Frank Daniel Gilroy was born and grew up in New York City. He was the only child of Bettina and Frank B. Gilroy. His father, like John Cleary in The Subject Was Roses, was in the coffee business. The family lived in an apartment in the West Bronx. Memories of his early family life and his relationship with his parents eventually provided material for The Subject Was Roses as well as for Last Licks and Any Given Day. By the time Gilroy was graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in 1943, he had shown an interest in writing but little promise as a student; his father was evidently willing to send him to college, but his grades were not good enough. Gilroy’s autobiographical novel Private opens with an account of a visit to New Haven and the humiliating return trip to New York after Yale University had rejected his application. Gilroy uses this event as the basis for his play Getting In.
Gilroy was drafted into the United States Army ten months after his high school graduation. He would say later that during his tour in the army his life underwent “some good and productive changes.” In Europe, however, attached to the Eighty-ninth Infantry Division Reconnaissance Troop, he saw degradation, the threat of death, and witnessed the depravity of the final days of the war. Private records the indelible impression of his army experiences; war memories both trivial and serious also surface in Who’ll Save the Plowboy? and The Subject Was Roses.
In 1946, Gilroy came out of the army with a desire to write and the determination to go to college. He applied to forty colleges and was accepted by only two of them—Davis and Elkins, and Dartmouth. He chose Dartmouth and was graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree in 1950. In college, he wrote stories and was an editor of the paper, but a playwriting course convinced him that drama was the form best suited to his talents. During his junior and senior years, he wrote and was accorded productions of two full-length plays and six one-act plays. In both years, he won the Frost Playwriting Award. Following his graduation, Gilroy attended the Yale School of Drama with the help of a scholarship, but his funds ran out after six months.
The growing popularity of television provided a new market for playwrights, and Gilroy began writing scripts for television in the early 1950’s. To support himself during this period, he held a series of jobs—including messenger, trumpet player, and cabana salesman—but by the mid-1950’s he was making a good living from television. He wrote regularly for two popular Western series, The Rifleman and Have Gun, Will Travel, in addition to having plays produced by the leading network drama programs. He wrote at least three plays for Studio One: A Likely Story (1955), Uncle Ed and Circumstances (1955; adaptation of a story by Jackie Gleason), and The Last Summer (1958). Two of his plays appeared on Kraft Theater: Run for the Money (1954) and Ten Grapefruit to Lisbon (1956). A Matter of Pride (1957; adaptation of John Langdon’s story “The Blue Serge Suit”) was shown on the U.S. Steel Hour. For Playhouse 90 he adapted two works by John P. Marquand, Sincerely, Willis Wayde (in 1956) and Point of No Return (in 1958).
In 1954, Gilroy married Ruth Gaydos, and by the time The Subject Was Roses was produced, ten years later, they had three sons and lived in upstate New York. For several years at the end of the 1950’s, however, while Gilroy was employed as a studio screenwriter, California was his home. This experience was evidently the inspiration for ’Twas Brillig, a one-act comedy about a writer’s first day on a studio lot. In 1960, Gilroy collaborated with Beirne Lay, Jr., on The Gallant Hours, a biographical film about Admiral William Halsey, starring James Cagney. Gilroy’s work for television and films gave him enough time and income to write for the stage and enabled him to complete Who’ll Save the Plowboy? in 1957.
Gilroy moved his family back to New York in 1961, and in 1962, he found a producer for Who’ll Save the Plowboy? Although its reviews were generally favorable and it won an Obie Award, the play did not enjoy a long run—a month at the Phoenix Theatre and another month at the Orpheum Theatre. Its production at the Haymarket Theatre in the spring...
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