William Gibson, a playwright who had a gift for creating strong, popular female characters and wrote “The Miracle Worker,” died on Nov. 25 in Stockbridge, Mass. He was 94.
His agent, Mary Ann Anderson, confirmed his death.
First written for television, “The Miracle Worker,” which portrayed the relationship between the young blind and deaf Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan, was adapted for Broadway in 1959 and won the 1960 Tony Award for best play. Nearly half a century later, it is still performed at regional theaters around the country.
Over the course of a writing career that lasted seven decades, Mr. Gibson wrote many poems, short stories and plays, but none achieved the breakout fame and popular acclaim of “The Miracle Worker,” which won five other Tony awards.
The 1962 film version earned Oscar nominations for Mr. Gibson for his adaptation, and for the director, Arthur Penn. Anne Bancroft, who won a Tony for her portrayal of Sullivan, won a best actress Oscar, and Patty Duke, who also replayed her role as Keller from the Broadway production, won another for best supporting actress. (The two are pictured above in the film.)
Mr. Gibson’s other works include “Two for the Seesaw,” which opened on Broadway in 1958; the book for a musical adaptation of “Golden Boy” by Clifford Odets; and “Golda” and “Golda’s Balcony,” two productions about the life of Prime Minister Golda Meir of Israel, the first starring Ms. Bancroft, the second Tovah Feldshuh. “The Monday After the Miracle,” a sequel to “The Miracle Worker” had a brief run on Broadway in 1982.
For many years as a young man in Topeka, Kan., Mr. Gibson labored over various writing projects for meager pay. But after he and his wife, Margaret, moved to Stockbridge in the early 1950s, where Margaret took a job as a psychoanalyst, he wrote a novel, “The Cobweb,” which was sold to MGM and made into a movie in 1955. After that, Mr. Gibson could have had a lucrative career as a screenwriter, but he decided to remain a playwright so he could own his work and not just be a gun for hire.
He finished one play in 1958 — “Two for the Seesaw” — and began working on another — “The Miracle Worker.” “The Miracle Worker” was first mounted as a teleplay, with Mr. Penn directing, and then became a Broadway hit. Mr. Penn won
a Tony for his direction of the play.
“He was working on ‘Two for the Seesaw’ and he told me he needed money,” said Mr. Penn in an interview. “I asked him what he was working on and he said something he called a kind of a dance narrative between Helen Keller and her teacher. I could not even begin to visualize what he was talking about.
“It was a huge hit, of course,” added Mr. Penn, who went on to become lifelong friends with Mr. Gibson. “In both of those plays and later, ‘Golda’s Balcony,’ I think that Bill had a particular love for a kind of gallantry in women.”
Mr. Gibson, who was in his 50s by the time he experienced success as a writer, told Mr. Penn, “ ‘Good things come to those who wait ... far too long.’ ”
Mr. Penn added that “Bill was a remarkable man, perfectly brilliant, but he had a very ironic relationship with his success.”
His wife, Margaret Brenman Gibson, died in 2004. Mr. Gibson is survived by his sons Daniel, who lives in Cambridge, Mass., and Thomas, who lives in Stockbridge.
Even into his 90s, Mr. Gibson continued to write as if his life depended on it, perhaps because it did.
“Writers go bad when the angels desert them,” he told The Hartford Courant in 2005, “Dylan Thomas was a marvelous poet and drank himself to death. Somewhere along the way, the angel left him. An angel has left me too, but the writing angel is still with me. And that’s the thing where I feel most alive — at least while I’m doing it. I started out to be a writer and I’m still a writer. Not bad.”
Friday, November 28, 2008
From The New York Times Nov. 27:
Posted by BA Haller at 8:36 PM