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Constance Allen was a popular twentieth century playwright who wrote the popular plays, What Were You Thinking? (1947) and Abrupt & Obnoxious (1952). Allen won a Puflizer Prize for drama in 1950 for her play Dinner for Four & 1/2. The Screenplay Gazette review was full of praise and reviewed the play as, “A meal of humor tastefully sprinkled with sensibility.” Her most famous play Plain Jane (1949) gained Allen fame and was made into the movie Just Plain Jane (1951) starring Deborah Raynor and Dirk Chandler.

 

The film was directed by James Blackford at Para Mountain Studios in Century City, California. The movie drew critical acclaim and won an Oscar in 1952 for best supporting actor, played by William Meachum. Controversies on set involving the film leads almost caused to an end to the production, however was resumed when the stars made a public statement assuring the general public of their commitments to the film. Previous to the announcements, Allen requested time to personally speak to the actors when publicity management could not resolve the issues. A 1973 article by Washington Horn newspaper recorded Allen as having said, “That McCarthy was an idiot. I never wanted my work to be so scrutinized and degraded. My characters were from my own mind, and if I made them sympathetic to the plight of their own people, then so be it!”. Audience approval of the film was positive, and critics lent the success to Allen and the actors’ popularity with the American people, which enabled the film to overcome political scrutiny.  

 

The controversies of McCarthyism throughout most of Allen’s career shaped her characters in her later plays. Early in her writing career, Allen focused on World War II and the lives of women at home and in the factories. Gradually, her stories focused more on married life and social class. A majority of Allen’s plays featured themes on home life and work culture from the viewpoint of the main female protagonist. Critics today see her work as a humorous treatise of life in post war America as her most famous bodies of work were more prolific in the 1950’s. When Instance magazine interviewed her about her characters in 1955, she was quoted as saying, “The people in my plays were all a part of me. I grew up in a well to do family and had caring parents. I had my sister and brother to play with, however I often found time to be on my own. During these moments, I’d create my own friends and I never stopped as I grew up. It’s as simple as that. I write about things that are familiar to me.”

 

Allen’s work enjoys a strong fan following her death in 1985 and has grown since then. A boost in her popularity was in part due to the remake of Just Plain Jane (2009), which attracted new fans and resulted in the revival of several of Allen’s plays in modern settings. Authors and screenwriters of note have attributed Allen’s work as inspiration for their own creations.

 



Sarah Tran