Bella Spewack

Playwright, Film story contributor

1899 – 1990

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Who was Bella Spewack?

Samuel (September 16, 1899 - October 14, 1971) and Bella Spewack (March 25, 1899 - April 27, 1990) were a Tony Award-winning husband-and-wife writing team. Samuel, who also directed many of their plays, was born in the Ukraine. He attended Stuyvesant High School in New York City[1] and then received his degree from Columbia College. His wife, the oldest of three children of a single mother, was born Bella Cohen in Bucharest, Romania and with her family emigrated to the Lower East Side of Manhattan when she was a child. After graduation from Washington Irving High School, she worked as a journalist for socialist and pacifist newspapers such as The New York Call. Her work drew attention from Samuel, working as a reporter for The World, and the couple married in 1922. Shortly afterwards, they departed for Moscow, where they worked as news correspondents for the next four years. After returning to the United States, they settled in New Hope, Pennsylvania. In the latter part of the decade, Samuel wrote several novels, including Mon Paul, The Skyscraper Murder, and The Murder in the Gilded Cage, on his own, while the pair collaborated on plays. The two wrote several plays and screenplays for mostly B-movies throughout the 1930s, earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Story for My Favorite Wife in 1940. They also penned a 1945 remake of Grand Hotel, entitled Week-End at the Waldorf, which starred Ginger Rogers. Always known as a turbulent couple, the Spewaks were in the midst of their own marital woes in 1948 when they were approached to write the book for Kiss Me, Kate, which centered on a once-married couple of thespians who use the stage on which they're performing as a battling ground. Bella initially began working with composer Cole Porter on her own, but theatrical necessity overcame marital sparks, and the Spewacks completed the project together. It yielded each of them two Tony Awards, one for Best Musical, the other for Best Author of a Musical. It proved to be their most successful work. In 1965, Sam collaborated with Frank Loesser on a musical adaptation of the 1961 Spewack play Once There Was a Russian. Entitled Pleasures and Palaces, it closed following its Detroit run and never opened on Broadway. Bella was a successful publicist for the Camp Fire Girls and Girl Scouts of the USA, and claims to have introduced the idea of selling cookies for the latter as a means of raising revenue for the organization. A Letter to Sam from Bella, a one-act play by Broadway director Aaron Frankel, is based on the Spewacks' personal papers from the Theater Arts Collection of Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Their best known straight play was My Three Angels, which is still sometimes performed, and was adapted as the film We're No Angels. Additional Broadway credits The War Song, 1928Poppa, 1928Clear All Wires, 1932Spring Song, 1934Boy Meets Girl, 1935Leave It to Me!, 1938Miss Swan Expects, 1939Woman Bits Dog, 1946Two Blind Mice, 1949The Golden State, 1950My Three Angels, 1953Festival, 1955Once There Was a Russian, 1961

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Born
Mar 25, 1899
Bucharest
Also known as
  • Bella
  • Bella Cohen
Spouses
Nationality
  • Romania
Profession
Died
Apr 27, 1990
Manhattan

Submitted
on July 23, 2013

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