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Steve Tesich

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Also Known As: Stoyan Tesich Died: July 1, 1996
Born: September 29, 1942 Cause of Death: heart attack
Birth Place: Profession: screenwriter, playwright, welfare caseworker

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Yugoslav-born Steve Tesich spoke no English when he and his mother and sister immigrated to the USA in 1957, but learning the language gave him the mechanism for responding to his adoptive country. He attended Indiana University on a wrestling scholarship, but his passion switched to cycling there, providing him the impetus for his Academy Award-winning screenplay for "Breaking Away" (1979) and the subsequent "American Flyers" (1985).Tesich moved to NYC to pursue graduate studies at Columbia University and later, while employed as a caseworker for the Department of Welfare, wrote plays in his spare time. "The Carpenters", the first of six plays produced at the American Place Theater, opened Off-Broadway in 1970. Written just after the turmoil of the 60s, it featured the demise of a family as metaphor for a fragmenting society. His Broadway debut, "Division Street" (1980), came after the success of "Breaking Away" and told the story of a radical trying to rid himself of the past. He would not write another play for nine years, choosing instead to concentrate on film.Tesich mined his undergraduate experience for "Breaking Away", pitting a group of Bloomington 'townies' against their more privileged IU...

Yugoslav-born Steve Tesich spoke no English when he and his mother and sister immigrated to the USA in 1957, but learning the language gave him the mechanism for responding to his adoptive country. He attended Indiana University on a wrestling scholarship, but his passion switched to cycling there, providing him the impetus for his Academy Award-winning screenplay for "Breaking Away" (1979) and the subsequent "American Flyers" (1985).

Tesich moved to NYC to pursue graduate studies at Columbia University and later, while employed as a caseworker for the Department of Welfare, wrote plays in his spare time. "The Carpenters", the first of six plays produced at the American Place Theater, opened Off-Broadway in 1970. Written just after the turmoil of the 60s, it featured the demise of a family as metaphor for a fragmenting society. His Broadway debut, "Division Street" (1980), came after the success of "Breaking Away" and told the story of a radical trying to rid himself of the past. He would not write another play for nine years, choosing instead to concentrate on film.

Tesich mined his undergraduate experience for "Breaking Away", pitting a group of Bloomington 'townies' against their more privileged IU counterparts. The sentimental and uplifting victory of the underdog townies in the climactic scene's team bicycle race, coupled with the film's idyllic portrayal of middle-America, expressed Tesich's warm feelings as a welcomed outsider. Although none of his other five movies came up to the level of "Breaking Away", all were thoughtful and literate. His thriller "Eyewitness" (1980) went off in too many directions, but he rebounded nicely with the consistently absorbing, autobiographical "Four Friends" (1981). Lovingly crafted by director Arthur Penn and Tesich, "Four Friends" delved much deeper into the lives of its youthful characters than had "Breaking Away" and revealed some tarnish discoloring Tesich's immigrant American dream. He fashioned a highly sensible adaptation of John Irving's novel for George Roy Hill's film version of "The World According to Garp" (1982) and returned to cycling for the likable but pat "American Flyers" (1985). His final film, "Eleni" (1985), set in Greece but mirroring his father's Yugoslavian anti-Communism, reunited him with "Breaking Away" director Peter Yates, but as in "Eyewitness" they faltered, delivering a flat, crudely biased pic.

Unhappy with the film-by-committee structure he increasingly encountered, Tesich fled L.A. to write for the New York stage. He encountered little success but was much happier exploring "this wonderfully messy life on Earth" than cranking out formula fare for the Hollywood mill. "Speed of Darkness" (1990), a grim tale about the divergent experiences of two Vietnam veterans, failed on Broadway, and "Square One", about the end of a marriage, and the post-apocalyptic "On the Open Road" (1993) were full of regretful pessimism about America's retreat into selfishness. His last produced play, "Arts & Leisure" (1996), continued developing this theme, using his lead character, drama critic Alex Chaney, to personify the mass desensitization of the modern American character. Tesich's final call to us to stop watching dispassionately and " . . . simply participate actively in the life around you" fell largely on deaf ears. While on vacation with his family in Canada, Tesich suffered a fatal heart attack and died on July 1, 1996.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1957:
Immigrated to USA
1968:
Worked as Department of Welfare caseworker in Brooklyn, NY
1970:
First play produced in New York, "The Carpenters"
1979:
First screenplay, "Breaking Away"; won Oscar for Best Original Screenplay
1980:
"Division Street", his first Broadway play, opened
1982:
Published first novel "Summer Crossing"
1985:
Last screenplays produced, "Eleni" and "American Flyers"
1989:
Returned to playwriting
1996:
Last play produced Off-Broadway, "Arts & Leisure"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Indiana University: Bloomington , Indiana - 1965
Columbia University: New York , New York - 1967

Notes

Tesich received a National Defense Education Act fellowship in 1965 and a Rockefeller Foundation grant in 1972.

"As soon as I started learning English, it was almost as though I had a tuning fork in me that could respond to the language and the country." --Steve Tesich

"You only have one shot at this thing called 'living.' At that horrendous moment of death, I don't think I'll be thinking, 'I shoulda bought that yacht.' I know I'll be thinking of the unexplored, the love I didn't express, all the untapped emotions and ideas that are going to be buried alive with me. That image haunts the hell out of me." --Steve Tesich in Newsday, May 19, 1996.

"I would say he became, not skeptical--he adored this country. But his ideas became more abstract and his political views changed. It started with the Reagan era, and the situation in Yogoslavia had a profound effect on him." --Sam Cohn, Tesich's lontime friend and agent, quoted in his obituary in The New York Times, July 2, 1996.

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Rebecca Fletcher. Married on May 24, 1971; survived him.

Family close complete family listing

mother:
Rade Tesich. Survived him.
sister:
Gospava Tesich. Older; survived him.
daughter:
Amy Tesich. Born c. 1987; survived him.

Bibliography close complete biography

"Summer Crossing" Random House

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