(Richard) Ernest Thompson was born on November 6, 1949, in Bellows Falls, Vermont. His parents were Theron, a college professor and administrator, and Esther, a teacher. Esther played the piano and the violin, instilling the importance of music in their home. Thompson spent his early childhood in New Hampshire and Massachusetts and his teenage years in Maryland. His family often visited a lake in Maine during the summers.
Thompson attended the University of Maryland (1967–1968), Colorado College (1969), and Catholic University (1970) and received his bachelor's degree in 1971 from American University. After graduating, Thompson worked as a stage and television actor before becoming a playwright in 1977. Over the course of his career, Thompson has worn various hats in the television and film industry. His television work included two years spent acting on the NBC daytime drama Somerset. Although Thompson enjoyed acting, his desire to write scripts emerged early in his career. When he approached the producers of the television series Emergency, he was told that his talents were better suited to acting than writing. But in 1977, Thompson had gone a year without finding acting work, and he turned his attention back to writing. While some of his writing caught the attention of the networks, it would be a year before real success came.
At the surprisingly young age of twenty-eight, Thompson wrote On Golden Pond. The off-Broadway Hudson Guild Theatre produced the play in September 1978. Only five months later, it went to Broadway's New Apollo Theatre. On Golden Pond was the first of Thompson's plays to be produced, and it has remained his best-known work. In 1979, it won the Broadway Drama Guild's Best Play Award. In 1980, Jane Fonda saw On Golden Pond performed in Los Angeles. Sure that she had finally found the right script to give her the chance to act with her father, Henry Fonda, she bought the film rights and hired Thompson to adapt it. Only a year later, the movie was released. Starring the Hollywood luminaries Jane Fonda, Henry Fonda, and Katharine Hepburn, the movie garnered popular and critical praise. Thompson won a Golden Globe Award, a Writers Guild Award, and an Academy Award for his screen adaptation. Hepburn and Henry Fonda won the Best Actress and Best Actor Academy Awards, respectively. On Golden Pond was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture. In 2001, a television version was made. Directed by Thompson, it starred Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.
Thompson received the first and what would be the only George Seton Grant for Playwrights, which enabled him to write The West Side Waltz: A Play in 3/4 Time. Hepburn starred in the 1981 Broadway production. Her appearance in this play came before the filming of On Golden Pond and marked the beginning of Thompson's relationship with her. Critics praised...
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