Authors: Jane Wagner

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American screenwriter, director, and producer

Author Works


Appearing Nitely, pr. 1977 (with Lily Tomlin)

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, pr. 1985


Moment by Moment, 1978

The Incredible Shrinking Woman, 1981

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, 1991 (adaptation of her play)


J. T., 1969 (adaptation of her book)

Lily, 1973 (with Lily Tomlin, Richard Pryor, and others)

Earthwatch, 1975 (education special)

Lily Tomlin, 1975 (with Tomlin and others)

People, 1975

Lily: Sold Out, 1981 (with others)

Lily for President?, 1982 (with Tomlin and others)

Edith Ann: A Few Pieces of the Puzzle, 1994

Edith Ann: Homeless Go Home, 1995

Culture Wars, 1995 (documentary; with Tina DiFeliciantonio)

Edith Ann’s Christmas: Just Say Noel, 1996

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

J. T., 1969

Edith Ann: My Life So Far, 1996


A native of Tennessee, Jane Wagner toured as a leading actress with the famed Barter Theater during her early and mid-teens. At the age of seventeen, she moved to New York City to pursue her interests in art studies. She studied painting and sculpture at the School of Visual Arts and established herself as a textile designer for various firms, including Kimberly-Clark and Fieldcrest. Her best known textile creation is the “Teach Me, Read Me” collection of bedsheets for children, which have become part of the permanent collection at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.{$I[A]Wagner, Jane}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Wagner, Jane}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Wagner, Jane}{$I[tim]1935;Wagner, Jane}

Wagner’s first credited writings were the teleplay and associated book J. T., an inner-city drama. The play won her a Peabody Award (1969), while the book won the Georgia Children’s Book Award (1972). J. T. also led to her affiliation with actress Lily Tomlin, who was attracted by Wagner’s humor and insightful writing. Wagner wrote scripts for Tomlin’s appearances in the television series Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In during the early 1970’s. In 1976, she wrote the screenplay The Incredible Shrinking Woman, which was performed by Tomlin. Wagner also wrote two Tony Award-winning Broadway shows for Tomlin, Appearing Nitely and The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. Between 1973 and 1982, Wagner wrote seven television specials for Tomlin. Wagner was awarded Emmys for Lily, Lily Tomlin, Lily: Sold Out, and Lily for President? She also received a Writer’s Guild Award for Lily.

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe established Wagner as a unique writer in the literary world. For this work, she was honored with special citations from the New York Drama Critics Circle and the New York Drama Desk. It was the first play to appear on The New York Times best-seller list in twenty years, remaining there for many weeks. The film version of the play was released in 1991 and received wide acclaim. Wagner wrote the screenplay and the title song, “We Are the Ones.” The play was revived in 1996 and played for twenty-six weeks in the Booth Theater on Broadway. During 2001 and 2002, it played before sold-out audiences in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and London.

In the mid-1990’s, Wagner turned her talents to writing three animated teleplays about a precocious five-year-old girl: Edith Ann: A Few Pieces of the Puzzle, Edith Ann: Homeless Go Home, and Edith Ann’s Christmas: Just Say Noel. All three specials received rave reviews and excellent ratings. She received her second Peabody Award for Edith Ann’s Christmas: Just Say Noel. In 1996, she released her book Edith Ann: My Life So Far.

Wagner is not only a talented writer but also an accomplished director and producer of films as well as a writer of song lyrics. She scripted and directed the film Moment by Moment that starred Tomlin and John Travolta. In 1988, Wagner and Tina DiFeliciantonio founded the filmmaking company known as Naked Eye Productions. The films they produced include Tom’s Flesh, a Sundance Film Festival winner for short filmmaking; Girls Like Us, a Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winner; Two or Three Things, but Nothing for Sure, which received a National Emmy Award nomination; and Walk This Way, a first place winner in the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival.

Wagner has lectured at numerous universities and served on many panels and juries, including those of the Sundance Film Festival and the Emmy Awards. In 1998, the Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center was opened in Los Angeles. The center presents live theater performances, art exhibits, and other events for the benefit of the community. Among other things, the earned revenues are used to provide services for people suffering from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and for helping young playwrights, artists, and performers start their careers.

BibliographyGavin, Christy. American Women Playwrights, 1964-1989: A Research Guide and Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1993. Documents the work and critical analysis of women playwrights since the early 1960’s. Contains an excellent bibliography and annotated list of works related to individual playwrights, including Jane Wagner.Murphy, Brenda, ed. The Cambridge Companion to American Women Playwrights. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Addresses the cultural, historical, critical, and ideological aspects of women playwrights, including Jane Wagner, and their work throughout the history of American theater.
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