mary Chase at the Internet Broadway Database
  • Mary Chase on IMDb
  • Mary Chase at the Doolee Playwright's Database
  • Guide to the Mary Chase papers at the University of Oregon
  • "Mary McDonough Coyle Chase". Denver's History. City and County of Denver. 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-02-01. Retrieved 2009-02-12.
  • Guide to the Mary Coyle Chase Collection at the University of Denver. Retrieved 2014-09-26.
  • Colorado Women's Hall of Fame
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