William Gibson will be remembered for his development of the popular biographical play; for his creation of strong women characters, many of whom have been portrayed by actress Anne Bancroft; and for his commentary on mid-twentieth century drama.
Gibson’s most successful play, The Miracle Worker, was originally written for Playhouse 90 and in 1957 won the Sylvania Award for the year’s best television drama and, three years later, won the 1960 Tony Award for best play. This play pioneered the contemporary biographical drama. In it, Gibson exploited the dramatic qualities in Helen Keller’s autobiography, centering on her discovery of the power of language under the tutelage of Annie Sullivan, a master teacher who transformed Keller from a wild animal into a human being. Part of the play’s power derives from Gibson’s ability to dramatize a historical event. Gibson continued developing this genre in later works, such as American Primitive, based on the letters of John and Abigail Adams, and Golda, based on the autobiography of Golda Meir, one of Israel’s most famous prime ministers. While Gibson’s subject matter in these plays is limited by his historical sources—in American Primitive the dialogue, except for some verse commentary that Gibson added, comes directly from the Adamses’ letters—he uses modern stagecraft to make these lives significant.
Gibson will also be remembered for...
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