Martino Crowley was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, on August 21, 1935. Crowley’s parents were conservative and religious, and they scrupulously brought up Mart, their only child, in the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, enrolling him in a parochial high school in Vicksburg. His father, an Irishman from the Midwest, owned a pool hall called Crowley’s Smokehouse, which bore the motto “Where all good fellows meet.” As a child, Crowley was asthmatic and sickly, a condition that changed, he claims, immediately after his departure from Vicksburg. An avid filmgoer and starstruck reader of Hollywood gossip magazines since early childhood, he left home in the early 1950’s, moving to Los Angeles, where he took a number of low-paying jobs in order to be near the motion-picture studios. His father, who had cherished the hope that his only son should attend Notre Dame, finally compromised and convinced Mart to attend Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he won awards for costume and scene design. After two years there, Crowley, unhappy with the conservative social atmosphere in Washington, returned to Hollywood and began working on a degree in art at the University of California, Los Angeles, hoping to become a scenic designer in films. Crowley returned to Catholic University not long afterward and worked in the university theater. At one point, he collaborated with fellow collegian James Rado, later one of the writers of the rock musical Hair (which ran concurrently in New York with Crowley’s hit The Boys in the Band in 1968), and the two of them produced a revue sketch. Crowley also worked in summer-stock theater in Vermont.
After his graduation from Catholic University in 1957, Crowley briefly considered joining the Foreign Service but moved back to Southern California instead, where he wrote a number of unproduced scripts for motion pictures and television. He took jobs with various film production companies, working on such films as Butterfield 8 (1960) and Splendor in the Grass (1961). He also worked as a scriptwriter in the early 1960’s for several television production companies. The popular film star Natalie Wood, whom Crowley met while both were working on Splendor in the Grass, hired him as a private secretary in 1964, a position he held until 1966. During this time, he wrote a screen adaptation of Dorothy Baker’s novel Cassandra at the Wedding (1962) expressly for Wood and French director Serge Bourguignon. The film was never produced. Ridden with anxiety and depression, Crowley moved to Rome for a winter, staying with film star Robert Wagner and his wife, Marion.
In 1967, Paramount Studios completed a film from an original screenplay by Crowley entitled Fade-in. The project was a hectic and disappointing experience for the young writer, and after all of his effort, the studio did not release the film. After six months of rest and psychoanalysis to cope with this ego-flattening experience, Crowley got the idea to write a play about homosexual friends at a birthday party. (His notes on the theme of homosexuality, including fragments of dialogue and character sketches, were begun as early as 1959.) Crowley finished the play, The Boys in the Band, in five weeks during the summer of 1967 while he was house-sitting in the Beverly Hills home of performer Diana Lynn. The agent he subsequently contacted about the script replied that although the play was very good, she did not...
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