A. R. Gurney

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Albert Ramsdell Gurney, Jr.
Born (1930-11-01) November 1, 1930 (age 85)
Buffalo, New York
Occupation Playwright, novelist, screenwriter
Education Nichols School
St. Paul's School (1948)
Alma mater Williams College (1952)
Yale School of Drama (1958)
Genre Theatre
Spouse Mary Forman Goodyear
Children 4

Albert Ramsdell Gurney Jr, also known as A. R. Gurney (born November 1, 1930), and sometimes credited as Pete Gurney, is an American playwright, novelist and academic.[1][2][3] He is known for works including The Dining Room (1982), Sweet Sue (1986/7), Love Letters (1988), and The Cocktail Hour (1988). His series of plays about upper-class WASP life in contemporary America have been called "penetratingly witty studies of the WASP ascendancy in retreat."[4]

Early life[edit]

Gurney was born on November 1, 1930 in Buffalo, New York to Albert Ramsdell Gurney, Sr. (1896-1977) and Marion Spaulding (1908-2001).[5][6] His maternal grandparents were Elbridge G. Spaulding (1881-1974) and Marion Caryl Ely (1887-1971). Ely was the daughter of William Caryl Ely (1856-1921), a lawyer and Member of the New York State Assembly in 1883.[7] His grandfather's grandfather, and namesake, was Elbridge G. Spaulding (1809-1897), Gurney's 2x great-grandfather, a former Mayor of Buffalo, NY State Treasurer, and member of the U.S. House of Representatives who supported the idea for the first U.S. currency not backed by gold or silver, thus credited with helping to keep the Union economy afloat during the Civil War.[8] His father was president of Gurney, Becker and Bourne, an insurance and real estate company in Buffalo.[9] Together his parents had three children, of which Gurney was the middle:

  • Evelyn Gurney (b. 1929),[10] who married Miller.[6]
  • Albert Ramsdell Gurney, Jr. (b. 1930)
  • Stephen S. Gurney (b. 1933)[11]

He attended the Nichols School in Buffalo and graduated from St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire. He attended Williams College, graduating in 1952, and the Yale School of Drama, graduating in 1958,[5] after which he began teaching Humanities at MIT.[1][12]

Career[edit]

Dennis Howard and Heather McRae in the US Premiere of CHILDREN, by A.R. Gurney, directed by Keith Fowler, Virginia Museum Theater, 1976

In 1959, following graduation from Yale, Gurney taught English and Latin at a day school, Belmont Hill School, in Belmont, Massachusetts for one year. He then joined Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a Professor of Humanities, from 1960 until 1996, and Professor of Literature, from 1970 until 1996.[5]

He began writing plays such as Children and The Middle Ages while at MIT, but it was his great success with The Dining Room that allowed him to write full-time. Since The Dining Room, Gurney has written a number of plays, most of them concerning WASPs of the American northeast. While at Yale, Gurney also wrote the musical: Love in Buffalo; this was the first musical ever produced at the Yale School of Drama.[13] Since then, he is known to be a prolific writer, always writing something.[14]

His first play in New York, which ran for just one performance in October 1968, The David Show, premiered at the Players’ Theater on MacDougal Street. The play was cut after its first show by sneers from the entire press except for two enthusiasts, Edith Oliver in The New Yorker and another from the Village Voice.[15]

His 2015 play, Love and Money, is about a mature woman making plans to dispose of her fortune, and the twists that ensue; the world premiere was at New York's Signature Theatre in August 2015.[16] Before that, The Grand Manner, a play about his real life encounter with famed actress Katharine Cornell in her production of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, was produced and performed by Lincoln Center for the summer of 2010. It was also produced in Buffalo by the Kavinoky Theatre.[17] He appeared in several of his plays including The Dining Room and most notably Love Letters.[citation needed]

Themes[edit]

Gurney's plays often explore the theme of a declining upper-class White Anglo-Saxon Protestant "WASP" life in contemporary America. The Wall Street Journal has called his works "penetratingly witty studies of the WASP ascendancy in retreat."[4] Several of his works are loosely based on his patrician upbringing, including "The Cocktail Hour" and Indian Blood.[15]

In his 1988 play, "The Cocktail Hour", the lead character that tells her playwright son that theater critics "don't like us.... They resent us. They think we're all Republicans, all superficial and all alcoholics. Only the latter is true."[4] The New York Times described the play as witty observations about a nearly extinct patrician class that regards psychiatry as an affront to good manners, underpaid hired help as a birthright.[18]

In an 1989 interview with the New York Times, Gurney said, "Just as it's mentioned in 'The Cocktail Hour,' my great-grandfather hung up his clothes one day and walked into the Niagara River and no one understood why." Gurney added that "he was a distinguished man in Buffalo. My father could never mention it, and it affected the family well into the fourth generation as a dark and unexplainable gesture. It made my father and his father desperate to be accepted, to be conventional, and comfortable. It made them commit themselves to an ostensibly easy bourgeois world. They saw it so precariously, but the reason was never mentioned. I first learned about it after my father died."[9]

Plays[edit]

Novels[edit]

Gurney has also written several novels, including:[5]

  • The Snow Ball (1984)
  • The Gospel According to Joe (1974)
  • Entertaining Strangers (1977)
  • Early American (1996)

Screenplays[edit]

  • The House of Mirth (1972)[5]
  • Sylvia (1995)[5]

Personal life[edit]

In June, 1957, Gurney married Mary Forman "Molly" Goodyear (b. 1935) of the prominent Goodyear family. Goodyear is the daughter of George Forman Goodyear (1906—2002), a lawyer, and Sarah Norton (1908-1978).[20] She is the granddaughter of Anson Goodyear (1877—1964), a founder and first president of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the great-granddaughter of Charles W. Goodyear (1846-1911) and George V. Forman (1841-1922). The Gurneys lived in Boston until 1983, when they moved their family to New York to be near the theater, television, and publishers while he was on sabbatical from MIT.[21] They also have a house together in Roxbury, Connecticut. Together, they have four children:[22]

  • George Goodyear Gurney, who married Constance "Connie" Lyman Warren in 1985.[23][24]
  • Amy Ramsdell Gurney, who married Frederick Snow Nicholas III in 1985.[25]
  • Evelyn "Evie" R. Gurney, who is with Christopher Bumcrot[26]
  • Benjamin Gurney

Gurney's father, Albert Ramsdell Gurney, Sr., died in 1977 and Molly's mother, Sarah Norton, died in 1978. After their deaths, his mother, Marion, married Molly's father, George, and remained married until Marion's death in 2001,[6] followed by George's death in 2002.[21][15]

Awards and honors[edit]

In 2006, Gurney was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.[citation needed] In 2007, Gurney received the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award as a master American dramatist.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Sponberg AF.Broadway Talks: What Professionals Think about Commercial Theater in America. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1991. ISBN 9780313266874
  2. ^ A.R. Gurney Biography
  3. ^ Sponberg AF. A.R. Gurney: A Casebook. Psychology Press, 2004. ISBN 9780415929981
  4. ^ a b c For the quotes see Terry Teachout, "Anatomy of a WASP," Wall Street Journal Jan 8, 2016
  5. ^ a b c d e f Gurney, A. R. (Albert Ramsdell). "Guide to the A. R. Gurney Papers YCAL MSS 728". library.yale.edu. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Retrieved 16 April 2016. 
  6. ^ a b c "MARION S. GOODYEAR, ACTIVE IN CHARITIES - The Buffalo News". www.buffaloNews.com. The Buffalo News. July 29, 2001. Retrieved 16 April 2016. 
  7. ^ Cauldwell, William (January 1903). "The Successful American". Press Biographical Company (Volume 7, Part 1): 20–22. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  8. ^ Mr. Spaulding and Greenback Resumption (1875, October 16). In The Commercial and Financial Chronicle (Vol. XXI, p. 358). New York, NY: William B. Dana.
  9. ^ a b Magazine, Alex Witchel; Alex Witchel Is A. Senior Features Editor At Mirabella; Days, Writes The Inside Theater Column For 7 (12 November 1989). "LAUGHTER, TEARS AND THE PERFECT MARTINI". The New York Times. 
  10. ^ "Evelyn Gurney from Ward 20 Buffalo in 1940 Census District 64-438". www.archives.com. 1940 Census. Retrieved 16 April 2016. 
  11. ^ "Stephen Gurney from Ward 20 Buffalo in 1940 Census District 64-438". www.archives.com. 1940 US Census. Retrieved 16 April 2016. 
  12. ^ Lasman, Sam. "A Look At Playwright A.R. Gurney". www.huntingtontheatre.org. Huntington Theatre Company. Retrieved 16 April 2016. 
  13. ^ Sternlicht, Sanford (2002). A reader's guide to modern American drama (1. ed.). Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Univ. Press. ISBN 0815629397. Retrieved 16 April 2016. 
  14. ^ Hoke, Donna (May 2012). "Onstage: A. R. Gurney: A playwright to call our own". Buffalo Spree. Retrieved 16 April 2016. 
  15. ^ a b c Tallmer, Jerry (August 23, 2006). "Gurney takes a page from his life in 'Indian Blood'". thevillager.com (Vol. 76, No. 14). The Villager. Retrieved 16 April 2016. 
  16. ^ Zinoman, Jason (12 August 2015). "A.R. Gurney's 'Love & Money': Wealth, a Widow and Complications". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 April 2016. 
  17. ^ Lincoln Center Theater: The Grand Manner, lct.org; accessed May 25, 2015.
  18. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (2008-06-10). "New York Times, June 10, 2008". Theater.nytimes.com. Retrieved 2012-04-16. 
  19. ^ Hartigan K. Greek Tragedy Transformed: AJ Gurney and Charles Mee Rewrite Greek Drama. in Foster VA. Dramatic Revisions of Myths, Fairy Tales and Legends: Essays on Recent Plays.. McFarland, 2012 ISBN 9780786465125
  20. ^ Boone, Jay. "Sarah Norton Goodyear". www.findagrave.com. Find A Grave Memorial. Retrieved 16 April 2016. 
  21. ^ a b Freeman, Patricia (January 23, 1989). "Playwright A.R. Gurney Jr.'s Cocktail Hour Leaves His Genteel Family Shaken, Not Stirred" (Vol. 31 No. 3). People. Retrieved 16 April 2016. 
  22. ^ "A. R. Gurney, Jr. Biography". eNotes.com. Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature. Retrieved 16 April 2016. 
  23. ^ "Caroline Whiteside Warren's Obituary on GreenwichTime". Greenwich Time. October 22, 2014. Retrieved 16 April 2016. 
  24. ^ "MISS WARREN WED TO G. G. GURNEY". The New York Times. 9 June 1985. Retrieved 15 August 2016. 
  25. ^ "AMY GURNEY AND FREDERICK S. NICHOLAS 3D MARRY". The New York Times. 15 September 1985. Retrieved 15 August 2016. 
  26. ^ "THE FLEA CAPITAL CAMPAIGN" (PDF). theflea.org. Retrieved 15 August 2016. 

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