Little Rock Look Back: SOUTH PACIFIC wins Pulitzer Prize for Drama

SoPa Pul GazThe Pulitzer Prizes will be announced today.  In 1950, one of the recipients in the “Letters, Drama and Music” categories featured a character from Little Rock.

The 1950 Pulitzer for Drama went to a musical, for only the second time in the history of the awards.  The recipient was South Pacific by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan.  The character was the leading lady of Nellie Forbush. She was an Navy ensign and a nurse stationed on an exotic island during World War II.  The musical was based on a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific.

In the Michener novel, Miss Forbush is not from Little Rock.  She is actually from a small town in Alabama.  The part was written for Mary Martin from Weatherford, Texas.  Rodgers, Hammerstein & Logan did not discuss why they relocated Nellie’s birthplace.

In the musical, Nellie struggles with her own prejudices. This issue of prejudice became an instance of fact meeting fiction. In 1957, a few weeks after Eisenhower sent troops into Little Rock to ensure that Central High would be desegregated, a production of South Pacific on Long Island was temporarily halted when the audience booed and yelled after Nellie mentioned she was from Little Rock.