Riggs, Lynn, 1899-1954

Alternative names
Birth 1899-08-31
Death 1954-06-30

Biographical notes:

Lynn Riggs (1899-1954), playwright and poet, author of "Green Grow the Lilacs," the basis for the musical "Oklahoma!"

From the description of Lynn Riggs screenplays, 1937-1942. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702198916

From the description of Lynn Riggs papers, 1924-1954. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702135763

Oklahoma poet and dramatist.

From the description of Letters : of Lynn Riggs, 1931, 1941. (University of Virginia). WorldCat record id: 30793411

Rollie Lynn Riggs was born in northeast Indian Territory [now Oklahoma] on August 31, 1899 to William Grant Riggs, a rancher and banker, and Rose Ella Buster Gills Riggs. After his mother died in 1901, several members of the Riggs family aided in raising Lynn and his two siblings. He was educated at the Eastern University Preparatory School in Claremore before taking off to seek his fortune at age 17 in Chicago and Los Angeles. At 21, he returned home to enroll in the University of Oklahoma, financing his education by mortgaging a small acreage which had been allotted to him by virtue of his mother's Cherokee Indian ancestry.

Riggs left school in the middle of his final year and at the suggestion of friends, he made his way to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he sought to recover his health at Sunmount Sanatorium. His crisis soon turned to be a deciding event in his life, for in Santa Fe, he found a community of artists who nurtured his nascent desire to write. His first major production, of the one-act play, Knives from Syria, was mounted by the Santa Fe Players in 1924. He soon dedicated himself to play-writing, writing his first major play, Big Lake, while teaching English at the Lewis Institute in Chicago.

Big Lake was produced in New York, where Riggs moved in 1926 to continue his development as a playwright. The next two years saw his completion and the successful production of several plays, including, Sump'n Like Wings, A Lantern to See By, and Rancor, all of which expounded on memories of growing up in Oklahoma. In 1928, to add to his successes, Lynn Riggs was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship to continue his playwriting. The following year was spent travelling throughout Europe, visiting regional theaters and constructing what would become his greatest success, Green Grow the Lilacs.

Upon his return to the United States in 1929, his play Roadside was produced, and the Theatre Guild began negotiations to stage Green Grow the Lilacs. This newest play became a hit in early 1931, setting up Riggs as a writer much-in-demand. The next decade would have Riggs leading a more secure, if scattered existence. He built a house in Santa Fe, though lived for periods in Los Angeles and New York. While working on new works for the stage, he served as a screenwriter for Paramount and Universal Studios, co-authoring such films as Garden of Allah, and The Plainsman. His social circle widened as well. Among his close friends in Hollywood were Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Franchot Tone, who had played the role of Curly in the original New York production of Green Grow the Lilacs.

Though Riggs continued to write through the 1940s, he focused his energy on other activities. In 1941, he taught a course, "Drama and the Playwright," at Baylor University. From 1942-44, he served in the U.S. military, eventually scripting documentary films for the Office of War Information. It was while he was still enlisted that Oklahoma!, the Pulitzer-citation winning musical version of Green Grow the Lilacs, debuted. Though this beloved staple of the American stage would prosper for years, Riggs found it difficult to mount successful runs of his new works, which focused on more contemporary events in his life, such as his experiences in Santa Fe, as detailed in Laughter From A Cloud.

Riggs worked slowly through the 1950s, creating a historical drama for Western Reserve University, publishing a short story, "Eben, The Hound, and the Hare" in 1952, and working on a novel set in Oklahoma. Though he lived principally on Shelter Island, New York, he travelled often to Chapel Hill to work on projects. His health began to deteriorate after his 50th birthday and he eventually found himself plagued by stomach problems. The full extent of his medical condition was revealed in Spring of 1954, when he was found to have cancer. He died on June 29 of that year in New York City.

From the guide to the Lynn Riggs papers, 1924-1954, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)


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  • American literature--20th century
  • Motion picture plays
  • Prompt-book
  • Dramatists, American--Archives
  • Motion pictures


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  • Oklahoma (as recorded)
  • Oklahoma (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)