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My Sister Eileen

My Sister Eileen is the name of several works based on short stories by Ruth McKenney about her adventures in Greenwich Village with her sister, Eileen McKenney. The stories were first published in The New Yorker magazine, then collected together and published as a book (My Sister Eileen) in 1938. The autobiographical stories center around two sisters from Ohio who move to New York City to begin their careers, in the meantime running into a variety of oddball characters.

The stories were adapted by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov into a play, My Sister Eileen, which ran on Broadway from 1940-1943.

During the run of the play, in 1942, its authors adapted it as a film which starred Rosalind Russell, Brian Aherne, Janet Blair, George Tobias, June Havoc, Larry Fine, Curly Howard, Moe Howard, (the Three Stooges), Kirk Alyn, Arnold Stang and Forrest Tucker. It was directed by Alexander Hall, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress (Rosalind Russell).

Fields and Chodorov once again adapted the material, this time into the book of a musical play, Wonderful Town, which had lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and music by Leonard Bernstein, and opened in 1953 on Broadway. Although Rosalind Russell was 41 and had not sung or danced or performed on stage in 20 years, she reprised her role as Ruth with great success. (See also roots of rap music.)

My Sister Eileen was remade as a musical film in 1955. It featured music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Leo Robin. It was adapted by Blake Edwards and Richard Quine, and directed by Quine, who had been an actor in the play during its original run on Broadway. It starred Janet Leigh, Jack Lemmon, Betty Garrett, Bob Fosse, Kurt Kasznar, Dick York, Hal March and Richard Deacon.

A version of Wonderful Town, starring Rosalind Russell, was broadcast on CBS television in 1958. The original cast album is still in print.

Another television version was released in 1960. It starred Shirley Bonne, Leon Belasco, Stubby Kaye, Rose Marie, Elaine Stritch and Jack Weston.

Eileen McKenney, who was the inspiration for the title character, was killed, with her husband, novelist and screenwriter Nathaniel West, in a car accident shortly before the opening of the Broadway play.