Biography

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Larry Shue’s promising career as a comic playwright was cut short by his untimely death in a plane crash at the age of thirty-nine. Possessed of considerable technical skill, Shue had yet to prove that his stage comedy could rise above its commercial value and express a sophisticated comic vision.

Born July 23, 1946, in New Orleans, Louisiana, Shue grew up in Kansas and Illinois, displaying an early interest in theatre; as a ten-year-old, he would create plays in his family’s garage and charge a penny for admission. After participating in high school dramatics, Shue attended Illinois Wesleyan University and graduated with a B.F.A. in theatre in 1968. As an undergraduate, Shue wrote two plays produced at Illinois Wesleyan, but he began his professional theatrical life as an actor.

After serving in the entertainment division of the United States Army from 1969 to 1972, Shue continued his acting career with the Harlequin Dinner Theatres in both Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, Georgia, winning two acting awards in Atlanta in 1977.

As an actor, Shue joined the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1977. Two years later his one-act play, Grandma Duck Is Dead (1979), launched his mature playwrighting career. Shue was named Playwright in Residence for Milwaukee Rep in 1979 and his mature, fulllength plays soon followed, including the two works for which he is best known—The Nerd (1981) and The Foreigner (1983)—as well as his more serious play, Wenceslas Square (1984). Shue’s acting career also included a stint with the Berkeley Repertory company in California, some brief appearances in films, and work on the well-known television soap opera One Life to Live.

Shue was among fourteen people who died in a commuter plane crash near Weyer’s Cave, Virginia, on September 23, 1985. The plane crashed into Hall Mountain, killing everyone aboard, as the flight approached the Shenandoah Valley airport between Staunton and Harrisonburg. At the time of his death, Shue’s fortunes were clearly rising. The Nerd had been a phenomenal success in London, The Foreigner was still running in New York, and he had been commissioned by the Disney studio to write a screenplay for the latter play. He was also working on the script for a comedy series for CBS, had been commissioned to write the book for a Broadway musical based on The Honeymooners television series, and he was about to make his Broadway acting debut in The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Many feel that had Shue lived longer he might have produced an even more impressive body of drama, both serious and comic. In a Chicago Tribune obituary, Richard Christiansen asserted that, at the time of his death, Shue’s ‘‘career was building to a level of international fame.’’

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