Though Driving Miss Daisy has a cast of only three, playwright Alfred Uhry creates a rich world of characters living in Atlanta at mid-century. Many other friends, historical figures, former employers and the like are referenced throughout the script. We’ve highlighted the key on- and offstage players here, who create context for the relationship that forms between Daisy and Hoke throughout the 25-year period spanned by the play.
Character Profiles: Seen On Stage
Daisy Werthan: a Jewish widow, native to Atlanta, Georgia. She is 72 years old in 1948 at the beginning of the play, and 97 years old in 1973 at the end of the play. Born 11 years after the end of Civil War, she witnessed some of the most significant social changes in American history. She was in Atlanta when Leo Frank was lynched in 1913 – one of the most horrific displays of anti-Semitism in Atlanta’s history. She lived through the woman suffrage movement and the passage of the 19th Amendment (which guaranteed women’s right to vote), World Wars I and II, the Temple bombing of 1958, Martin Luther King Jr.’s ascension to fame and the Civil Rights Movement, the Cold War and the beginning of the Watergate Scandal. Her father-in-law was a self-made man who founded his own business, and she and her husband enjoyed financial success. Yet through it all, she remains fiercely rooted in her frugal upbringing, her early career as a teacher, her Southern propriety and her Judaism.
Boolie Werthan: Daisy’s son, also born and raised in Atlanta. He is 40 years old in the first scene of the play in 1948, and 65 years old at the show’s end in 1973. He grew up through World War I, and was a young man during the Great Depression. He observed his parents’ dedication to their work and took over the family business, increasing its success. He is dutiful to his mother, despite her prickly personality. Though he clearly cares for Daisy, it’s not in the way that she would find most fitting.
When visiting her husband’s grave, Daisy notes that Boolie would prefer that she let the cemetery handle the care of his gravesite. “Perpetual care they call it,” notes Daisy. “Boolie will have me in perpetual care before I’m cold.” Indeed, Daisy is right; in the last scene of the play, Boolie is making arrangements to sell her house before going to visit her at her retirement home on Thanksgiving. He never has any children of his own.
Hoke Colburn: an African-American man, native to Georgia. He is 60 years old in 1948 at the beginning of the play, and 85 years old in 1973 at the end. Before meeting Daisy, he had neither traveled nor learned to read. He has a daughter and granddaughter. Although he is 12 years younger than Daisy, he has also witnessed the same pivotal events in American history. He was a young man in 1913 when Leo Frank was lynched, but as a child he had already witnessed the lynching of his friend’s father (which was a common occurrence in the state of Georgia in the late 1800s). He grew up in the thick of the Jim Crow era, experiencing for almost his whole life segregation, discrimination, injustice and racism.
Character Profiles: Unseen Players
Florine Werthan: Boolie’s wife and Daisy’s daughter-in-law. Daisy doesn’t care for her, and doesn’t keep that opinion to herself very well. In the first scene of the play, we witness this exchange between Daisy and Boolie:
DAISY: Y’all must have plans tonight.
BOOLIE: Going to the Ansleys for a dinner party.
DAISY: I see.
BOOLIE: You see what?
DAISY: The Ansleys. I’m sure Florine bought another new dress. This is her idea of heaven on earth, isn’t it?
DAISY: Socializing with Episcopalians.
Though Florine is never seen on stage, she illustrates what playwright Alfred Uhry often describes as his experience growing up as Southern and Jewish, where he felt many in his community (including himself) put more effort into trying to pass as Protestant than into practicing Judaism. As Uhry told The Jerusalem Post in a 2010 interview, “Being Jewish was some sort of defect you had to overcome like being lame or being blind. So I grew up with a chip on my shoulder, wishing that I could have, as I said in another one of my plays, ‘kissed my elbow and turned into an Episcopalian.’” In many interviews, Uhry has expressed the loss he still often feels from missing out on a more religious upbringing.
Idella: The African-American housekeeper Daisy hired on when Boolie was in the 8th grade (which would have been around 1920). In the first scene, Daisy states that having Idella in the house is different than it would be to hire a chauffeur, because she and Idella “know how to stay out of each other’s way.” By the end of the play, it’s clear that Daisy’s friendship with Hoke has helped Daisy know Idella as a full person, rather than as the unseen help. Once Idella passes away, both Daisy and Hoke recall her fondly.
Miss McClatchey: Boolie’s secretary, who remains in his employment through the 25-year span of the play, and likely through her entire career. Like Boolie, she never has any children. She remains single and presumably career-focused. During a scene taking place in 1965, Daisy tells Miss McClatchey over the phone, unprompted, “Don’t you worry. My cousin Tillie in Chattanooga married for the first time at fifty-seven.”
To learn more about Driving Miss Daisy at Ford’s Theatre, visit the show’s production page on the Ford’s Theatre website.