Miss Lulu Bett
About the Play
December 27, 1920. Belmont Theatre, New York
First Publication: 1921. New York, D. Appleton and Company
4M, 4F, 1G
In the public domain.
Plays by American Women: 1900-1930, ed. Judith E. Barlow, Applause Books, Hal Leonard Co.
- Pulitzer Prize Winning Works Collection: One of Ours, His Family, Miss Lulu Bett, Cornhuskers, Anna Christie, Alice Adams, and More! (11 Works)
- Zona Gale's Collected Works: Miss Lulu Bett, Romance Island, Friendship Village, Christmas (5 Works)
- Miss Lulu Bett: An American Comedy of Manners
The play is set in a small town in the Midwest. The title character is a spinster of thirty-three who does all the work for her sister Ina’s demanding family. Lulu’s chief nemesis is her brother-in-law Dwight Deacon, a petty tyrant who mocks the women of the family. When Dwight’s world-traveling brother Ninian arrives for a visit, he sympathizes with Lulu’s plight and the two are accidentally married in a ceremony that is intended as a joke but turns out to be valid.
Miss Lulu Bett began life as a best-selling short novel in 1919. Broadway producer Brock Pemberton asked Gale to dramatize her novel, a feat she accomplished in little more than a week. The play, subtitled “An American Comedy of Manners,” opened at the Belmont Theatre in New York on December, 27,1920.
In all versions, Lulu returns to the Deacon home in Act III, announcing that Ninian has a previous wife who may not be dead. At the conclusion of the novel, Lulu discovers that her marriage to Ninian is invalid and weds another suitor, Neil Cornish. Gale rejected this ending for the play, believing that two marriages in two hours was more than an audience would accept. In the first dramatic version, Lulu goes off to seek her fortune with the declaration: “I thought I wanted somebody of my own. Well, maybe it was just myself.” Shortly after the play opened, however, Gale capitulated to popular tastes and rewrote the conclusion once again. Although Gale defended the new ending, she included both versions when she published Miss Lulu Bett.
The play was greeted with mixed but generally positive reviews by New York critics, some of whom complained that it was undramatic. Robert C. Benchley, however, recognized that Gale “has given us characters who talk as people really talk.... She wrote the play, as she had written the book, without compromise, and was rewarded by an enthusiastic public."
Miss Lulu Bett had a long run on Broadway before going on tour, and it became the first play written by a woman to win the Pulitzer Prize. Paramount Pictures subsequently turned Miss Lulu Bett into a silent film.
About the Playwright
Zona Gale (August 26, 1874-December 27, 1938) A native of Portage, Wisconsin, Zona Gale was a journalist, novelist, essayist and playwright who often set her work in the Midwest in which she grew up. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, she worked as a reporter for several years before turning her hand to fiction and drama. Gale would eventually publish numerous plays and more than twenty volumes of prose. She lived in New York City for a decade and often visited there, but most …
One Play at a Time Participating Universities
University of Missouri