Talk about working from home. . . . Pulling Harvey Out of Her Hat chronicles the story of how Mary Chase—a housewife with three children from a working-class Irish community in Denver, Colorado—became a Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright for Harvey, a Broadway comedy about a gentle soul and his invisible six-foot-and-one-half-inch-tall rabbit friend. This entertaining and inspiring account traces how Chase achieved her dream of becoming a famous playwright while remaining in Denver—where she worked for the Rocky Mountain News, married an editor, and raised a family.
Pulling Harvey Out of Her Hat includes many vignettes and unforgettable stories about the theater industry. It brings to life the history of Franklin Roosevelt’s Federal Theatre Project; provides readers with an insider’s view of the Broadway scene in the 1940s; and highlights the importance of theater personalities, including Brock Pemberton (Harvey’s producer), Antoinette Perry (Harvey’s director and namesake for the Tony Awards), and Frank Fay and Jimmy Stewart (actors who played Elwood Dowd, the amiable, slightly tipsy gentleman lead character).
The author of fourteen plays, three screenplays, and two award-winning children’s books, Mary Chase created Harvey to counter sadness during the height of World War II. It would win the 1945 Pulitzer Prize (beating out Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie) and remain to this day one of the most beloved and underappreciated works of the twentieth century.
Mimi Pockross is an award-winning freelance writer who specializes in writing about the arts, education, and family. She has written articles for many local and national publications including the Chicago Tribune, Colorado Heritage, and The Denver Post. Like Mary Chase, she is a wife, mother, and grandmother who also writes, and like Mary Chase, she is a longtime resident of Colorado.
It isn’t a stretch to imagine that at any given time, the play Harvey (that beloved American comedic chestnut immortalized by the 1950 film version starring Jimmy Stewart) is being produced in some professional repertory, regional, community, or school theater. We are long overdue, argues arts writer Pockross to give playwright Mary Coyle Chase the serious critical attention she deserves. Chase herself frequently professed that she was “just a housewife and mother who wrote plays,” but her prodigious literary catalogue of 14 plays (including two other Broadway successes besides Harvey, three screenplays, and several award-winning children’s books) are validation that she did a lot more than pull a six-foot-tall rabbit out of her hat. Pockross illuminates key life events that would become thematic tropes in Chase’s plays and examines the social and art scene in early to late 20th-century Denver. Pockross also covers Chase’s beginnings as a “sob sister” newspaperwoman and explores her life with her husband and three sons. Harvey certainly takes center stage, but all of Chase’s literary works are covered here. This certainly will not be the last word on Mary Coyle Chase, but it’s a great opening act. This story of Chase (whose dream of a giant rabbit chasing a psychiatrist inspired a play about everyone’s favorite Pooka) is a must for theater geeks everywhere.
[Pockross] shows how Chase has been historically dismissed because she was a female playwright who lived and worked outside New York, specialized in comedies, and often wrote for children. She also demonstrates how Chase was deemed an amateur because she was a wife and mother . . . Pockross attempts to reverse years of neglect with this new biography, and to a great extent, she succeeds. . . . Overall, Pulling Harvey Out of Her Hat: The Amazing Story of Mary Coyle Chase makes compelling reading for those who want to learn more about a forgotten writer, or anyone with a soft spot for an invisible rabbit.
6/25/2021: Author Mimi Pockross spoke with Andrea Dukakis, host of the Colorado Matters Podcast, about the woman behind the play Harvey, Mary Coyle Chase.