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In his early years as an off-Broadway playwright, John Patrick Shanley was celebrated for his intense dialogue and for his dysfunctional young New Yorkers in search of identity and love. His big-screen, romantic comedy version of his storytelling was the hit movie "Moonstruck" (1987), which earned the Irish-American an Academy Award for his script. He stayed in Hollywood for a number of years, where he wrote and directed the critically lambasted "Joe vs. the Volcano" (1990) and was subsequently pegged as an adventure writer, hired to do script adaptations like "Congo" (1993) and "Alive" (1995). A rare foray into television screenwriting resulted in an Emmy nomination for the fact-based Gulf War drama "Live from Baghdad" (HBO, 2002), but Shanley generally remained a prolific and versatile playwright on the New York stage. His off-Broadway fare was hit-or-miss with critics, with successes until 2004 when "Doubt" won a Tony Award, Drama Desk Award, and Pulitzer Prize Award for Drama. In 2008, Shanley's suspenseful drama about sexual abuse allegations at a Catholic school was adapted and directed by him, making him one of the rare New York theater talents to successfully bring his vision to the screen...
In his early years as an off-Broadway playwright, John Patrick Shanley was celebrated for his intense dialogue and for his dysfunctional young New Yorkers in search of identity and love. His big-screen, romantic comedy version of his storytelling was the hit movie "Moonstruck" (1987), which earned the Irish-American an Academy Award for his script. He stayed in Hollywood for a number of years, where he wrote and directed the critically lambasted "Joe vs. the Volcano" (1990) and was subsequently pegged as an adventure writer, hired to do script adaptations like "Congo" (1993) and "Alive" (1995). A rare foray into television screenwriting resulted in an Emmy nomination for the fact-based Gulf War drama "Live from Baghdad" (HBO, 2002), but Shanley generally remained a prolific and versatile playwright on the New York stage. His off-Broadway fare was hit-or-miss with critics, with successes until 2004 when "Doubt" won a Tony Award, Drama Desk Award, and Pulitzer Prize Award for Drama. In 2008, Shanley's suspenseful drama about sexual abuse allegations at a Catholic school was adapted and directed by him, making him one of the rare New York theater talents to successfully bring his vision to the screen without sacrificing artistic integrity.
Shanley was born on Oct. 3, 1950, and raised in the Bronx, NY. He grew up as the youngest of five children of an Irish immigrant meatpacker and a first generation Irish-American mother. His experiences in the Irish and Italian working class neighborhood, which he recalled as "anti-intellectual and extremely racist," ultimately provided a wealth of rich material for his future writing, though at the time, he suffered as an outcast. His career began while still in elementary school, where he was penning poems at age 11 and winning a statewide essay competition. After getting kicked out of local schools for behavioral problems, his parents sent him to a private school in New Hampshire where, for the first time, teachers appreciated and nurtured his writing talent. After one unsuccessful year at New York University, Shanley did a tour of duty in the Marines, but eventually returned to NYU to earn a degree in Educational Theater in 1977 as valedictorian of his class.
He worked as a bartender and after staging several plays earned considerable off-Broadway buzz for 1984's "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea," a comedic drama about a pair of hopeless barflies who find an unexpected spark of promise in their connection. The play starred then-unknown John Turturro and went on to enjoy a production in London. With 1986's "Women of Manhattan," a look at a group of young professionals lamenting over their stale romantic lives, Shanley inaugurated his association with the off-Broadway nonprofit Manhattan Theatre Club. The following year, he made a huge splash in Hollywood with his screenwriting debut "Moonstruck" (1987) - a charming, deftly constructed romantic comedy set in Brooklyn's Italian-American community. For her starring role as an efficient, love-wary accountant whose lukewarm feelings for her fiancé (Danny Aiello) contrast with a passionate attraction to his one-handed baker brother (Nicholas Cage), Cher won a Best Actress Academy Award while newcomer Shanley took home an Oscar statue for Best Original Screenplay. The same year, he also penned the Independent Spirit Awards Best Screenplay nominee "Five Corners" (1987), a 1960s-set Bronx story of a young woman (Jodie Foster) whose former stalker (John Turturro) is released from prison only to pursue her again.
The 1989 crime thriller "The January Man," scripted by Shanley and starring Kevin Kline, unfortunately missed the mark, but the undaunted writer followed up with his film directorial debut "Joe Versus the Volcano" (1990). Though the first of several successful comic pairings between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, the enlightening adventure was only a moderate success at the box office and became most renowned for failing to recoup its inflated budget. Meanwhile, Shanley maintained a strong presence in New York theater, earning stellar reviews for "Italian American Reconciliation" and Manhattan Theater Club productions "Beggars in the House of Plenty," a chronicle of a dysfunctional Bronx family whose son escapes through writing, and the show business satire "Four Dogs and a Bone." Shanley followed up with the difficult job of adapting Piers Paul Reid's harrowing factual book Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors into the screenplay for the film, "Alive" (1993). He adapted Michael Crichton's "Congo" into a screenplay two years later. The jungle adventure film went on to earn blockbuster status.
Shanley returned to New York after his Hollywood stint and, in 1995, debuted "Psychopathia Sexualis," a comedy about an engaged artist trying to reconcile a sexual fetish for a pair of old socks before his wedding night, at the Seattle Repertory Theater. Its success led to stagings at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles and the Manhattan Theater Club. In 2001, the playwright veered in a slightly different direction with "Cellini" - which he also staged - an ambitious if flawed portrait of a creative genius. Shanley successfully ventured into television the following year, collaborating on the screenplay for "Live from Baghdad" (HBO, 2002), a fact-based movie about an American news team (Michael Keaton, Helena Bonham Carter) in Iraq during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Shanley earned an Emmy nomination for his work and returned to the stage, where his off-Broadway play "Dirty Story" was well-reviewed for creating an allegorical tale of the turbulent relationship between Israel and Palestine from a pair of swaggering, sadomasochistic male characters.
In 2004, Shanley unveiled one of the most acclaimed works of his career and his Broadway debut, with "Doubt: A Parable." Written in the wake of news headlines about sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, Shanley set his story about a nun who suspects a priest of inappropriate behavior with a student in a 1960s-era Catholic school in the Bronx. Shanley expanded on the scope of the issue to encompass not only the moral meditations of the issue (with an ultimately open-ended non-conclusion on the father's guilt) but a focus on the challenges Sister Aloysius faced as a second-class citizen questioning authority in the male-dominated church structure. "Doubt" captivated audiences and critics alike and earned the playwright nearly every theatrical honor, including a Tony Award for Best Play, a Drama Desk Award, Obie, and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In 2005, he returned to the Manhattan Theater Club with "Defiance" where the playwright further explored issues of morality in a hierarchy; this time set on a 1970s Marine base. The same year, his dance-studded romance "Sailor's Song" earned a nomination from the Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding New Play.
Shanley's 2007 musical "Romantic Poetry" received disappointing reviews, but by that time, he was hard at work adapting "Doubt" for the big screen, taking on the role of director. "Doubt" hit theaters at the end of 2008 with Meryl Streep well-cast as the truth-seeking sister and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the charismatic father under suspicion. Shanley was praised for his ability to bring his dialogue-heavy play with limited sets and characters successfully to movie audiences - enough that he was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay.
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"I am not a courageous person by nature. I have simply discovered that, at certain key moments in this life, you must find courage in yourself, in order to move forward and live. It is like a muscle and it must be exercised, first a little, and then more and more. All the really exciting things possible during the course of a lifetime require a little more courage than we currently have. A deep breath and a leap." --John Patrick Shanley in an introduction to a volume of his plays
"I realized that in order to write an effective screenplay, you have to have no distance from your material. You have to be in the scene with the characters. You cannot be cynical, you cannot be removed, you cannot be in a place where you think you know more than they know. Emotionally, you have to respect your characters and you have to be there with them. And also, after all is said and done, there are heroes in the world." --John Patrick Shanley quoted in American Film, September 1989.
"You have to go in and be a fool, a true believer. You have to find a solid place in yourself to stand on--a single vantage, a value system from which you can view the world. If the ground underneath you is shifting the movie will have no point of view.
"Whatever you do in terms of telling a story, the most important thing that you can define is who you are. The stories are all out there; it's finding a place where you are in relationship to the story that will tell the story." --Shanley quoted in American Film, September 1989.
"Where I grew up was both an Irish and Italian neighborhood. I hung out with Italian kids, went to school them, went to their homes. And I was struck with the difference between their life and ours. Maybe that's why I tended to write more about them--their lives fascinated me more than my own." --John Patrick Shanley to Daily News, October 17, 1991.
"My plays are personal. I'm expressing personal questions, personal concerns. I think that most people go through the kinds of emotional reactions that I go through. They just don't say so. I might be wrong, but I know from the responses I get from the audiences that they seem to know what I'm talking about. It's not like they're going, "Whoa! I have no idea who these people are." I write things that people say out loud that other people think, but they don't say them because they're afraid or they're too wise, but I say them because that's my job." --Shanley to Beth Stevens of Broadway.com, July 2, 2001.
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