Director Joel Ferrell on Alfred Uhry's autobiographical play.
"Write what you know" goes the very familiar saying. Alfred Uhry was fifty when Driving Miss Daisy opened at Playwrights Horizons in New York in 1987. It was an autobiographical play about Uhry's maternal grandmother and her driver. Until then, Alfred Uhry had not written anything so "close to home". Having had a somewhat rocky career as a lyricist and librettist, he had been teaching English for many years to support his wife and four daughters.
Uhry claims that he always wanted to write a play, but "didn't have the time or the guts or this or that". Why, then, would he start exploring such a personal part of his past at age fifty when he had no history of "opening himself up" through his writing? Part of the answer may be found in his quiet, somewhat fearful childhood, growing up as part of a Jewish family in the deep south.
Uhry's family had a direct connection to the Leo Frank case. Leo Frank was a young Jew from New York who worked in Uhry's uncle's pencil factory and was lynched by a mob after having been falsely accused of the murder of a young girl. This amazing story of early 20th century anti-semitism is the subject of the musical Parade, for which Uhry won a Tony Award® for best book in 1998. Parade completed a trilogy for Uhry of deeply personal plays (Daisy being the first, and The Last Night of Ballyhoo being the second), that invite an audience into the world of Southern Jewish families and their struggle to embrace their heritage and assimilate into a predominantly Christian culture.
Driving Miss Daisy explores a relationship between two people who both have to move cautiously in their communities and lives. Both Daisy and Hoke have witnessed the horrors of bigotry and hatred; he as an African American man and she as Jew of German decent. Their paths have not been the same, but they have both steeled themselves to life's inevitable pain. Their journey spans the years before, during and after the civil rights movement, when their already complex cultural lives where changing radically.
Alfred Uhry wrote what he knew when he sat down to pen Driving Miss Daisy. He knew fear, he knew isolation, and he knew the deep human need to connect and love. Daisy started a personal journey for Alfred Uhry that has given audiences a beautiful and sometimes tragic picture of the America he knew as a child. Whatever caused him to begin the journey, we can be thankful that he has provided us another unique perspective on our checkered, remarkable, collective history.