Howard Sackler Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

In addition to his book of poetry, Want My Shepherd (1954), Howard Sackler wrote numerous screenplays, including Desert Padre (1950), Fear and Desire (1953), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1961), The Great White Hope (1970), Bugsy (1973), Gray Lady Down (1978; with James Whittaker and Frank P. Rosenberg), Jaws II (1978; with Carl Gottlieb and Dorothy Tristan), and Saint Jack (1979; with Paul Theroux and Peter Bogdanovich). The Nine O’Clock Mail was also televised, in 1965.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Although the triple prizes for The Great White Hope (the Pulitzer Prize, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, and a Tony Award) were the highlight of Howard Sackler’s career, they were by no means his first achievements. He had earlier received the Maxwell Anderson Award for his verse play Uriel Acosta, as well as Rockefeller Foundation and Littauer Foundation grants for work in his early twenties. A prolific director, especially of classical and verse plays, Sackler founded and became director of Caedmon Records in 1953, where he worked with the great British and American actors and authors whose work is now preserved in the Caedmon series. Sackler was busily employed in directing projects and screenwriting when, with The Great White Hope, he found the mature epic verse form that worked better onstage than any verse form since Maxwell Anderson. His contribution to American drama lies in the size and scope of his vision, his meticulous research on historical subjects and personalities, and the grace and rhythms of his language. After The Great White Hope, Sackler succeeded in the form with Semmelweiss, a harrowing study of the nineteenth century physician who discovered that examining doctors were spreading infection among their patients and who was ostracized and broken for his trouble. Because of production problems outside the script itself, Semmelweiss was not produced on Broadway; nevertheless, it remains one of the finest plays in modern dramatic literature. In 1980, Sackler’s last Broadway play, Goodbye Fidel, closed after poor reviews. At his death, Sackler was working on “Klondike,” a Gold Rush comedy.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Funke, Lewis. “Howard Sackler.” In Playwrights Talk About Writing: Twelve Interviews with Lewis Funke. Chicago: Dramatic Publishing, 1975. Sackler’s interview is prefaced with a summary of his professional accomplishments and a brief biography. He discusses his working habits, sources of inspiration, and the relationship between his work as a director and his work as a writer. He interprets The Great White Hope and The Pastime of Monsieur Robert, distinguishing these dramas from history, and offers opinions on drama in general.

Gill, Brendan. “Passing Losses On.” Review of Goodbye Fidel, by Howard Sackler. The New Yorker 46 (May 5, 1980): 109-110. Goodbye Fidel, a play about upper-class Cubans who deal with changes in their lives between 1958 and 1962, suggests the richness of a novel with its large cast and historical subject. Sackler’s attempt, however, to parallel the quarrels between the lovers Natalia and James Sinclair with political events is not convincing. The play closed four days after it opened.

Kroll, Jack. “The Champ.” Review of The Great White Hope, by Howard Sackler. Newsweek, December 25, 1967, 73. Both strengths and weaknesses were found in the epic quality of The Great White Hope performed at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. Although the play...

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