Archive for Thursday, April 8, 1999


April 8, 1999


Robert Anderson has no desire to slow down and will make a visit next week to the William Inge Festival in Independence, Kan.

At an age when many people have long since retired, Robert Anderson is still hard at work.

The noted Broadway playwright is 82 but shows no signs of slowing down. He is shopping two new plays around to theatrical producers, and he keeps busy by lecturing and attending conferences like next week's William Inge Festival and Conference in Independence, Kan.

Anderson is the author of such plays as "Tea and Sympathy," "Silent Night, Lonely Night," "Solitaire & Double Solitaire" and "I Never Sang for My Father."

His works have made it to the big screen with adaptations of "Tea and Sympathy" and "I Never Sang for My Father."

"I Never Sang for My Father" is arguably his most successful venture. The movie earned Academy Award nominations for actors Melvyn Douglas and Gene Hackman. Anderson also received an Academy Award nomination for the screenplay. He won a Writers' Guild award for it, and he scored another Academy nomination for writing "The Nun's Story," starring Audrey Hepburn.

Henry Fonda, Lillian Gish, Steve McQueen, Barbara Bel Geddes and Blythe Danner have appeared in his movies and plays, and he was married for many years to Academy Award-winning actress Teresa Wright.

He counts Arthur Miller and Elia Kazan among his friends, is a founding member of The New Dramatists and was once president of The Dramatists Guild.

Anderson spoke with The Mag from his New York City home during a recent phone interview.

What draws you to an event like the Inge Festival?

They invite me. (He laughs.) It is really terrific and quite an event. I look forward to leaving the harsh New York winters and visiting Kansas. The people are always hospitable and the event is wonderfully presented.

What are you working on now?

I have two new plays out, "Scenes from a Divorce" and "Free and Clear," which is a prequel to "I Never Sang for My Father." I'm just waiting right now, which is typical of most plays. One day they will be done. In a way I'm disappointed. I can't get readings. People don't even read plays anymore. Toward the end of his life Tennessee Williams had to act as his own agent and send out his own plays. It's frustrating.

Does the theater still draw talented writers?

I think the very fact that a group like The New Dramatists exists proves that it does. Since its founding 50 years ago, more than 700 playwrights have been invited to join. Most dramatic writers want to be playwrights. You have control in the theater. You control the cast and who the director is. They can't change a word. It isn't that way with the movies.

What do you think of Broadway's current trend of big-event musicals and revivals?

It's a real problem. People come to Broadway and when they get there all they seem to see is musicals. People see "Cats" and they think they've seen Broadway. There are good musicals out there, and people want to say they've seen a hit, but they're not really seeing the "chancy" plays. A lot of those plays have to be done on off-Broadway.

What did you think of the recent Academy Awards controversy over Elia Kazan?

Kazan has been one of my closest friends for over 50 years. He attended Yale Drama School with my first wife. He directed "Tea and Sympathy" with Deborah Kerr. I think overall it went well.

Will you ever retire?

No. I'm not happy if I don't write. It's what I do.

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