Authors: William Gibson (1914-2008)

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American playwright

Author Works

Drama:

I Lay in Zion, pr. 1943

A Cry of Players, pr. 1948

Dinny and the Witches: A Frolic on Grave Matters, pr. 1948

The Ruby, pb. 1955 (libretto; as William Mass)

The Miracle Worker, pb. 1956, pr. 1957 (televised), pr. 1959 (staged)

Two for the Seesaw, pr. 1958

Golden Boy, pr. 1964 (musical; adaptation of Clifford Odets’s play; music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Lee Adams)

John and Abigail, pr. 1969

American Primitive, pr. 1971 (revision of John and Abigail)

The Body and the Wheel: A Play Made from the Gospels, pr. 1974

The Butterfingers Angel, Mary and Joseph, Herod the Nut, and the Slaughter of Twelve Hit Carols in a Pear Tree, pr. 1974

Golda, pr. 1977

Goodly Creatures, pr. 1980

Monday After the Miracle, pr. 1982

Handy Dandy, pr. 1984

Raggedy Ann and Andy, pr. 1984 (also known as Rag Dolly and Raggedy Ann; music and lyrics by Joe Raposo)

Long Fiction:

The Cobweb, 1954

Screenplay:

The Cobweb, 1954 (adaptation of his novel)

Poetry:

Winter Crook, 1948

Nonfiction:

The Seesaw Log, 1959

A Mass for the Dead, 1968

A Season in Heaven, 1974

Shakespeare’s Game, 1978

Biography

The dramatist William Gibson, who is best known for writing The Miracle Worker, was born to lower middle-class parents. His mother’s family were vaudevillians. His father worked for the post office and later in the mail room of a major bank. Both of Gibson’s parents were musical. His mother played the mandolin and his father the piano. Gibson’s father was a Protestant, but Gibson and his sister were brought up in the Roman Catholic religion of their mother, even though she was not able to take communion for thirty years, having been married in a civil ceremony. Gibson writes about his family, childhood, and early adulthood in A Mass for the Dead.{$I[AN]9810001902}{$I[A]Gibson, William (b. 1914) (playwright)}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Gibson, William (b. 1914) (playwright)}{$I[tim]1914;Gibson, William (b. 1914) (playwright)}

William Gibson

(Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library)

From 1930 to 1932, Gibson attended City College of New York, but he did not take a degree. He became a communist for a short time. Gibson sold his first writing, a short story, in the mid-1930’s. After his first marriage ended in divorce, he married the psychiatrist Margaret Brenman in 1940; they had two sons. Until he was able to support himself through his writing, he taught music and literature, gave piano lessons, worked in community theaters, and sold an occasional story or poem.

Gibson first won recognition as a poet. In 1945, he won the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize for a group of his poems. In 1950, he attended a playwrights’ seminar held by Clifford Odets, whom Gibson later cited as a major influence. His novel The Cobweb, which is set in a psychiatric hospital, was a best-seller in 1954; he also wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation.

In 1958, Gibson had a Broadway production of his play Two for the Seesaw, which ran for 750 performances. A two-character comedy that was noted at the time for its bawdy, earthy language, it is the story of Gittel Mosca, a Greenwich Village free spirit, and Jerry Ryan, a Nebraska lawyer who comes to New York following his divorce. Gibson’s chronicle of the production of the play, The Seesaw Log, is recognized as one of the best firsthand accounts of the difficulties of producing a Broadway play.

Gibson originally wrote The Miracle Worker for television in 1957. He later adapted it to the stage. In 1959, the play opened on Broadway to critical acclaim and ran for 700 performances. Gibson based much of the play, about the deaf and blind child Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, on letters Sullivan wrote when she first became Keller’s teacher. In 1962, Gibson adapted the play to film, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. Gibson is admired for writing strong women’s characters, though some have criticized him for having created characters that are too strong and overshadow the others.

After the death of his mother in the early 1960’s, Gibson started writing A Mass for the Dead. In the middle of the project, he was asked to finish adapting Golden Boy by Clifford Odets to a musical play. Odets had been working on the project when he died. The most striking difference between the original play and the musical is that Odets had changed the male lead, a white boxer, to a black man. It premiered on Broadway in 1964.

In 1969, Gibson cofounded the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where he lived until his death in 2008. It was there that he staged John and Abigail, later revised and renamed as American Primitive, which was presented in 1971 in Washington, D.C. This play is based on the letters, diaries, and other writings of John and Abigail Adams.

Gibson almost died of a bleeding ulcer in 1971. The following year, he studied transcendental meditation and returned to the Catholic Church. He later wrote the liturgical plays The Body and the Wheel, The Butterfingers Angel, and Goodly Creatures.

Twice he attempted to repeat his earlier Broadway successes. Golda, based on the life of Golda Meir, opened in 1977 but closed after a few months. Monday After the Miracle, a sequel, of sorts, to The Miracle Worker and set about twenty years after the events of the first play, focuses on Anne Sullivan’s unsuccessful marriage. It, too, had limited success in its 1982 Broadway run.

BibliographyAtkinson, Brooks. “The Theatre: Two for the Seesaw.” Review of Two for the Seesaw, by William Gibson. The New York Times, January 17, 1958, p. 15. A glowing review among many good ones. Atkinson states that Gibson has “a tender style of writing and a beautiful little story to tell” in this play, which starred Henry Fonda and Anne Bancroft. Concludes that Gibson “has looked inside the hearts of two admirable people” and thanks Gibson for his “thoughtful writing.”Gibson, William. “On the See-Saw.” The New Yorker 33 (February 15, 1958): 23-24. A chatty interview with Gibson at home with his wife, Margaret Brenman. Contains much personal information in anecdotal style. Informative on unproduced plays and Gibson’s offhanded attitude toward them, other thwarted projects, and his early theatrical experiences at the Barter Theatre in Virginia.Richards, David. “Holiday Pageantry.” Review of The Butterfingers Angel, by William Gibson. The Washington Post, December 2, 1989, p. C2. A review of the holiday play The Butterfingers Angel, with a few comments on Gibson’s ability to “depict the dark side of those long-ago events …a show for very nearly the whole family.” Describes the “stumblefoot angel,” jealous Joseph, and the feeble donkey, and says of Mary, “You may detect a faint radiance dancing about her head.”Simon, John. Uneasy Stages. New York: Random House, 1975. In these chronicles, Simon reviews his theater experiences in a conversational tone. Has something to say on the musical version of Two for the Seesaw, shortened to Seesaw, in the 1972-1973 season. The reader must know what year to look into because Simon offers only seasons in the table of contents. Index.
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