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Inge, William Motter (1913-1973)  

Although he was closeted and created few homosexual characters, playwright and novelist William Inge frequently acknowledged the existence of gay culture and desire in both his dramatic dialogue and prose.

Inge is perhaps most renowned for his four successful Broadway plays, Come Back, Little Sheba (1950), Picnic (1953), Bus Stop (1955), The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1957), and the Hollywood films based upon them. Set in the American heartland of his native Kansas, each drama portrays the domestic tensions, repressed sexuality, and conservative societal norms that Inge associated with life in small, midwestern towns.

It was a lifestyle Inge had experienced first hand having been born, raised, and educated primarily in Kansas, and having spent his early career as a teacher in small towns in Kansas and Missouri.

A life-long bachelor, Inge kept careful guard over his personal life, seeking to suppress any information that might adversely affect his careers as a high school teacher, newspaper arts critic, and college professor. Later, his difficulties with alcohol, his homosexuality, and his extensive psychoanalytic therapy were cloaked in secrecy so that he might maintain his well-crafted public image as one of the most successful and highly respected dramatists of the 1950s.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1953 for Picnic and the 1961 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Splendor in the Grass, Inge remained closeted throughout his career as a playwright, screenwriter, and novelist. He took his own life in 1973.

The Boy in the Basement, a one-act play written in the early 1950s, but not published until 1962, is Inge's only play that addresses homosexuality overtly. This well-sketched portrait of a middle-aged mortician who must come to grips with both his aging mother's discovery of his homosexuality and the senseless drowning of an attractive youth is a concise, hauntingly effective view of closeted homosexual desire and the trauma of "coming out."

Inge included openly homosexual characters in two other plays, both written late in his career when homosexuality was more openly addressed societally and when his success as a dramatist was waning.

Most significant is Pinky in Where's Daddy? (1966), Inge's final full-length play, who eludes many gay stereotypes in Inge's presentation of him as the male protagonist's surrogate father and the play's moral center.

The other is Archie, an effeminate intellectual awaiting execution for the murder of his mother and grandmother, who appears in The Disposal (1967).

Elsewhere Inge often leaves the sexual orientation of characters in question, for example, Virgil in Bus Stop, Bobby in A Loss of Roses (1960), and Vince in Natural Affection (1963).

Despite creating relatively few homosexual literary
characters, Inge frequently acknowledged the existence of gay culture and desire in both his dramatic dialogue and prose, often reflecting the status of the culture at the time the works were written.

Inge's work has been virtually untouched by recent scholarly criticism and could potentially benefit from careful gay analysis. Even Inge's four early successes could be tapped in such an endeavor for his overt celebration and foregrounding of both male and female sexuality, his championing of athleticism and muscle culture, his incisive critique of heterosexual domesticity and desire, and his close examination of parent-child relationships.

Jay Scott Chipman


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William Inge in 1954.
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Brustein, Robert. "The Men-Taming Women of William Inge." Seasons of Discontent: Dramatic Opinions 1959-1965. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1965. 83-93.

Clum, John. Still Acting Gay: Male Homosexuality in Modern Drama. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.

McClure, Arthur F. A Bibliographic Guide to the Works of William Inge. Lewiston, New York: E. Mellen Press, 1991.

Shuman, R. Baird. William Inge. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1989.

"The Works of William Inge" Issue. Kansas Quarterly 18 (Fall 1986).

Voss, Ralph F. A Life of William Inge: The Strains of Triumph. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1989.


    Citation Information
    Author: Chipman, Jay Scott  
    Entry Title: Inge, William Motter  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated August 10, 2002  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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