Arsenic and Old Lace

Arsenic and Old Lace (1941)

Play: Arsenic and Old Lace (Fulton Theatre, NY & Hudson Theatre, NY)
Published/Performed: Jan 10, 1941 - Jun 17, 1944

Author: Joseph Kesselring
Born: Jul 21, 1902 New York City, NY
Passed: Nov 5, 1967 Kingston, NY

Film: Arsenic and Old Lace
Released: 1944

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About the Play Arsenic and Old Lace:

Joseph Otto Kesselring (July 21, 1902 ? November 5, 1967) was an American writer and playwright known best for his play Arsenic and Old Lace, written in 1939 and originally entitled "Bodies in Our Cellar." It has become best known through the film adaptation starring Cary Grant and directed by Frank Capra. The play was directed by Bretaigne Windust, and opened on January 10, 1941. On September 25, 1943, the play moved to the Hudson Theater. It closed there on 17 June 2004 having played 1,444 performances. Of the twelve plays written by Kesselring, Arsenic and Old Lace was the most successful, and, according to the opening night review in the New York Times, the play was "so funny that none of us will ever forget it."

When Kesselring taught at Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas, he lived in a boarding house called the Goerz House, and many of the features of its living room are reflected in the Brewster sisters' living room, where the action of the play is set. The Goerz House is now the home of the college president.

The 'murderous old lady' plot line may also have been inspired by actual events that occurred in a house in Windsor, Connecticut, where a woman, Amy Archer-Gilligan, took in boarders and allegedly poisoned them for their pensions. Kesselring originally conceived the play as a heavy drama, but it is widely believed that producers Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse (who were also well-known as play doctors) convinced Kesselring that it would be much more effective as a comedy.

In 1996, Sybil Thorndike, Athene Seyler and Richard Briers appeared in the play in London. The play is still widely performed and has been translated into many languages, including a Russian film. A revival of the play ran from June 26, 1986 to January 3, 1987 at the 46th Street Theatre in New York. A recent revival was mounted in February 2011 at the Dallas Theater Center starring Betty Buckley and Tovah Feldshuh.

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Featured Cast (Names and Roles) of the Film Arsenic and Old Lace: