Edward Albee, Acclaimed Playwright, Dies at 88, AP Says

Edward Albee, who wrote Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf and 30 other plays, won three Pulitzer Award and became the eras leading American playwright, has died at 88, Associated Press reports.

Albee died Friday at his home on Long Island, AP quoth his assistant as saying, without giving the cause of death.

Albee mined a privileged but unhappy childhood for his dramatic art. Told at age five by his mother that he was adopted, Albee said he was rather relieved by the news. While others may worry they arent their parents infants, he told, I had the terrible fear that maybe I was.

All his work has deep autobiographical roots, wrote Mel Gussow in his biography, Edward Albee: A Singular Journey, telling the playwright had plundered his past.

After Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams held sway over American theater in the middle of the last century, Albee surfaced in the 1960 s as the American agent of the Absurd, our homegrown equivalent of( Samuel) Beckett, said Gussow, a New York Times critic. Others said Albee belonged with Eugene ONeill among the most important American playwrights.

Albees influence was extraordinary, as Gussow set it. Sam Shepard, Lanford Wilson, John Guare and David Mamet are a few of the American playwrights often cited as following him in creating a more imaginative and experimental sort of theater.

You cant imagine the debt that every American playwright writing after 1960 has to Edward Albee, Guare wrote.

Theatrical Revolution

On insuring Albees first play, the one-act The Zoo Story about a park bench encounter between two men, Guare walked out of its Greenwich Village theater in a feverish daze. Whatever theatrical revolution had started in England and France had finally reached America, he wrote in 1994 in a programme designed for a London production of Albees Three Tall Women.

Born March 12, 1928, in Washington, to a mom who had been deserted, Albee was adopted 18 weeks later by Reed Albee and his wife Frances, a former store model. They lived on a luxurious estate in Larchmont, a New York City suburb, where Edward staged combats with hundreds of his toy soldiers.

Bored at school, Albee said he was self-educated from the day his mother chided him for reading the familys leather-bound runs by Russian writers, previously untouched. He was expelled from boarding school, then thrown out of Valley Forge Military Academy — like J.D. Salinger before him — and fell out of Trinity College without graduating, or attending classes.

Fighting, Fleeing

Almost 21, he fled home after a fight that erupted when he left the family cars headlights on overnight. Albee expended a decade as a bohemian in New York, drinking heavily in Greenwich Village bars and working on-and-off as a Western Union messenger. He wrote verse, short fiction and a fiction before Thornton Wilder indicated he try his hand at playwriting.

Feeling desperation, Albee said, he began writing the play that became The Zoo Story in late February 1958. He wrote in sort of an detonation and was done March 10, two days before the self-imposed deadline of his 30 th birthday.

The thing that happened with The Zoo Story was that I abruptly discovered myself writing in my own voice, Albee told Gussow.

Getting it staged was harder. Its inaugural production was in Berlin in 1959, performed in German as Die Zoo-Geschichte in a double bill with Becketts Krapps Last Tape.

Despite favorable European reviews, the play wasnt greeted in New York. Arthur Penn, Lee Strasberg and David Merrick rejected it. Norman Mailer cheered alone at an Actors Studio reading, calling it the best( expletive) one-act play Ive ever seen.

Mixed Reviews

When The Zoo Story and Krapps Last Tape eventually opened in January 1960 in Greenwich Villages Provincetown Playhouse — the scene of ONeills first victory — the New York Times resulted the naysayers. The New York Posts enthusiastic rave, however, stimulated Zoo Story a hit.

Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf — Albee spotted the line scrawled in a Greenwich Village bars bathroom — brought him fiscal as well as artistic success. After opening in October 1962, it ran for 664 performances on Broadway and won five Tony Award in 1963, including best play. The Pulitzer Prizes drama jury nominated it for the drama prize, then resigned with a public outcry after the board rejects to name it best play.

The 1966 movie of Virginia Woolf won five Academy Awarding, including a best actress Oscar for Elizabeth Taylor, who starred with spouse Richard Burton in the roles of the squabbling academic couple, the foul-mouthed Martha and George.

Major Achievement

If The Zoo Story attained Albee a starring playwright overnight, Virginia Woolf became the cornerstone of his career, said Gussow. He had spotted Albees talent as a Newsweek critic, and hailed the writers arrival in a cover story.

As with subsequent Albee plays, newspaper critics were divided over Virginia Woolf. Many objected to Martha and Georges filthy language. Friends discovered echoes in the drink-fueled spats between Albee and his mentor and early companion, William Flanagan.

Albee attained no secret of his homosexuality but said it wasnt a theme or issue in his plays. I dont think being lesbian is a subject, any more than being straight is a subject, he told a San Francisco conference of homosexual writers in 1991.

After Flanagan, he lived with the playwright Terrence McNally and then for 34 years with the sculptor Jonathan Thomas until his death in 2005.

Three Pulitzers

As a possible apology for vetoing Virginia Woolf, Pulitzers for best drama were awarded to Albee for A Delicate Balance( 1967 ), Seascape( 1975) and Three Tall Women( 1994 ), a amazingly compassionate look at his domineering adoptive mother and his comeback play after many flops.

Albee for many years taught courses in playwriting at the University of Houston and helped fund novelists through his Montauk, Long Island, arts colony. He told teaching was part of his self-education.

All his plays were about people missing the barge, closing down too young, coming to the end of their lives with sadnes at things not done, Albee said.

As for himself, Albee had no enthusiasm whatever about dying, he told the Hour as he neared 80. I think its a terrible waste of time, and I dont want to participate in it.

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