Stage Manager, Writer, Designer
( b. Nov 02, 1914 Rhinelander, Wisconsin, USA - d. Dec 21, 2008 Paradise Valley, Arizona, USA ) Male
Dale Wasserman was an autodidact who became the playwright responsible for two Broadway hits of the 1960s, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Man of La Mancha.
Mr. Wasserman wrote more than 75 scripts for television, the stage and the movies, including screenplays for "The Vikings" (1958), a seafaring epic with Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas, and "A Walk With Love and Death" (1969), a John Huston film set in 14th-century Europe. Mostly he wrote about spirited outsiders, and he himself was never one to go along to get along.
Orphaned before he was 10, he had almost no formal education and spent what he freely recalled as a wayward youth, working odd jobs and riding the rails. He never quite lost his sense of scrapping to keep his place on a moving freight train; as a writer he was known for relishing his role as a gadfly and being cantankerous in professional matters.
"Happily so," said his longtime assistant, Beatrice Williams-Rude. He feuded with producers, with lawyers and with collaborators including Mr. Douglas, who played the lead role of Randle P. McMurphy in the original Broadway production of Cuckoo's Nest; Mitch Leigh, who wrote the score for La Mancha; and John Huston, who gave the lead female role in "Walk" to his teenage daughter, Anjelica, against Mr. Wasserman's wishes. And he never attended ceremonies to receive the awards he won. He had his wife attend in his stead.
Mr. Wasserman was employed as a lighting designer and eventually a director in theaters in Los Angeles and New York and in Europe. He worked for the impresario Sol Hurok and traveled with the Katherine Dunham Dance Company. Eventually, he would later explain, he learned that everything on a stage was subservient to the text, so he decided to become a writer. In 1955 an early script, "Elisha and the Long Knives," helped the television series "Matinee Theater" win an Emmy Award, and he went on to write about 30 additional television dramas.
His adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey's novel about a ribald and renegade inmate of a mental hospital, made it to Broadway in 1963 and has become a fixture in community theaters. It was revived on Broadway in 2001 with Gary Sinise in the role of McMurphy.
Man of La Mancha, for which Mr. Wasserman wrote the book, opened Off Broadway in 1965 and subsequently moved to Broadway. It won the Tony Award for best musical in 1967 and went on to become one of the most beloved shows of all time. The lyrics of its signature anthem, "The Impossible Dream," come straight from the literary source of the show -- not, as is usually assumed, from Cervantes's "Don Quixote," but from Mr. Wasserman's own play, I, Don Quixote, which he wrote in the late 1950s.
"It happened by pure accident, actually," Mr. Wasserman said in an interview that appeared in the literary journal Cervantes in 1999. "I was in Spain writing a movie when I read in a newspaper that I was there for the purpose of researching a dramatization of "Don Quixote." That was a laughing matter, because like most people on earth, I had not read 'Don Quixote.'"
The article spurred him to become interested in Cervantes, however, especially the theatrical nature of his life. Mr. Wasserman wrote the play -- and the subsequent musical -- based not on the great novel but on the life of Cervantes himself, with material from other works.
Dale Wasserman was one of 14 children of Russian immigrants, Samuel Wasserman and Bertha Paykel, who ran small theaters that showed silent movies. For most of her husband's life, Mrs. Wasserman said, he did not know his true birth date, but he tracked down his birth certificate in the late 1970s when he applied for a pension from the writers' union. Mr. Wasserman outlived all of his siblings, and he had no children.
Source: The New York Times obituary
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