The Man Who Came to Dinner

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We knew that the The Inn at Barley Sheaf was a Bed and Breakfast but only recently learned that they serve dinner and have weekend brunches. What a delightful place for a Sunday brunch. Although the ground was covered with early March snow, the sun was shining and the temperatures were moderate, a beautiful day. I remembered that Barley Sheaf was associated with the New York theatre group that escaped to Bucks in the summers, 1930s through the 1950, but was uncertain who had lived there. The current owner, Mark Frank, filled us in on the history. The original stone house and stone banked barn were constructed in the 1740s. In the 20th century the farm was owned by Juliana Force, the director of the Whitney Museum. In 1936, George S Kaufman and his wife Beatrice purchased the property for $45,000. The Pulitzer Prize-winning NYC playwright called the farm Cherchez La Farm (which some translate as “I can’t find the farm).

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Bucks County was the place to be for NY artists in the 1930s. Not just painters but the theatre types. Oscar Hammerstein settled on Highland Farm in Doylestown. When he wrote the lyrics to Oklahoma’s “Oh What a Beautiful Morning,” he recalled a hot summer morning when “all the cattle are standing like statues” and “the corn was as high as an elephant’s eye.” Hammerstein’s grandson is currently attempting to turn Highland Fram into a theatre and education center but is meeting some local resistance.

Kaufman and Hammerstein weren’t the only artists who retreated to Bucks County. Dorothy Parker, founder of the Algonquin Round Table, Moss Hart, S.J. Perelman, and Pearl Buck spent time in the county. And of course there was Bucks County born James Mitchener. The Bucks County playhouse, New Hope artists colony, charming countryside were all draws.

Kaufman entertained some interesting guests at Barey Sheaf including his associate Moss Hart, Harpo and Susan Marx, Lillian Hellman, and Broadway producer, Max Gordon. His outdoor passion was croquet which sometimes lasted into the night. His comedy “George Washington Slept Here” may have roots in farm renovations and his play with Moss Hart, “The Man Who Came To Dinner” was based on a visit by the theatre critic Alexander Wollcott, who showed up unannounced at Moss Hart’s Solebury home. He proceeded to take over the house and terrorize Hart’s staff. On leaving the next day, Wollcott wrote in the guest book, “This is to certify that I had one of the most unpleasant times I ever spent.” Hart and Kaufman laughed about the visit and joked that Hart was lucky Wollcott didn’t break a leg and get stuck there. And so was born Sheridan Whiteside, the obnoxious critic of “The Man Who Came To Dinner.”

Our brunch at Barley Sheaf was truly delightful. The porch like dining room was sunny, overlooked the pool and snow covered grounds. Deer fed in the distance. We started with a complimentary mimosa (it’s a BYOB). Diane and I both started with a smoked salmon platter. She had Eggs Benedict and I had shrimp grits and a side of sausage. I don’t think I ever had grits (a corn porridge); delicious. Although there were only three shrimp, we were offered a second entry if we were still hungry. It was totally unnecessary; one was filling. After brunch we took a back roads county explore.

That evening (in my think thematic mode), I ordered the 1942 film based on the Hart-Kaufman Broadway play, “The Man Who Came To Dinner.” Like our morning at Barley Sheaf, the film was delightful. Monty Wooley (who was in the play on Broadway) plays Sheridan Whiteside, a NYC critic. He slips on the ice while visiting the Stanleys, a prominent Ohio family. Brought inside a local doctor tells him he needs to rest. Sheridan immediately takes over the entire household, banishing the Stanleys to the back door and second floor. He monopolizes the telephone, making long distance calls to celebrities and world leaders. Sheridan uses threats, intimidation, and an acid-tonged wit to control as he meddles in everyone’s affairs. He is initially supported by his secretary, girl Friday, Maggie (played by Bette Davis) until she falls in love with a local reporter. Sheridan’s antics to break up the relationship drives Maggie to assert her independence. The romp ends and Sheridan is leaving, only he falls again on the Stanley’s steps. Repeat.

I highly recommend Barley Sheaf for brunch. We may go back for dinner this summer. And “The Man Who Came To Dinner,” is a fun 1940s comedy. A Bucks County connection always catches my attention. It would be fun to see a stage revival — where? At the Bucks County playhouse, of course.

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