Frank D. Gilroy

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Frank D. Gilroy’s career as a writer has been devoted primarily to drama, although he collaborated with his wife, Ruth G. Gilroy, on a children’s book, Little Ego (1970), and he is also the author of two novels: Private (1970), a fictionalized account of his experiences in the army, and From Noon Till Three: The Possibly True and Certainly Tragic Story of an Outlaw and a Lady Whose Love Knew No Bounds (1973), a Western with a comic twist.

In addition, Gilroy has had an active career as a television scriptwriter and as a screenwriter. During the 1950’s, he was a contributor to many of the television programs that stimulated a new interest in drama in the United States: Studio One, Kraft Theatre, U.S. Steel Hour, Playhouse 90, Omnibus, Lux Video Theater, the Armstrong Theater, and The Dick Powell Show. Gilroy’s screenwriting career developed initially out of his work for television. The Last Notch (1954), a Western drama he wrote for television, became the source of his first screenplay, The Fastest Gun Alive (1956). In the 1960’s, he adapted two of his own plays for the screen, The Subject Was Roses (1968) and The Only Game in Town (1969). In the 1970’s, Gilroy was the director as well as the writer of Desperate Characters (1971), Once in Paris (1978), and the film version of From Noon Till Three (1976). In 1998, Gilroy’s Money Plays won a Writers’ Guild Association Award for best original comic film script of that year.


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Frank D. Gilroy’s most impressive accomplishment has been his ability to master the techniques of three genres of drama, television, film, and the theater, and to gain recognition for his writings in each field. He not only wrote for television during its golden age; he was one of the playwrights who made it golden. In addition to his national reputation as a playwright, Gilroy became nationally known as a screenwriter when he adapted his play The Subject Was Roses for film. Patricia Neal was nominated for an Academy Award for her role as Nettie Cleary, and Jack Albertson won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the role of John Cleary. In 1971, Gilroy received international attention as writer, director, and producer of Desperate Characters, which won a Silver Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival.

Gilroy’s achievements and contributions as a stage writer form the basis for his place in American literature. His reputation as a dramatist is assured by the literary and theatrical merits of Who’ll Save the Plowboy? and The Subject Was Roses. Not only have his first two plays been more highly regarded by critics and audiences than his later works, but also they continue to be produced. Who’ll Save the Plowboy? won the Obie Award for the best American play produced Off-Broadway during the 1961-1962 season. The Subject Was Roses was the choice of many as the best play of 1964-1965; it won the Outer Circle Award (1964), the New York Drama Critics Circle Award (1964), the New York Theatre Club Award (1964-1965), the Tony Award (1965), and the Pulitzer Prize in Drama (1965). Gilroy received an honorary doctor of letters degree from Dartmouth College in 1966.

Gilroy has also been recognized by his fellow dramatists as a spokesperson and advocate for the writing profession. His well-publicized campaign to get and keep The Subject Was Roses on the stage set an example for other playwrights in challenging the play-financing establishment and in having drama produced on the playwright’s own terms. In 1965, he filed suit against two publishers, a television network, and two television production companies for misappropriating his property...

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as a writer. When Gilroy won his case eleven years later (1976), his lawyer, Robert Ehrenbard, was quoted inPublishers Weekly as saying, “It is a very important victory for writers and supports their rights in a way that the law hasn’t done before.” It is evidently for efforts such as these that Gilroy was chosen to be a member of the Council of the Dramatists Guild and then its president (1969-1971).


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Guernsey, Otis. Burns Mantle Theatre Yearbook: The Best Plays of 1993-1994. New York: Limelight Editions, 1994. The volume contains information and facts about Any Given Day, which is a “prequel” to The Subject Was Roses. John, Nettie, and Timmy Cleary are presented as younger selves.

Hischak, Thomas S. American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1969-2000. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. This survey of the commercial theater in New York gives an insight into Gilroy’s place and contribution to the contemporary theater.

Kerr, Walter. “Play: Gilroy Drama of Age, Last Licks.” Review of Last Licks, by Frank D. Gilroy. The New York Times, November 21, 1979, p. C11. This review of Last Licks provides an interesting examination of the genre problem caused by the incongruities of the first and second acts. Kerr questions whether the play is a comedy or “a deeply serious psychological snarl.” In the second act, Kerr says, Gilroy “put an abrupt end to the pleasures that popped out of him while he was feeling his way.”

Simon, John. Uneasy Stages. New York: Random House, 1975. A homage to Gilroy, whose The Subject Was Roses disappointed Simon. The ending, Simon remarks, “depended on a sudden and ephemeral paternal embrace, insufficiently motivated and unable to carry its load of hope—it was unearned.” Simon describes Gilroy as “a product of television’s Golden Age” and believes that Gilroy’s plays belong on television, minus the sexual boldness.

Taubman, Howard. “Play by Frank Gilroy at the Royale Theater.” Review of The Subject Was Roses, by Frank D. Gilroy. The New York Times, May 26, 1964, p. 45. Judges The Subject Was Roses to be “an impressive stride forward” from Who’ll Save the Plowboy?, which Taubman says showed promise. Gilroy “knows the difference between sentiment and sentimentality and he is not betrayed into the latter.” Martin Sheen, an unknown at the time, played the returning soldier in this production.

Weales, Gerald. The Jumping-Off Place: American Drama in the 1960’s. New York: Macmillan, 1969. Weales treats Gilroy in a chapter entitled “Front Runners, Some Fading” and criticizes his work as suggesting television material rather than work for the stage: “It was neither the many scenes nor the suspicious length [of That Summer—That Fall,] that suggested television; it was the tone of the play.” Good comments on the artificially happy endings, especially in The Only Game in Town.


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