RICE (Reizenstein), ELMER LEOPOLD (1892–1967), U.S. playwright. Born in New York, Rice studied law and used his familiarity with legal procedure in at least two plays. His first, On Trial (1914), was also the first play on the American stage to use the flashback technique of the cinema. Counsellor-at-Law (1931) was remarkable for its realistic detail and dialogue. Rice became known as an experimenter, though it took him some years to repeat his early success. Working in many styles, he wrote an expressionist satire on office drudgery, The Adding Machine (1923); Street Scene (1929), a tragedy of New York slum life which won the Pulitzer Prize, was made into a film, and was later turned into a musical by Kurt *Weill and Langston Hughes; We, the People (1933); and a fantasy, Dream Girl (1945).

A radical in his social outlook and a champion of freedom of thought, Rice resigned as regional director of the Federal Theater Project in New York City in 1936 as a protest against Washington censorship. In order to be independent of producers, he joined Maxwell Anderson, Robert E. Sherwood, and S.N. *Behrman in forming the Playwrights' Company. Judgment Day (1934), based on the Reichstag fire trial, and Flight to the West (1940) were both strong anti-Nazi dramas. Between Two Worlds (1934) dramatized the contrasts between American beliefs and Communist ideology. Rice held that the theater was a forum for "the discussion of problems… that affect the lives and happiness of millions," but that did not prevent him from writing appealing little plays like The Left Bank (1931) and Two on an Island (1940). Not for Children (1935) was a satire on the theater.

His other plays include See Naples and Die (1929), A New Life (1944), The Grand Tour (1951), and Love Among the Ruins (1963). Two of his novels were Imperial City (1937) and The Show Must Go On (1949). Rice published an autobiography, Minority Report, in 1963.


R. Hogan, Independence of Elmer Rice (1965); J. Meersand, Traditions in American Literature, A Study of Jewish Characters and Authors (1939), 25–32, index; B. Mantle, Contemporary American Playwrights (1941), 54–61; S.J. Kunitz, Twentieth Century Authors, first supplement (1955), incl. bibl.

[Joseph Mersand]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.