Joseph Kesselring

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Joseph Otto Kesselring (July 21, 1902 – November 5, 1967) was an American writer and playwright known best for his play Arsenic and Old Lace, written in 1939 and originally entitled "Bodies in Our Cellar." He was born in New York City to Henry and Frances Kesselring. His father's parents were immigrants from Germany. His mother was an English Canadian.[1] Kesselring spent much of his life in and around the theater. In 1922 he began teaching vocal music and directed stage productions at Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas. After two years, Kesselring left teaching and returned to the stage, working for two years with an amateur theatrical group in Niagara, New York.[2] He began working as a freelance playwright in 1933, completing 12 original plays, of which four were produced on Broadway: Wisdom in Women (1935), Arsenic and Old Lace (1941), Four Twelves are 48 (1951), and Mother of that Wisdom (1963).

Kesselring died in Kingston, New York in 1967 at the age of 65.

In 1980, the National Arts Club created the Joseph Kesselring Prize for up-and-coming playwrights. It was funded by Kesselring's widow, Charlotte. Among the playwrights who have won the prize are Tony Kushner, David Adjmi, Doug Wright, Anna Deavere Smith, David Auburn, Rajiv Joseph, Melissa James Gibson, Jo Carson, Nicky Silver, David Lindsay-Abaire, Jose Rivera, Naomi Wallace, Philip Kan Gotanda, Kira Obolensky, Tracey Scott Wilson, and Marion McClinton.[3][4]


  1. ^ US Census 1920,New York Borough of Manhattan, enumeration district 913,Sheet 19A
  2. ^ Dramaturgy: Notes from the Director, Methacton Community Theater website. Retrieved February 19, 2010.
  3. ^ Cox, Gordon (2009-02-13). "Kesselring Fellowship honors duo; Playwrights Rajiv Joseph, David Adjmi awarded". Variety. Retrieved 2010-04-03. 
  4. ^ The Kesselring Fellowship, The National Arts Club, The Exchange website. Retrieved February 19, 2010.