On this day in 1955, the play “The Diary of Anne Frank” had its Broadway premiere at the Cort Theater. Written by Frances Goodrich and Alfred Hackett, the play was based on the worldwide best-selling “Diary of a Young Girl,” an abridged version of the diary kept by the German-Dutch Holocaust victim Anne Frank, who died at Bergen-Belsen camp in March 1945, a few months short of her 16th birthday.
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The play, directed by Garson Kanin, met with immediate success. It won both a Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize, was adapted for the screen in 1959 and continues to be staged regularly around the world. But it has also been the source of significant controversy over the years.
Most famously, the novelist Meyer Levin, who had helped to arrange for the original United States publication of "Diary of a Young Girl," waged war on the Goodrich-Hackett version. In his 1973 memoir, “The Obsession,” he said his failed attempt to have his own adaptation of the diary made into a play had essentailly ruined his life. Levin alleged his script had been done in by a veritable conspiracy by Anne's father, Otto Frank, playwright Lillian Hellman and producer Kermit Bloomgarden, all assimilated Jews, along with the Gentile playwright-couple Goodrich and Hackett.
While Levin’s personal charges may have been exaggerated, if not partly imagined, he was correct in suggesting that the “Diary” that opened on Broadway presented a deracinated, “universal” version of Anne Frank’s story at the expense of the very Jewish nature of the Holocaust. Whether the play’s makeover was a conspiracy perpetrated by self-denying Jews or merely reflected the commercial considerations of 1950s theater professionals is open to debate.
The final line of the play – "In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart" – is taken from the actual diary, but is hardly the book’s concluding sentence. Though it certainly gives the play an optimistic finale, it casts doubt upon whether it should be seen as a quintessential work of art about the Holocaust.