Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Lanford Wilson was born on April 13, 1937, in Lebanon, Missouri, a locale he would later use as the setting for his cycle of plays about the mythical Talley family. When he was five years old, his parents divorced, and his mother took him to live in Springfield, Missouri. The search to establish a relationship with an absent father would constitute an important motif in a number of his plays, most notably in the autobiographical memory play Lemon Sky (1970) and in Redwood Curtain (1992), in which a half-Vietnamese girl tracks down her American father.
When Wilson’s mother remarried in 1948, the family moved to a farm in Ozark, Missouri. While a high school student there in the mid-1950’s, Wilson received his formative experiences in the theater, acting the role of the narrator, Tom, in a production of Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie (1944) and attending a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949) at Southwest Missouri State College.
In 1956, Wilson went to California for an unsuccessful reunion with his father. While there, he studied art history at San Diego State College, claiming it made him aware of “what our heritage was, and what we are doing to it,” which becomes a pivotal concern in several works, particularly The Mound Builders (1975).
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Partly because Wilson has chosen to premiere his plays at Circle Repertory or in regional theaters, he has seldom attracted the sustained media attention accorded such contemporaries as David Rabe, Sam Shepard, and David Mamet. Yet Wilson’s works are among the most distinctively American dramas of the late twentieth century. Wilson’s emphases closely reflect issues at the heart of the United States’ survival: tolerance for the have-nots and outsiders, respect for the multicultural heritage of the past, the need to preserve beauty in the face of technological advance, the value of work in defining one’s self, and the importance of community for instilling a sense of belonging and rootedness.
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Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Lanford Eugene (“Lance”) Wilson was born April 13, 1937, in Lebanon, Missouri, the son of Ralph Eugene and Violetta Tate Wilson. When he was five years old, his parents separated (and later divorced), his father leaving for California, his mother taking Lanford to Springfield, Missouri, where she worked in a garment factory and he attended school. When he was thirteen, his mother married again—a dairy inspector from Ozark, Missouri—and they moved to a farm. Wilson attended Ozark High School, where he painted, acted, and was on the track team.
Although his childhood was relatively happy, Wilson never quite recovered from his parents’ marital breakup. At eighteen, after a term at Southwest Missouri State College, he headed for California for a reunion with his father, by then a San Diego aircraft-factory worker with a new wife and two younger sons. The reunion, painfully mirrored in Wilson’s autobiographical play Lemon Sky, was unsuccessful: Wilson and his father were thoroughly incompatible. After a year in his father’s household, during which he worked at his father’s factory and attended San Diego State College, Wilson left for Chicago. He lived for six years in Chicago, where he worked as an artist in an advertising agency, studied playwriting at the University of Chicago, and wrote his first plays (none produced).
In 1962, Wilson moved to New York, worked as an office clerk—in a furniture store, at the Americana...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Lanford Eugene Wilson, a model of the playwrights of the generation bred and nurtured in the fertile Off-Off-Broadway lofts and churches of the 1960’s, may be the most prolific American writer for the stage since Eugene O’Neill. His Pulitzer Prize-winning Talley’s Folly takes him about halfway through his lifelong chronicling of the fictitious Talley family and its richly variegated American environment.
Wilson was affected by the early divorce of his parents. After spending his childhood with his mother and stepfather in Springfield and Ozark, Missouri, he moved to San Diego, where his reacquaintance with his father (after thirteen years), however imperfect, served as the basis for his examination of his life through drama in the creative years that followed, culminating in the anguished, autobiographical Lemon Sky. Gradually working his way eastward, Wilson found himself in New York at the moment of the birth of Off-Off-Broadway theater, which welcomed his idiosyncratic dramatic voice.
Three New York theaters were integral to Wilson’s growth as an artist and person during those formative years. The Caffé Cino, operated with great daring and foresight by Joe Cino, staged Wilson’s first effort, So Long at the Fair, and some other one-act plays, including This Is the Rill Speaking, Wandering, and The Madness of Lady Bright, which won an Obie for its star, Neil Flanagan. Ellen...
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Lanford Wilson was born on April 13, 1937, in Lebanon, Missouri, the town in which he set Talley’s Folly and two other plays. His parents divorced when he was five years old, and he moved from place to place within Missouri with his mother and grandmother until he was a teenager. Although he has described his youth as a happy time, he never had what he created for the Talley family: a permanent home with a stable extended family.
At an early age, Wilson discovered a love for films, and then for the theater. He went to the movies as often as he could, and began acting in high school plays. As he became more involved with theater, he came to feel that plays had more potential than films to create magic and to touch an audience deeply. He attended Southwest Missouri State College for a few years, exploring his interests in art, but left without a degree and without a plan for his life. Finally he moved to Chicago, and experienced city life for the first time.
In Chicago, Wilson worked for a time as a prostitute, immersed himself in the city’s night life, and met people who were unlike those back in Lebanon, Missouri. Later, he would turn many of these experiences into material for his urban plays. Wilson became a graphic designer and continued to write short stories, finally turning one story into a play and finding his true calling.
He moved in 1962 to Greenwich Village in New York, determined to make his way in the...
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Lanford Wilson was born on April 13, 1937, in Lebanon, Missouri. His father left the family when Wilson was five years old, and his mother took a job in a garment factory in Springfield. Six years later she remarried, and Wilson and his mother moved to his stepfather’s farm near Ozark. As a teenager, Wilson discovered a love for the theater and acted in school plays. He also had a strong interest in art. After graduating from Ozark High School, Wilson went to California to try living with his father and to take courses in art and art history at San Diego State College. Neither the classes nor the reunion with his father went well, and he moved again a year later to Chicago to start a career as a graphic artist. He worked in an advertising agency and wrote short stories in his spare time. When he realized that the strongest part of his stories was the dialogue, he decided to try his hand at writing plays.
At twenty-five, Wilson left Chicago for Greenwich Village in New York City, determined to become a playwright. He worked at a series of odd jobs and attended the theater whenever he could, especially plays in the new off-off-Broadway movement. He met Joe Cino, founder of a coffeehouse that also staged new plays. Cino became his mentor and in 1963 staged Wilson’s first production, So Long at the Fair, the first of ten plays by Wilson produced at the coffeehouse. By 1969, Wilson had several plays produced in New York, London, and other European...
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Lanford Wilson was born in Lebanon, Missouri, on April 13, 1937. He was five when his parents divorced. His father moved to California, and Wilson lived with his mother until 1956. Wilson attended Southwest Missouri State College from 1955 to 1956 and San Diego State College from 1956 to 1957; he planned on being an artist, although he had done some acting in high school. When he was nineteen, Wilson moved to Chicago, where he was employed as an illustrator at an advertising agency. He had been writing stories on his lunch hours and gathering rejection slips, when he suddenly realized that the story he was writing was not a story but a play. He has considered himself a playwright ever since.
Since he had no real knowledge about the writing of plays, Wilson enrolled at the University of Chicago to learn about plays and playwriting. After he moved to New York in 1962, Wilson became an active participant in the Off-Off Broadway theatre community. Several of his early plays were produced at the Caffe Cino or at La Mama Experimental Theatre, including The Madness of Lady Bright (1964) and Home Free (1964). These early one-act plays were followed by a succession of full-length works, beginning with Balm in Gilead (1965). In 1968, Wilson was a cofounder of the Circle Repertory Company, where most of his works have since premiered. Strong character development has become a hallmark of Wilson's work. His characters often exist on the fringes...
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IntroductionAn incredibly prolific playwright, Lanford Wilson is one of the cofounders of the Circle Repertory Company where many of his plays were first produced. He began his theatrical career in New York at the Café Cino, a small coffeehouse that specialized in avant-garde work. While there, Wilson met director Marshall W. Mason, whom he ended up collaborating with on several projects, most notably the epic play Balm in Gilead. Circle Repertory’s first success was Wilson’s Hot L Baltimore, which ran for over one thousand performances before moving to Broadway. Wilson’s most famous works are the plays Fifth of July, Talley’s Folly, and Talley and Son, a trilogy centered on the Talley family. Talley’s Folly won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1979.
- Wilson and Mason did not originally get along. In fact, Mason criticized Wilson’s rewrite of his play Home Free.
- Wilson’s play Lemon Sky is completely autobiographical and deals in part with his father’s refusal to accept his son’s homosexuality.
- Wilson learned to speak Russian so that he could translate the works of his favorite playwright, Anton Chekhov.
- Wilson writes operettas in addition to plays. He has worked with composer Lee Hoiby on This Is the Rill Speaking.
- Wilson’s homosexuality influences much of his writing. He incorporated openly gay characters in several of his plays, and even his works that do not feature gay characters often depict people who have been ostracized from society.
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On April 13, 1937, Lanford Wilson was born in Lebanon, Missouri. When he was five years old his parents divorced and his father moved to California; he lived with his mother until 1956.
Wilson attended Southwest Missouri State College (1955–56) and San Diego State College (1956– 57). When he was nineteen, Wilson moved to Chicago. He fell in love with big city life and got a job at an advertising agency doing illustrations.
At that time he began writing plays and enrolled at University of Chicago to learn more about the theater. After he moved to New York in 1962, Wilson became an active participant in the Off-Off Broadway movement.
Several of his early plays were produced at the Caffe Cino or at La Mama Experimental Theatre. These early one-act plays were followed by a succession of full-length works, beginning with Balm in Gilead (1965).
In 1968, Wilson co-founded the Circle Repertory Company, where most of his works premiered. Strong character development has become a hallmark of Wilson’s work. His characters often exist on the fringes of society, but as the play progresses, they demonstrate that they are capable of growth and change.
Wilson has been the recipient of several awards, including the New York Drama Critics Circle award in 1973 for Hot L Baltimore and in 1980 for The Migrants. He also received the American Institute of Arts and Letters Award in 1974; in 1980 he...
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