David Rabe

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David Rabe
BornDavid William Rabe
(1940-03-10) March 10, 1940 (age 83)
Dubuque, Iowa, U.S.
EducationVillanova University, M.A., 1968
Notable awards
  • Elizabeth Pan
    (m. 1969; div.1974)
(m. 1979; died 2010)
Children3, including Lily Rabe

David William Rabe (born March 10, 1940) is an American playwright and screenwriter. He won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1972 (Sticks and Bones) and also received Tony Award nominations for Best Play in 1974 (In the Boom Boom Room), 1977 (Streamers) and 1985 (Hurlyburly).

Early life[edit]

Rabe was born on March 10, 1940, in Dubuque, Iowa,[1] of German and Irish descent, the son of Ruth (née McCormick), a department store worker, and William Rabe, a teacher and meat packer. He was raised in a devout Catholic family.[citation needed]


Rabe was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1965 and served in a medical unit during the Vietnam War. After leaving the Army in 1967, Rabe returned to Villanova University, studying writing and earning an M.A. in 1968.

During this time, he began work on the play Sticks and Bones, in which the family represents the ugly underbelly of the seemingly stereotypical Nelson family (whose names match the main characters of the sunny 1950s television series—Ozzie, Harriet, David and Ricky) when they are faced with their embittered and hopeless son David returning home from Vietnam as a blinded vet.

Rabe is known for his loose trilogy of plays drawing on his experiences as an Army draftee in Vietnam, Sticks and Bones (1969), the Tony Award-winning The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel (1971), and Streamers (1976).

He has also written Hurlyburly (both the play and the screenplay for the film version), and the screenplays for the Vietnam War drama Casualties of War (1989) and the film adaptation of John Grisham's The Firm (1993). Rabe also wrote a screenplay for First Blood for producer Martin Bregman with Mike Nichols interested in directing and the role of John Rambo written for Al Pacino, but it was not filmed because Pacino found it "too extreme" and declined to appear in it.[2]

A collection of Rabe's manuscripts is housed in the Mugar Memorial Library, at Boston University.

Awards and honors[edit]





  • Recital of the Dog (1993)
  • The Crossing Guard (novelization of the screenplay by Sean Penn, 1995)
  • A Primitive Heart (2005)
  • Dinosaurs on the Roof (2008)
  • Mr. Wellington (children's book, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker, 2009)
  • Girl by the Road at Night: A Novel of Vietnam (2010)


  1. ^ "RABE, David (William) 1940-". Encyclopedia.com. Cengage. Retrieved February 1, 2023.
  2. ^ "First Blood". catalog.afi.com. Archived from the original on 2021-06-11. Retrieved 2021-06-11.
  3. ^ "2014 PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award for Master American Dramatist". pen.org. 16 April 2014. Retrieved August 1, 2014.
  4. ^ Ron Charles (July 30, 2014). "Winners of the 2014 PEN Literary Awards". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 1, 2014.
  5. ^ NY Times review

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Lahr, John (24 November 2008). "The Critics: Life and Letters: Land of Lost Souls". The New Yorker. Vol. 84, no. 38. pp. 114–120. Retrieved 16 April 2009. "David Rabe's America"
  • Radavich, David. "Collapsing Male Myths: Rabe's Tragicomic Hurlyburly." American Drama 3:1 (Fall 1993): 1–16.
  • Radavich, David. "Rabe, Mamet, Shepard, and Wilson: Mid-American Male Dramatists of the 1970s and '80s." The Midwest Quarterly XLVIII: 3 (Spring 2007): 342–58.