8 Wonders of Kansas people

An 8 Wonder of Kansas People

William Inge, Independence

Address: 1057 W. College Ave., Independence, KS 67301
Phone: 620.332.5492
Website: www.ingecenter.org/ingecollection.htm

William Inge was a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who dramatized with affection the aspirations of passionate and authentic characters rooted in small town-life.  1913-1973.

William Inge, courtesy William Inge Center for the Arts
Born on May 3, 1913 in Independence, Kansas, William Motter Inge was the youngest of five children.

The small town of Independence had a profound influence on the young Inge, and he would later attribute his understanding of human behavior to growing up in this environment. Inge would later use this knowledge of small town life in many of his plays, most of which revolve around characters who are clearly products of Midwestern towns.

William Inge house. Courtesy William inge Center for the Arts

Inge earned a degree in Speech and Drama from the University of Kansas in 1935. He did physical labor, was a radio announcer in Wichita, a high school teacher in Columbus, and, eventually got a Masters degree at Peabody College in Nashville. When he became a drama and music critic for the St. Louis Times, he met Tennessee Williams. One evening he accompanied Williams to a production of The Glass Menagerie, which so inspired Inge that he decided to become a playwright.

It took several years of hard work, but Inge went on to win many awards and acclaim. It began with Come Back, Little Sheba in 1950, which opened on Broadway and won Tony Awards for Shirley Booth and Sidney Blackmer. The film adaptation aired in 1952, starring Booth and Burt Lancaster.

Picnic is likely his best-known work. It opened in 1953 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and many other awards. In 1956, Columbia Pictures released the film version of Picnic starring William Holden, Kim Novak and Rosalind Russell. Picnic was filmed in many Kansas cities including Halstead, Hutchinson, Nickerson, Salina, and Sterling.

In 1955 he wrote the bittersweet comedy Bus Stop. Marilyn Monroe starred in the film version, released the next year. In 1957 he wrote The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, a somewhat autobiographical drama and considered his finest work. In 1960, Dark was released as a film starring Dorothy McGuire, Robert Preston, Shirley Knight, Eve Arden, and Angela Lansbury.

Bust of Inge at the William Inge Center for the Arts
With four straight Broadway hits that were each turned into a motion picture with the biggest stars of the time, Inge was hailed as another Tennessee Williams. However, several works were thereafter met with poor reviews. His only commercial success during this time was his first screenplay Splendor in the Grass (1960). It starred Natalie Wood, Pat Hingle and Warren Beatty. For this, he won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay.

Inge continued to write several full-length plays, two novels, screenplays, a pilot for a television series, and a number of one-act plays. None, however, received widespread success. Believing he could no longer write, he fell into a serious depression and in 1973, at his home in Hollywood Hills, took his own life.

He is buried in Independence; his gravestone epitaph reads simply "Playwright."

Sources: William Inge Center for the Arts

Researching the Inge Collection. Courtesy
William Inge Center for the Arts



  • Library, in the Academic Building, upper level. See the Inge Collection. Open during school months Monday-Thursday 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; summer Monday-Thursday 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Friday 7:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.  There are about 400 of his original manuscripts, as well as press clippings, memorabilia and books.
  • William Inge Center for the Arts, 1057 W. College Avenue. See a bust of Inge.
  • William Inge Theater Festival.  Since its founding in 1981, the annual William Inge Theatre Festival has celebrated the accomplishments of nationally renowned playwrights and provided workshops, panels, and productions. 

INDEPENDENCE HISTORICAL MUSEUM, 123 N. 8th. Large historical collection includes display on Inge. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

GRAVESTONE at Mt. Hope Cemetery on E. Penn. William Inge and family are buried just north of Oak and 5th. Look for the large gray Inge stone in the southeast corner.

For a more detailed biography, click here.