Douglas McGrath, wide-ranging movie director and playwright, dies at 64


Douglas McGrath, a movie director and author with an erudite wit and scholarly curiosity who spanned genres together with a movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Emma,” an Oscar-nominated screenplay with Woody Allen within the crime farce “Bullets Over Broadway” and satirical essays for the New Yorker, died Nov. 3 at his workplace in Manhattan. He was 64.

The demise was introduced by the producers of Mr. McGrath’s solo off-Broadway present, “All the things’s Nice,” which opened final month. A present consultant, Jim Byk, mentioned the trigger was a coronary heart assault.

Mr. McGrath’s pursuits and profession — stage, display, magazines, books — defied simple labeling. He appeared to love it that manner, consistently shifting gears and all the time providing a breezy appraisal of his successes and poking enjoyable at his missteps. He typically deflected questions on his Hollywood work with a self-effacing bon mot or by steering reward to colleagues — as if the film world and its vanities had been a droll comedy and he obtained the joke.

A “Golightly grace,” a journalist wrote in 1996 after the blithe-spirited predominant character in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” It was an apt description on different ranges, too.

Mr. McGrath was author and director of “Notorious,” a 2006 drama about Truman Capote, whose books included the 1958 “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” that was made right into a 1961 movie. And, just like the fictional Holly Golightly, Mr. McGrath was a shiny and urbane character raised removed from the large metropolis — a child amid the oil rigs and tumbleweeds of West Texas.

His autobiographical one-man present, directed by John Lithgow, recounted being a 14-year-old in Midland (‘“I used to be not precocious. I used to be barely aware.”) and the way the arrival of an eight-grade historical past instructor shook up the conservative faculty, and his life. Reviewer Elisabeth Vincentelli wrote within the New York Occasions that the present had a “can’t-look-away high quality of a slow-motion crash.”

“While you become old, you begin to assume again about days passed by,” he informed Texas Month-to-month earlier this 12 months. “And one of many issues I take into consideration is: Of all of the issues I’ve achieved in my profession, what I like most is telling tales. I like being at a desk telling tales. I like being at a celebration telling tales.”

Mr. McGrath may identify drop if he wished to. His mom, then Beatrice Burchenal, labored at Harper’s Bazaar beneath Diana Vreeland and was a part of Andy Warhol’s crowd earlier than marrying an oil man who was born in Connecticut. Mr. McGrath headed to Princeton College, the place he wrote musicals for the Princeton Triangle Membership, a troupe whose alumni embrace F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jimmy Stewart.

After graduating in 1980, Mr. McGrath heard “Saturday Evening Stay” was in search of writers. He landed an $850-a-week gig that “appeared too good to be true,” he wrote within the New York Occasions. The timing, nevertheless, was not. The present had misplaced a lot of its authentic stars, together with John Belushi and Dan Akroyd, and the evaluations had been ugly.

He quipped to the New York Occasions that he “helped educate the nation that it wasn’t such a good suggestion to rush house from that celebration and watch the present.”

He later teamed up with a fellow SNL author, Patricia Marx, on a novel, “Blockbuster,” (1988), a parody of massive cash and massive egos as a Hollywood studio tries to carry the seventeenth century tome “The Pilgrim’s Progress” to the display. Publishers Weekly panned it as “stultifying.”

A serious flop as a screenwriter — a 1993 remake of the 1950 romantic comedy “Born Yesterday” — was adopted by a significant break, partnering together with his boyhood idol Allen on “Bullets over Broadway” (1994). They had been nominated for an Academy Award for greatest screenplay, which went to Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary for “Pulp Fiction.”

In 1996, Mr. McGrath was author and director for “Emma,” starring Gwyneth Paltrow within the position of the busybody and self-styled Cupid Emma Woodhouse. Mr. McGrath typically mentioned he most well-liked writing feminine roles, which he believed supplied a larger vary for each dramatic and comedic complexity.

“While you consider all the good books, not counting Twain’s, it’s the funniest of all the good novels,” he mentioned of “Emma” in a 1996 interview. “And that’s what I wished to carry out.”

On Broadway, Mr. McGrath acquired a Tony nomination for writing the e book for “Stunning: The Carole King Musical,” which ran from 2014 to 2019. “She was very open, and really useful, and really sincere,” mentioned Mr. McGrath about his analysis and collaboration with King.

Placing the story collectively, although, “concerned lots of weeping, and praying,” he mentioned in a podcast with the State Theatre New Jersey.

But it surely was politics — at its seamy and dishonest worst — that remained a dependable muse for Mr. McGrath. In 1996, he carried out off-Broadway in a one-man present, “Political Animal,” a few presidential candidate and the “oily steps” taken on the trail to election night time.

His 2012 play “Checkers” — referring to a well-known 1952 speech by then-Sen. Richard M. Nixon addressing corruption allegations — starred Anthony LaPaglia as Nixon and Kathryn Erbe as his spouse, Pat.

Throughout the Invoice Clinton presidency, Mr. McGrath entertained New Republic readers with “The Flapjack File,” a White Home parody as informed by a Secret Service agent describing a fast-food-gobbling president and a conniving first woman, “Mrs. Rodham Flap.” He adopted it up in the course of the President George W. Bush period with “The Shrub File.”

For the New Yorker, a selection goal for Mr. McGrath was Donald Trump, even earlier than his election.

Within the Jan. 18, 2016, version, he contributed a “Shouts & Murmurs” lampoon of candidate Trump speaking to an aide named Jeff.

“I proposed internment camps for the Muslims already right here, after which I mentioned that we should always bar all different Muslims from coming into the nation. And also you’re telling me that my numbers are what?”

“ ‘The best ever,’ ” Jeff mentioned, dropping behind a membership chair as a platinum blow dryer shot previous him.”

“Trump wandered over to the window. ‘Now we have a major problem,’ he mentioned, virtually not consuming the pizza. ‘I would win.’ ”

Douglas Geoffrey McGrath was born on Feb. 2, 1958, in Midland, Tex., the place his father, Raynsford, was an impartial oil producer.

“I believe this sums it up,” Mr. McGrath mentioned in “All the things’s Nice” about West Texas. “It’s extremely popular, it’s very dusty, and it’s very, very windy. It’s like rising up inside a blow dryer filled with grime.”

He dabbled in cultural satire as co-author of “Save an Alligator, Shoot a Preppie: A Terrorist Information” (1981), and through the years had small performing roles that included the 2012 HBO sequence “Women” and in Allen’s movies corresponding to “Small Time Crooks” (2000) and “Café Society” (2016).

In 2000, Mr. McGrath starred within the comedy “Firm Man,” a movie he co-wrote with Peter Askin a few schoolteacher who stumbles into turning into a CIA spy in the course of the Chilly Battle. The solid consists of Sigourney Weaver, John Turturro and Denis Leary.

However Mr. McGrath mentioned he discovered deeper inventive prospects in bringing literature to the display, together with a 2002 adaptation of “Nicholas Nickleby,” by Charles Dickens.

“One of many joys of being a author — and it’s a brief record — particularly if you’re adapting issues for movie,” he informed Canada’s Nationwide Submit in 2002, “is that you just be taught to review the construction of nice writers. You actually need to take a e book aside and put it again collectively.”

He’s survived by his spouse of 27 years, Jane Reed Martin; son Henry; and a sister and brother.

In 2016, Mr. McGrath directed HBO’s documentary “Changing into Mike Nichols,” concerning the late movie director. Mr. McGrath, who was additionally government producer, shared an Emmy nomination with the opposite producers.

Mr. McGrath mentioned at instances he thought Jane Austen can be a “nice collaborator.”

“As a result of she writes, you already know, excellent dialogue,” he mentioned in 1996, “she creates memorable characters, she has an especially intelligent ability for plotting — and she or he’s useless, which suggests, you already know, there’s none of that tiresome arguing over who will get the larger bun at espresso time.”



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