Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Arthur Penn, director of original "Miracle Worker," dies

From Playbill:

Arthur Penn (pictured), a serious-minded director who, rare among his colleagues and despite a sporadic output, left a significant mark in both film and theatre, died Sept. 28, the day after his 88th birthday, according to friends in the industry. Mr. Penn had been in ill health over the past year.

By the time Mr. Penn directed the 1967 movie "Bonnie and Clyde," an iconic film that ushered in an era of counterculture-inflected excellence in Hollywood, he had long established himself in the live television and stage worlds of New York City. In the late 1950s and early '60s, he staged back-to-back hit productions of two plays by William Gibson, Two for the Seesaw and The Miracle Worker, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatic adaptation of James Agee's "A Death in the Family," All the Way Home. Mr. Penn was nominated for a Tony Award for all three plays. He also directed, in 1960, the highly influential and sophisticated comedy performance, An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May, which made stars of its two featured players.

"Over the past five years," observed the New York Times at the time, "the emergence of Arthur Penn as a New York director has probably been the quietest assumption of authority ever to take place in show business."

These successes earned him a ticket to filmmaking. His first assignment was the well-received western, "The Left Handed Gun," an early Paul Newman vehicle that he gave a Freudian spin. He found the experience disagreeable, however. "I finished shooting, they said 'Goodbye!,'" he recalled. He didn't see the finished film until it hit the movie houses.