The Heiress (1947 play)

The Heiress is a 1947 play by American playwrights Ruth and Augustus Goetz adapted from the 1880 Henry James novel Washington Square. Two years later the play was adapted into the film The Heiress starring Olivia de Havilland.

The Heiress
Written byRuth Goetz
Augustus Goetz
Date premieredSeptember 29, 1947
Place premieredBiltmore Theatre
New York City
Original languageEnglish
SubjectPeriod 1850 heiress slowly gathers confidence in order to take her revenge
Setting1850, the home of Doctor Sloper in Washington Square


The play opened on Broadway at the Biltmore Theatre on September 29, 1947 and closed on September 18, 1948 after 410 performances. Directed by Jed Harris the cast starred Wendy Hiller, Basil Rathbone, and Peter Cookson. The production then opened in London at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket in 1949 starring Ralph Richardson and Peggy Ashcroft and ran for 644 performances.[1]

The play has been revived four times on Broadway:[2]

The 1995 production starred Cherry Jones as Catherine Sloper, Philip Bosco as Dr. Austin Sloper, Jon Tenney as Morris Townsend, and Frances Sternhagen as Lavinia Penniman and was directed by Gerald Gutierrez.[4] The play won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play, with Jones, Sternhagen and director Gerald Gutierrez winning Tonys as well.[5]

A Broadway revival began previews in October 2012 at the Walter Kerr Theatre for a limited engagement, with direction by Moisés Kaufman and starring Jessica Chastain, David Strathairn, Dan Stevens, and Judith Ivey.[6]


In the 1850s, young Catherine Sloper lives with her father, Dr. Austin Sloper. Catherine is shy, unsophisticated and plain-looking; her father blames her for the death of her mother, who died giving birth to her.

Morris Townsend courts her. Catherine believes him sincere, but her father believes he's after her inheritance. When the three confront each other, they agree that Austin will take his daughter to Europe for six months. He believes that either Morris or his daughter will give up, but they don't think so.

On their return, Dr. Sloper sees that nothing has changed and threatens to disinherit her if she marries Morris. Catherine suggests to Morris that they elope immediately, she cannot stand to be in her father's house another night; but she also mentions the threat of disinheritance. Morris leaves to get his things, but does not return, and Catherine is crushed.

Three days later, Dr. Sloper realizes that he is mortally ill, and tries to reconcile with Catherine. She refuses.

Two years later, Morris returns to a now-rich Catherine, who has received her inheritance from her late mother and now-deceased father. He makes excuses about his jilting her. She seems to be swept away again, and tells him to go fetch his things so they can elope; but when he returns, she has the maid bolt the door against him, and turns out the lights.


  • Catherine Sloper
  • Morris Townsend
  • Dr. Austin Sloper
  • Lavinia Penniman, Catherine's widowed aunt
  • Maria, the Sloper's maid
  • Mrs. Montgomery, Morris Townsend's widowed sister
  • Marian Almond, Catherine's cousin
  • Elizabeth Almond, Catherine's aunt
  • Arthur Townsend, Maria's fiancée and Morris's distant cousin

Awards and nominations

Original 1947
  • Tony Award Best Actor in Play – Basil Rathbone (winner)
  • Tony Award Best Costume Design – Mary Percy Schenck (winner)
1976 revival
  • Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actor in a Play – Richard Kiley (nominee)
  • Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play – Toni Darnay (nominee)
1995 revival
2012 revival


  1. Gaye 1967, p. 1532
  2. "The Heiress on Broadway", accessed June 16, 2012
  3. Playbill
  4. Canby, Vincent. "Theater Review: The Heiress; Is She Loved For Her Money? Well, of Course!"The New York Times, March 10, 1995
  5. "Tony Awards 1995", accessed June 16, 2012
  6. Jones, Kenneth (July 9, 2012). "'The Heiress' Will Play the Walter Kerr; Judith Ivey Joins Broadway Revival". Archived from the original on August 14, 2012.
Works cited
  • Gaye, Freda, ed. (1967). Who's Who in the Theatre (fourteenth ed.). London: Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons. OCLC 5997224.
Further reading
  • Goetz, Ruth Goodman; Goetz, Augustus; James, Henry (1948). The Heiress: Play in Two Acts (Acting ed.). New York: Dramatists Play Service. OCLC 36322599.
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