Gladys Fornell Biography

Gladys Fornell (front row, center) at Yaddo with fellow residents, estimated 1950. Image: Gladys Fornell Papers, Newberry Library, Chicago.

Gladys Alrose Fornell was born on December 19, 1904 to Oscar and Theresa Fornell. As a child, Fornell lived in a small Wisconsin village with her family, including siblings Cleora, Irma, Sharon, and Earl (“Obituary for Gladys Fornell”).[1] Gladys Fornell attended the University of Minnesota, where she graduated with a Bachelors of Arts degree in 1928 (“University of Minnesota Commencement Program 1928”).[2]

Following her graduation from the University, Fornell served as a proofreader at Haddon Craftsmen Printers before beginning work with the Princeton University Press (Fornell, “Background”). Fornell subsequently moved to New Jersey, the location of the Princeton University Press, and resided in New Jersey and New York for the majority of her adult life. At the Princeton University Press, Fornell worked as the supervisor of a proofroom and later became general editor for the literature, philosophy, religion, and art departments (Fornell, “Background”).[3] Through this position she edited works including Walter Kaufmann’s Nietzsche, Francis Fergusson’s The Idea of a Theater, and Clyde Pharr’s English translations of The Theodosian Code, Novels, and the Sirmondian Constitutions (“About the Author”).

While she was an employee of the Press, Fornell took two leaves of absence from her position to accept residencies at Yaddo, an artists’ community located in Saratoga Springs, New York (“About the Author”). During her residencies Fornell focused on writing and revising fiction, including her unpublished novel, Montel. She additionally wrote a number of short stories which she sought to publish with local magazines and journals, including “A Drunk, Ph.D.,” “At Seven,” and “The Liar” (Gladys Fornell Papers, The Newberry Library, Chicago). In the later portion of her life, Fornell transitioned away from her attempts to publish fiction in favor of slightly more consistent work writing stage productions for local theaters.

Fornell’s career as a playwright was perhaps her greatest writing success. She studied at the Script Writer’s Workshop of the American Theatre Wing in New York City and went on to write a number of stage productions and musicals. Fornell’s work consisted of titles including The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Gypsies Did It!, and Mr. Spiltfoot (“About the Author”).[4] Her most popular and well-received play was a musical adaptation of Puss in Boots, which won the national Aline Bernstein Award (“Obituary for Gladys Fornell”).[5] For the last four years of her life, Fornell lived in Quincy, Illinois with her sisters and worked on several smaller community productions. At the time of her death, she was writing a stage adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, which remained unfinished. Fornell passed away at the age of seventy-seven on October 9, 1982 in the presence of family.


[1] There are a number of existing gaps in scholarly resources regarding Gladys Fornell, particularly in regards to her personal life.

[2] The University of Minnesota commencement pamphlet from 1928 only lists Fornell as obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree; it is unclear if she studied for a specified major or degree.

[3] Fornell’s records suggest that she was an employee of the Princeton University Press for approximately eight years, but there are no official existing records to confirm dates of employment.

[4] There is no documented date for Fornell’s education at the Script Writer’s Workshop.

[5] Since the time Fornell won the Aline Bernstein Award, it has since been assimilated into other award groupings for theatrical productions. Consequently, at this time it is not possible determine its prestige or significance in a broader understanding of the theater and how this may have impacted Fornell’s career.