Ted Tally Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ted Tally is an important and influential screenwriter who began his career as a playwright for the New York stage. His plays continue to be performed in regional theaters. Tally grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, as the bookish son of two teachers. He received his undergraduate degree from Yale University in 1974 and then studied playwriting at the Yale School of Drama, alongside the notable future playwrights Christopher Durang and Wendy Wasserstein.

Tally’s first New York productions grew out of plays he developed as a student at Yale. The first of these was Terra Nova, based on diaries and other documents relating the story of English sea captain Robert Scott and his fatal expedition to the South Pole. This play, Tally’s master’s thesis, was first produced at the Yale School of Drama in 1977 and later the same year, after revisions, at the Yale Repertory Theatre in a production starring Lindsay Crouse and Michael Gross. Although Terra Nova was not produced in New York until 1984, its success at Yale generated interest in New York for subsequent plays, including Hooters, Coming Attractions, Silver Linings, and Little Footsteps. These plays are comedies, in contrast to Terra Nova, which is a serious and moving portrait of obsession and dedication, ending in the deaths of the principal characters. Such serious and dark themes did not return to Tally’s work until the publication of his screenplays, especially the Academy Award-winning The Silence of the Lambs. Hooters, for example, is an extended anecdote about two college-age boys trying to pick up slightly older women at the beach. Little Footsteps treats similar characters at the point in life where they are married and expecting a child.

During the 1980’s Tally wrote primarily for the stage, with productions that received mixed reviews and the occasional award (including an Obie Award for the 1984 production of Terra Nova). Tally began to experiment with writing for television and film, recognizing that such writing could bring financial security. At the request of British director Lindsay Anderson, Tally began to work on an epic screenplay...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bliss, Michael, and Christina Banks. What Goes Around Comes Around: The Films of Jonathan Demme. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1996. The book devotes a chapter to The Silence of the Lambs, the work that revolutionized Tally’s career.

Engel, Joel. “Ted Tally.” In Screenwriters on Screenwriting. New York: Hyperion, 1995. This chapter is devoted to an interview with Tally on the craft of screenwriting.

Tally, Ted. “A Conversation with Ted Tally.” Interview by Michael Winship. Writer’s Guild of America East Newsletter, December 6, 2002. This article provides a detailed interview with Tally about his career and the influences on his work, including discussion of the difference between writing plays and screenplays.