Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs (1954)
LEC #248/23rd Series V.4 in 1954
Artwork: Lithographs by Thomas Hart Benton
Introduced by Brooks Atkinson
LEC #1440 of 1500. Reprinted by the Heritage Press (Connecticut).
Click images to see larger views.
Front Binding – Occasionally we come across a book that inspired something that exceeded the source material in nearly every aspect; Green Grows the Lilacs is a casebook example. While a superb play in its own right, the 1931 text became the basis of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical smash Oklahoma! in 1943, which went on to eclipse the work of Lynn Riggs’ original for decades to come. Thankfully, George Macy didn’t forget, and delivered perhaps one of the most excellent ways of acquiring Riggs’ words in this 1954 issuing from the Limited Editions Club.
This would be one of the “modern” editions the LEC would issue, seeing as Riggs’ theatrics was published during the LEC’s early days in 1931. Unfortunately, he would pass away the same year as this was published (three months before its issuing, as a matter of fact), so he likely never had the opportunity to see the final product. Over his 54 years he produced 21 plays, multiple short stories, poetry, and even a television script, but Green… became his best-known work that secured him a spot in Oklahoma’s Hall of Fame after its 64 performances on Broadway. This would be Riggs’ sole LEC, but the Easton Press reissued the book as a Heritage Press edition during their use of the rights they purchased from the George Macy Company.
Unlike Riggs, the illustrator for this edition was not a one-and-done individual; it was in fact the famous American muralist and painter Thomas Hart Benton, one of the seminal artists of early 20th century Regionalist movement and descendant of the Senator who bared his name (who was the father of Jessie Benton Fremont, a political activist and writer who likely wrote her husband John C. Fremont’s exploits along with her own work). This would serve as Benton’s final contribution for the Limited Editions Club following a very successful run of three Mark Twain classics (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1939, which Macy commented that “Benton was born for the purpose of illustrating Tom Sawyer” in the QM; Adventures of Huckleberry Finn came next in 1942; and last came Life on the Mississippi in 1944) and The Grapes of Wrath in 1940 that was issued as a special publication. A pretty rapid-fire salvo of editions! Tom and Huck stand as two of the titans of LEC publications and tend to command a pretty penny to acquire, in no small part due to Benton.
Design Notes – Macy decided to keep the production of this book, so centralized on Riggs’ home state of Oklahoma, in the hands of those who also lived there. He turned to Will Ransom of the University of Oklahoma Press (which is still going strong!) to design and print the book. Per the QM:
Spine – My spine has seen a bit of sunning; I imagine it should be as gray as the front binding.
Title Page – Brooks Atkinson provides an introduction.
Colophon – This is #1440 of 1500, and was signed by Benton.
Examples of Benton’s lithographs (right click and open in new tab for full size):
Personal Notes – I’ve been on the hunt for a Benton LEC for a long while. Since I saw his work at the De Young Museum in San Francisco, I’ve found it compelling, and finally adding Green… to my collection fulfills that need quite nicely. I would like to add the others at some point, but…well, they’re all expensive! Haha. I got this online from Powell’s Books in Portland, OR.