Sam Shepard Biography

Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111201164-Shepard.jpgSam Shepard. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Born Samuel Shepard Rogers on an Army base in 1943, growing up mainly on a California ranch, arriving in New York City in the 1960’s, living for three years in London, gifted in timpani, devoted to sports, and an outdoorsman of the working kind, Sam Shepard is almost a living example of the kind of characters he puts on the stage. After high school graduation (in Duarte, California, in 1960), Shepard experimented with several lifestyles and occupations, including ranch hand, sheep shearer, and rock-and-roll musician. The early successes of one-act plays such as Cowboys (1964) and The Rock Garden (1964, and 1969, as part of Kenneth Tynan’s Broadway revue Oh! Calcutta!), especially in the Off-Off-Broadway theaters of New York in the 1960’s, gave him the incentive to continue in drama (other genres, as well as music and art, drew him and still invest his plays with variety and a unique creative signature).

Shepard moved to New York at nineteen and changed his name to Sam Shepard. Waiting tables at Village Gate allowed him to pursue his interests in theater, which he did by writing several one-act plays which were produced Off-Off Broadway at such venues as La Mama, the Open Theatre, and the American Place Theatre and with such works as the now familiar Cowboys. By the time of the 1965-1966 theater season, the up-and-coming playwright with the mixed reviews had won Obie Awards (granted by The Village Voice) for Chicago (1965), Icarus’s Mother (1965), and Red Cross (1966).

An avant-garde comedy, La Turista, was produced in 1967 in New York and in 1969 in London. His first full-length success, Operation Sidewinder (1969), was performed as part of the inaugural season of the new producer/directors of Lincoln Center, Jules Irving and Herbert Blau. The play, combining American Indian folklore with high-technology weaponry, drew strong critical response in both directions, but it clearly marked Shepard’s debut as an important new writer of the American cultural present.

In 1971, with much acclaim came The Mad Dog Blues. With its success, Shepard took wing to England, where he lived for the next three years, writing numerous international hits, such as The Tooth of Crime (1972) and Geography of a Horse Dreamer 1974). By the late 1970’s, Shepard would have a substantial bibliography, one that included Buried Child (1978), which won the Pulitzer Prize. By the mid-to late 1980’s, he would pen such notable plays as the disturbing and yet undeniably stunning and provocative True West (1980) and the equally explorative and evocative A Lie of the Mind (1985), which won the prestigious New York Drama Critics Circle Award. In 1986, Shepard was elected into the...

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Sam Shepard Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Sam Shepard, as much a poet as a playwright, prevails as a major literary and theatrical voice because his themes speak to a sense of lost dignity in American culture and society. What the American West means to Shepard and his characters is so successfully expressed in the plays that he will always be seen as a critic of the present day, despite his own natural abilities to survive in it. All of Shepard’s plays are cries for another time, whether expressed in the ultramodern idiom of rock and roll or in the voices of lost American heroes misplaced on the concrete sidewalks of the big city.

Sam Shepard Biography (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Growing up on military bases, Sam Shepard experienced various cultures but established no roots. After his family settled on a California ranch, he became intrigued with horses and myths of the Old West. To escape his father’s alcoholism, Shepard abandoned plans to become a veterinarian and joined a touring theatrical company. In New York he rebelled further by discarding his family name and exploring new identities as actor, rock musician, and playwright.

Influenced by Joseph Chaikin, Shepard’s early collage plays defied rules of linear order and consistent characterization. In Chaikin’s improvisational exercises called transformations, actors were encouraged to switch identities freely. Such fluidity of character is evident in Shepard’s The Mad Dog Blues, in which two actors assume guises ranging from Mae West to Paul Bunyan.

By 1971 Shepard had won three Obie awards, but problems with his marriage and with drugs motivated him to leave New York for London. A four-year residence abroad gave Shepard new insight on what it meant to be an American, and plays of this period frequently focused on problems of the alienated artist in a materialistic society. The Tooth of Crime, for example, shows the conflict between an opportunistic rock star (a mask with no real identity) and a true musical artist.

Back in California, Shepard wrote plays mourning the decline of mythic regional heroes. Several plays, such as True West and Fool for Love, also address problems of identity within dysfunctional families. After 1983, Shepard focused more on film acting than on writing plays, and works from that period, such as A Lie of the Mind, are more conventional in theme and staging.

Sam Shepard Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Born Samuel Shepard Rogers VII, on an army base in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, on November 5, 1943, Sam Shepard’s early years were marked by repeated moves from one place to another: South Dakota, Utah, Florida, Guam, and eventually Southern California. Shepard’s father was severely wounded during World War II, became an alcoholic, and progressively withdrew from the family until he became a desert-dwelling, storytelling recluse; Samuel Rogers VI, the playwright’s father, died after being struck by a car in 1983. Shepard recalls that his mother, Jane Schook Rogers, would fire her army-issued Luger pistol at the Japanese soldiers sneaking out of the jungle on Guam in the years following World War II. After Shepard’s father retired from the army, the family moved to an avocado ranch in the San Bernardino valley in Southern California, where Shepard spent his adolescent years. In 1962, Shepard joined a barnstorming acting company with a religiously based repertory, the Bishop’s Repertory Company. When the company reached New York, Shepard, nineteen years old, dropped out of the company and into the Lower East Side bohemian lifestyle, busing tables at the Village Gate, dabbling with acting, doing drugs, and running the streets with Charles Mingus, Jr., an old California friend.

In 1964, the twin bill of Shepard’s first two plays, the original Cowboys and The Rock Garden, premiered at one of Off-Off-Broadway’s most important...

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Sam Shepard Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Samuel Shepard Rogers VII has been compared to Eugene O’Neill in theatrical range and power. He is the son of Army Air Force bomber pilot Samuel Shepard Rogers and Jane Schook Rogers. Between 1943 and 1955, the family moved often from army post to army post, including a stay in Guam. They finally settled in California, residing during Shepard’s teenage years on an avocado and sheep ranch in Duarte. Shepard found some aspects of the ranching life attractive but chafed against the ordinariness of his relationship with his parents and the tedium of rural society. He became enamored of motion pictures and their heroes, took up jazz drumming, and read Beat poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gregory Corso. In 1962 he auditioned for the Bishop’s Company Repertory Players and began a six-month tour as an itinerant actor, ending up in New York City’s East Village in 1963. There he secured a job at the Village Gate, which introduced him to the country’s best jazz musicians and to Ralph Cook, who launched the Theatre Genesis, as well as Sam Shepard’s career, in the 1960’s.{$S[A]Rogers, Samuel Shepard, VII;Shepard, Sam}

The atmosphere of East Village and the impetus of Off-Off-Broadway theater perfectly nurtured Shepard’s eclectic talent. In 1964 he made his debut as a playwright with Cowboys and The Rock Garden, two one-act plays that introduced several of his themes and stylistic techniques. In The Rock Garden he presents a father who revels in his lifeless arrangement of rocks, whereas the son builds a counterpointed description of his sexual techniques with women until it subsumes the father’s drone in an explosion of metaphors. This conflict of generations, brought forth through metaphorical language that rises from a dark, nearly bare stage, is typical of Shepard’s early plays. The open stage requires audience members to exercise their imaginations in order to “complete” Shepard’s dramatic scenes.

Taking his lead from the Beat generation and from jazz improvisation, Shepard creates “transformational” characters, who act themselves out through disruptions, explosions, contradictions, and shifting realities. Often they fear the loss of their individuality because of some unnameable force, and they move and talk rapidly in an attempt to invent themselves as larger-than-life figures. As a member of the first generation of playwrights to grow up under the influence of rock music and television, Shepard is preoccupied with various mythic models of the mass media—the cowboy, the Indian, the rock star, the gangster, the film star, the gothic monster, the business magnate—and with the desire to escape the traps of body, geography, or system.

Many of Shepard’s characters do escape or transform themselves on the stage. For example, several in Operation Sidewinder emerge...

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Sam Shepard Biography (Drama for Students)

One of the most famous playwrights in contemporary America, Sam Shepard’s fame comes in part from what some critics have called a...

(The entire section is 684 words.)

Sam Shepard Biography (Drama for Students)

Sam Shepard was born Samuel Shepard Rogers, Jr., in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, on November 5, 1943. Because his father was in the military,...

(The entire section is 570 words.)

Sam Shepard Biography (Drama for Students)

Sam Shepard Published by Gale Cengage

Like the plays he writes, Sam Shepard's life and career have been unpredictable, wide-ranging, well-traveled, and, ultimately, quintessentially American. Shepard was born Samuel Shepard Rogers in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, on November 5, 1943. His father was in the Army Air Corps, and the family moved around from base to base before settling on an avocado ranch in Duarte, California. There, the future playwright found a love for horses and the outdoors that has remained with him ever since. He also picked up his father's drums and discovered a love for music that found its way into many of his plays.

In his semi-retirement, Shepard's father became an abusive alcoholic. After a series of violent confrontations, young Sam joined a touring repertory theatre group called the Bishop's Company, left home, and eventually found his way to the opposite coast: New York City. His arrival in New York in the early-1960s couldn't have been better timed. Although he was only nineteen years old, with a few months of acting experience and a single, unproduced play to his credit, the Off-Broadway theatre scene was just gaining momentum. It was there, in the tiny experimental studios and renovated churches of the underground theatre movement, that Shepard found his niche as a playwright.

His first professional production was a pair of one-acts, Cowboys and The Rock Garden, produced by Theatre Genesis at Saint Mark Church-in-the-Bowery in 1964. Although the popular press dubbed the new writer's work a pale imitation of Absurdist author Samuel Beckett (Waiting for Godot), the Village Voice and other counterculture publications gave him rave reviews and encouraged him to write more. Over the next several years, Shepard produced a series of experimental, poetic, musical one-acts and full-length plays that earned him a string of Obie Awards (Off-Broadway's equivalent of the Tony Award) and a cult following in New York and London, where he temporarily relocated in the early-1970s.

The Tooth of Crime (1972) and Curse of the Starving Class (1977) earned Shepard wider recognition, and larger audiences, but it wasn't until Buried Child (1978) that he gained mainstream acceptance. The play earned Shepard his tenth Obie Award (no other American playwright has won more than two) as well as the Pulitzer Prize for drama. With typical, Midwestern-style humility, Shepard declared, ‘‘If I was gonna write a play that would win the Pulitzer Prize, I think it would have been that play, you know. It's sort of a typical Pulitzer Prize-winning play. It wasn't written for that purpose; it was a kind of test. I wanted to write a play about a family.’’

All of Shepard's plays are characterized by an obvious love of language and a flair for visual imagery. Often, the imagery he conjures is of the American West. His characters are obsessed with American myths and metaphors—cowboys and Indians, ranches, deserts, and other wide open spaces—and often the plots of his plays parallel familiar folk tales or religious parables. Thematically, he is often concerned with the American Dream and its effects on families, though the fathers, mothers, and sons that inhabit his work tend to be much darker, even more frightening aspects of those that appear in the plays, movies, and television of popular culture.

Since the success of Buried Child, Shepard has produced other popular plays, two of which, True West (1980) and Fool for Love (1983), have been turned into films. In the 1970s, Shepard himself turned to film, finding his way back to acting. He has appeared on screen in such films as Days of Heaven, Frances, The Right Stuff, and Steel Magnolias, as well as Robert Altman's film version of his play Fool for Love (1985).

Sam Shepard Biography (Drama for Students)

Sam Shepard Published by Gale Cengage

Shepard was born Samuel Shepard Rogers III on November 5, 1943, in Fort Sheridan, Illinois. He was the son of Samuel Shepard and Jane Elaine (Schook) Rogers. His father was an Army officer, and Shepard grew up on military bases. The family eventually settled in Duarte, California, where Shepard’s father bought a farm. Shepard attended Mount San Antonio Junior College in Walnut, California, for several years, studying agriculture.

As a teenager, Shepard’s home life grew increasingly difficult; his father had become an abusive alcoholic and father and son frequently were at odds. In 1963, Shepard left home for New York City, seeking work as an actor. On the bus ride to New York, Shepard changed his named from Steve Rogers, as he had been known all his life, to Sam Shepard. The next year his first play, entitled Cowboys, was produced. Through his work as both a writer and actor, Shepard became something of a cult celebrity in New York City’s East Village in the 1960s and early-1970s.

Shepard wrote numerous Off-Broadway and Off- Off-Broadway plays (several of which won Obie Awards), several screenplays (including Zabriskie Point, with four others), and appeared in numerous experimental theatre productions. Many of Shepard’s plays featured characters and myths culled from the vanishing American West as well as more general topics pertaining to American culture. Shepard was married in 1969 to actress O-Lan Jones, with whom he had a son, Jesse. Shepard and his family spent 1971-74 in England, where he wrote some of his best-known early plays, notably 1971’s Mad Dog Blues and 1972’s The Tooth of Crime.

Upon his return to the United States, Shepard’s work took on new dimensions. By the late-1970s, Shepard began acting in feature films. He also continued to write important plays, many of which focused on broken families, difficult relationships between men and women, and the individual’s quest for identity. In 1979, Shepard received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play, Buried Child. Shepard’s career as a movie actor also grew. He appeared in such notable films as Days of Heaven (1979) and The Right Stuff (1983). In 1983, he worked with Jessica Lange in Frances, becoming romantically involved with her. After divorcing his first wife, Shepard and Lange became a couple and had two children together, Hannah and Sam Walker.

The year 1983 was big one for Shepard, in addition to appearing in two high profile films and meeting his life partner, Lange, he expanded his theatrical influence considerably. He directed the original production of Fool for Love at Circle Repertory Company in New York City. He received two Obie Awards, one for his directing effort and the other for the best new American play. Two years later, in 1985, Shepard wrote the screenplay for Robert Altman’s film adaptation of Fool for Love and played the role of Eddie in the film.

Since then, Shepard has continued to write and direct plays, including the 1986 family play A Lie of the Mind. He has also written several screenplays, including Paris, Texas and Silent Tongue. Shepard spent much of the late-1980s and 1990s acting in numerous films and television movies, including Baby Boom, Thunderheart, Purgatory, and Dash & Lilly, while experimenting with different theatrical forms including adaptation and comedy. By the late-1990s, his reputation was solidified as one of the greatest living American playwrights.

Sam Shepard Biography

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In his four-decade career as a writer, Sam Shepard has woven tales of the American West and plumbed the darkest depths of the human psyche. Whether depicting criminal lowlifes in his play Simpatico or the volatile relationship of two lovers in Fool for Love, Shepard does not shy away from depicting the ugly side of human behavior. One of the hallmarks of Shepard’s work is his unique approach to dialogue. Characters often speak in elliptical, circuitous patterns, and he is not afraid to let them wax poetic. Shepard, whose playwriting was nurtured by a variety of theater artists, remains committed to teaching and working with the next generation of playwrights.

Essential Facts

  1. Shepard has also found success as an actor. He was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Chuck Yeager in 1983’s The Right Stuff.
  2. Shepard was featured as a musician on longtime-friend Patti Smith’s 2007 album, Twelve.
  3. One of Shepard’s few film efforts as a writer-director was 1994’s Silent Tongue, which featured one of the last performances of actor River Phoenix.
  4. Shepard’s two decade-old play True West finally made it to Broadway in 2000. The two lead roles were both played by John C. Reilly and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
  5. Since the early 1980s, Shepard has been romantically involved with actress Jessica Lange. They have two children together.