Maurine Dallas Watkins Biography

Maurine Dallas Watkins was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1896. She attended Crawfordsville High School, and continued her studies at Hamilton College, Transylvania University, Butler College, and Radcliffe College. After her studies, Watkins took a job as a reporter with the Chicago Tribune where she covered a number of high-profile criminal cases, including the famous Leopold and Loeb case.

She achieved everlasting fame through her stage adaptation of the dozens of articles she wrote for the Tribune covering the sensational 1924 murder trials of Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner, better known as the Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly of her Broadway play Chicago. Initially written as a class assignment for her Yale University playwriting workshop, Chicago was adapted after Watkins’ death by Bob Fosse, Fred Ebb and John Kander into the stage musical that has been performed thousands of times across the globe since 1975, and continues to be one of the most successful musical revivals of all time.

Her other Broadway play, Revelry (1928), was well-reviewed but forced to close due to political pressure. Even though many historians consider Warren G. Harding one of the worst American presidents, civic groups claimed Watkins' parody of his presidency was “unpatriotic”, “an attack upon the Government” and “hurtful to the public at large”.

Watkins wrote numerous plays, many with the contemporary theme of the rise and fall of celebrity and the principal role that media plays in granting ordinary individuals their “fifteen minutes of fame”.

Watkins was also a successful screenwriter in the 1930’s and 1940’s, with 19 credits for Hollywood feature films, including the Oscar® nominated Best Picture LIBELED LADY (1936), the acclaimed screwball comedy PROFESSIONAL SWEETHEART (1933) and most significantly, her own film adaptation of Chicago, called ROXIE HART (1942).

Watkins faded into obscurity in the 1940s. She developed a disfiguring facial cancer and by 1968 was reclusive, leaving her apartment only when heavily veiled. She became a born-again Christian and left her fortune of over $2.3 million to found contests and chairs in classical and biblical Greek at a number of universities. Watkins died in Jacksonville, Florida in 1969.

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