Frank Gilroy Dies: Award-Winning Playwright, Screenwriter Was 89

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, screenwriter, director and author Frank D. Gilroy died last night from natural causes at age 89. Gilroy leaves behind his wife Ruth of 62 years, his three sons Tony, Dan and John, and grandchildren Sam, Carolyn, Taylor, Rose, and Kathryn Gilroy. The family just confirmed his death.

A former president of the Dramatists Guild, Gilroy won the Pulitzer for his play The Subject Was Roses, and his legacy extends to his three sons. Tony Gilroy is the screenwriter behind The Bourne Identity trilogy, the writer/director of Michael Clayton and Duplicity, and the director of The Bourne Legacy. Dan Gilroy is the writer/director of Nightcrawler, The Bourne Legacy and writer of the upcoming Kong: Skull Island. John Gilroy is the editor of such films as Warrior and Pacific Rim. The siblings worked together on The Bourne Legacy and most recently Nightcrawler, which Tony Gilroy produced. Frank Gilroy raised his family in the Orange County house he  bought in 1962 and died in. Frank Gilroy was a big influence on his three sons, and proud they all succeeded in the business, said son Tony.

“He showed all sides of his work to us, he never hid any of the joy, the difficulty, satisfaction, pain, effort, and the need to keep going,” Gilroy told Deadline. “He was an only child, and he was obsessed with the brotherhood that developed between the three of us. He was exceptional, not only in that he’s part of the Greatest Generation, but in the way he invented himself. A lot of us get to stand on the shoulders of others, but he made himself out of nothing, and he never obscured the machinery that goes into that. He was a gambler, it was his essential nature, sometimes to his detriment, but he never obscured it. Anything we wanted to see about his life was available to us, and it was like we grew up over the store. He wrote at home, and at times he was away for long periods, but he taught us how it worked. He showed us that some of it you do for them, and some of it you do for yourself, but no matter what, you always take pride in craftsmanship. He took great satisfaction in what happened for the three of us, but if any of us hadn’t any promise, he would have been realistic and would have told us.”

Born in the Bronx, Gilroy attended Dartmouth College under the G.I. Bill after his Army stint in Europe during World War II. He went on to attend the Yale School of Drama on a Dartmouth grant, and then launched his writing career during the Golden Age of Television. He worked on classic anthology shows including Playhouse 90, Studio One, and The Dick Powell Theatre. He also wrote for numerous regular TV series including including iconic Westerns The Rifleman starring Chuck Conners, Wanted: Dead Or Alive starring Steve McQueen, The Rebel with Nick Adams, and Have Gun, Will Travel, which starred Richard Boone. He originated the 1960s detective series Burke’s Law which starred Gene Barry and was resurrected briefly in the mid-1990s.

Best known for his Pulitzer-winning play Roses, Gilroy debuted on the stage in 1962 with Who’ll Save the Plowboy?  which won the Obie Award. The Subject Was Roses opened in May 1964 and went on to win several Broadway accolades including a Tony Award and various New York critics awards. Gilroy also wrote the screenplay for the movie version which earned a Supporting Actor Oscar for Jack Albertson and a Best Actress nomination for Patricia Neal.

His other movie work includes Desperate Characters (with Shirley MacLaine and Kenneth Mars), The Gallant Hours (James Cagney) and The Only Game in Town (Elizabeth Taylor and Warren Beatty). Gilroy also wrote the novel From Noon Till Three, which was made into a movie starring Charles Bronson which he directed as well as writing the screenplay.

In addition to other honors, Gilroy received the Ian McLellan Hunter Award for Lifetime Achievement in Writing from the Writers Guild of America East in 2011. You can watch his acceptance speech by clicking on the image above.

Gilroy has also written fiction, including the novel From Noon Till Three, which was adapted into a film starring Charles Bronson. In addition to writing the screenplay, Gilroy also directed the film. His other books included Little Ego, a children’s book he wrote with his wife Ruth.

A memorial service will be scheduled for some time this fall.



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