My Sister Eileen originated as a series of short stories by Ruth McKenney that eventually evolved into a book, a play, a musical, a radio play (and unproduced radio series), two films, and a CBS television series in the 1960-1961 season.
The autobiographical stories originally were published in The New Yorker, then collected and published as the book My Sister Eileen in 1938. It centers on two sisters from Ohio who move to a basement apartment in the Greenwich Village section of New York City in order to pursue their careers. Older, sensible Ruth aspires to be a writer, while Eileen dreams of success on the stage. A variety of oddball characters bring color and humor to their lives.
The stories were adapted for the stage by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov. The Broadway production, directed by George S. Kaufman, opened on December 26, 1940 at the Biltmore Theatre and moved three times before finally completing its run of 864 performances on January 16, 1943. The opening night cast included Shirley Booth as Ruth and Jo Ann Sayers as Eileen, with Richard Quine and Morris Carnovsky in supporting roles.
Fields and Chodorov adapted their play for a 1942 film released by Columbia Pictures (their biggest hit of 1942/3). Alexander Hall directed a cast that includes Rosalind Russell as Ruth and Janet Blair as Eileen, with Brian Aherne, George Tobias, Allyn Joslyn, Elizabeth Patterson, Grant Mitchell, and Richard Quine in supporting roles.
On May 18, 1946, Rosalind Russell and Janet Blair reprised their roles in a half-hour radio adaptation of the 1942 film for the CBS Radio anthology series Academy Award Theater. During the closing credits, show announcer Hugh Brundage stated that a radio series based on the two characters was being prepared by writer Arthur Kurlan. He added that it would star Lucille Ball and it would premiere in the fall. Despite the seeming certainty of this announcement, CBS ultimately turned down the proposed series after an audition record was made.
In 1947, CBS began airing a different radio series, My Friend Irma, which contained the same basic premise and characterizations. In response, Arthur Kurlan sued CBS on behalf of himself and Ruth McKenney, ultimately winning compensation from CBS.
Wonderful Town, with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and music by Leonard Bernstein, is a musical stage adaptation of the Sherwood stories. Rosalind Russell reprised the part of Ruth for the Broadway production and appeared in a CBS broadcast of the musical on November 30, 1958.
In 1955, Columbia remade the film as a musical comedy with a score by Jule Styne and Leo Robin. Richard Quine and Blake Edwards wrote the screenplay, and Quine directed. The cast includes Betty Garrett as Ruth and Janet Leigh as Eileen, with Jack Lemmon, Bob Fosse (who choreographed the musical numbers), Kurt Kasznar, Dick York, and Tommy Rall in supporting roles.