The Life of Josefina Niggli

jniggli_portrait_young09The Early Years

  • Parents: Goldie Morgan and Frederick Ferdinand Niggli
  • Birth: July 13, 1910 in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico
  • Education: Homeschooled by her mother until the age of 14; Graduated from Main Avenue High School in San Antonio in 1925; Graduated from the Incarnate Word College in 1931 with a degree in Philosophy; Received a Master’s degree in Dramatic Arts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1937

The Western Question

Certain information is known:

  • She had wanted to teach since she was a child and is quoted as saying, “I used to hold imaginary classes.”
  • When faced with signing a new contract in Hollywood, her friend Lionel Barrymore said, “Why don’t you just go on and teach? You know you’ve always wanted to” and advised her to “go to England and learn stage and come back and teach.”
  • 1950s America was an unfavorable place for writers due to Senator McCarthy’s Communist scare and many of Niggli’s Hollywood contemporaries were under suspicion.

jniggli_portrait09Writing Career

  • While employed at Chapel Hill from 1942 through 1944 she taught radio writing, wrote and acted for the Carolina Playmakers, and was able to write and publish a collection of Mexican folk plays.
  • She published her first novel in 1945 entitled Mexican Village, which was later turned into the movie Sombrero and earned her the Mayflower Cup.
  • While working for Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer and 20th Century Fox during her time in Hollywood she met Lionel Barrymore who told her to to go Europe to study and come back to the United States to teach because he knew that is what she really wanted.
  • Over the course of her career, she was able to study at the Old Vic Theatre in London, the Abbey Players in Dublin, le Teatre de l’oest in France, the British Drama League in Wales, and El Teatro Pequeno in Mexico City.
  • She received three Rockefeller Fellowships in Europe, and a National Theatre Counsel Fellowship.

Most Successful Books

  • Mexican Folk Play in 1938 – includes Tooth or Shave, Soldadera, The Red Velvet Goat, Azteca, and Sunday Costs Five Pesos
  • Mexican Village in 1945
  • Step Down, Elder Brother in 1948
  • Pointers on Radio Writing in 1946
  • Pointers on Playwriting in 1945
  • A Miracle for Mexico in 1964
  • New Pointers on Playwriting in 1967

Most Successful Plays

  • “This Bull Ate Nutmeg” in 1937
  • “This is Villa” in 1939
  • “Lightening from the East” in 1965
  • “The Singing Valley” in 1970
  • “The Fair God”
  • “Cry of Hildalgo”
  • “A Ring for General Macias”

jniggli_dogs09Teaching Career

  • She gains an assistant professor of dramatics position at UNCG.
  • Josefina later joined the Western Carolina University faculty as a director of drama and journalism instructor in 1955.
  • She retires from teaching in 1975.
  • Josefina Niggli passed away on December 17, 1983.
  • After her death in 1983, Western Carolina University honored Josefina by naming “Niggli Theater” after her.

The War of the Worlds Connection

We cannot say with any amount of certainty if Josefina Niggli is connected to the War of the Worlds broadcast. The cast of the play was all male, but there is some question as to whether or not she had a role in writing the script. This is difficult to say since lists of all who worked on the show were destroyed. The facts we do know are:

  • While a student at the Incarnate Word College in San Antonio she worked with KTSA radio writing and producing shows.
  • In 1938, the year of the original production of War of the Worlds, Niggli was living in New York City studying at Columbia University and the New School.

Content created by Marie Rawlings, Rachel Bleich, Emily Goodman, and Sarah Hawkins as a poster project for the Honors Theatre 104 class taught by Professor Steve Carlisle in Fall 2008.