Legacy: Thornton Wilder and “Our Town”

Another well-known MacDowell Fellow, author, and playwright Thornton Wilder (9x 24-53), famously penned his seminal play Our Town while in residence at MacDowell in Veltin Studio and, in fact, based the fictional world of Grover’s Corners on Peterborough, MacDowell's hometown, circa 1937.

In the play's final act, the character of Emily who has died in childbirth, returns to visit her family and the place of her childhood for one day. After re-seeing the world in which she grew up, she remarks:

“Let's really look at one another! . . . It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another. I didn't realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. . . Wait! One more look. Good-bye, Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover's Corners . . . Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking . . . and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths . . . and sleeping and waking up. Oh, Earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it - every, every minute?”

Here is a link to the entire Westport Country Playhouse production, which starred Paul Newman as the Stage Manager. You can also watch Emily’s “goodbye” as an excerpt.

You can stream the 1940 film starring William Holden and Martha Scott on Amazon. Or watch the same production on YouTube with an Academy Award-nominated score by MacDowell Fellow Aaron Copland.

There’s also an excellent 1977 version with Hal Holbrook as the Stage Manager that you can view on YouTube with Robbie Benson, Glynnis O'Connor, Ned Beatty, Barbara Bel Geddes, and others.

Thornton Wilder shaking hands with __ after receiving the Edward MacDowell Medal

Thornton Wilder (right) receiving the Edward MacDowell Medal in 1960 from James Johnson Sweeney. Photo by Herbert Whitney, collection of the Monadnock Center for History and Culture (Herbert Whitney photo)