The Life of William Inge

Kathie Bell
Special to the Globe
The movie of Dora Hand that never came to be. SUBMITTED PHOTO

He was known as the "Playwright of the Midwest," and being a Kansas native, he something to say about Dodge City.

In March 1967, the "New York Times", quoted William M. Inge; "The fact is, Dodge City and the other rip-roaring towns of the Old West were the Las Vegases of their day in employing the best talent of the East at fabulous salaries."

The "Times" article was about Inge working on his first musical screenplay, "The Lady Gay," a fiction based on facts about Dora Hand, who was murdered while sleeping in Dodge City Mayor James Kelley's home. Edward Lewis was slated to direct this Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film. John Frankenheimer, who had worked with both Inge and Lewis, was to be director.

Inge had been thinking about writing something based on Hand for 15 years. Originally he planned for it to be a stage play without music. He had worked with the Dodge City Chamber of Commerce as early as the 1950s to find out more about Dora Hand.

However, a March 29 article in the "Dodge City Daily Globe" by Chris Taylor said, "A Delay Is Foreseen" as Frankenheimer had other commitments.

Apparently, those commitments lasted longer than anticipated as the movie never happened. Frankenheimer "shied away" from directing the film and Inge never finished the script.

According to Inge, his father, Layton Clayton Inge, had lived in Dodge City during its early years as a boy. Layton married Maude Sarah Gibson, in Garden City. Gibson was a member of the acting Booth family.

William Inge was their fifth child; born in Independence, Kansas on May 3, 1913, where he attended Independence Community College. Inge had planned on being an actor, traveling with a tent show for a year after earning his degree from the University of Kansas in 1935. But soon he began writing working as an announcer and writer for a Wichita radio station.

He then returned to his part of the State, teaching at Cherokee County Community High School for a year in Columbus.

After that, he attended George Peabody College, Nashville, TN. From 1938 to 1943 he instructed at Stephens College in Columbia, MO. During part of his time there he worked for famous actress, Maud Adams.

In 1943, he joined the St. Louis Star-Times as a drama critic. Starting in 1946, he served as an English instructor at Washington University in St. Louis. While in St. Louis, famous playwright, Tennessee Williams, encouraged Inge to write plays. Inge's first was "Farther Off from Heaven" which played in Dallas in 1947.

In 1950 while still teaching, he wrote his first hit "Come Back Little Sheba."

As a result, he left St. Louis for New York where the play premiered. After that, a string of hits followed, including "Bus Stop," The Dark at the Top of the Stairs" and "Picnic." Much of his work reflects the time he was growing up in Kansas.

Later, he moved on to films, television and novels.

In the early 1970s, Inge lived in Los Angeles where he taught playwriting at the University of California, Irvine. At this time he was receiving little attention from the critics.

Fearing he had lost his ability to write, Inge fell into a deep depression.

His final work performed during his life was "The Last Pad" which premiered in Phoenix in 1972. The production moved to Los Angeles in 1973 where it opened shortly after Inge's suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning on June 10.

William M. Inge is interred at Mt. Hope Cemetery in his hometown, Independence, Kansas.

Here, he is remembered by the Independence Community College's William Inge Center for the Arts. Each year they sponsor the William Inge Theatre Festival to honor playwrights.