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Beth Henley

Beth Henley

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Also Known As: Elizabeth Becker Henley Died:
Born: May 8, 1952 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Jackson, Mississippi, USA Profession: playwright, screenwriter, actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

An acclaimed playwright and screenwriter, the Mississippi-raised Henley attended Southern Methodist University with the intention of pursuing an acting career. While still an undergraduate, she had her first one-act play "Am I Blue", produced. After a brief sojourn at the University of Illinois, Henley moved to L.A. to pursue an acting career. As roles were scarce, she turned to writing, producing two works, "The Moonwatcher" and "Crimes of the Heart". A friend submitted the latter to the 1979 Great American Play Contest at the Actors Theatre of Louisville where it received first prize and a production. After several regional theater mountings, "Crimes of the Heart" opened off-Broadway to critical praise and was eventually moved to Broadway. In 1981, Henley became the first woman in over twenty years to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. While her subsequent theater pieces ("The Wake of Jamey Foster" 1982; "The Debutante Ball" 1985; "The Lucky Spot" 1986-87; and "Abundance" 1989-90) were not as successful, the playwright has generally received favorable notices. Many critics have compared her writings with those of other eccentric Southern writers like Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty. Henley's...

An acclaimed playwright and screenwriter, the Mississippi-raised Henley attended Southern Methodist University with the intention of pursuing an acting career. While still an undergraduate, she had her first one-act play "Am I Blue", produced. After a brief sojourn at the University of Illinois, Henley moved to L.A. to pursue an acting career. As roles were scarce, she turned to writing, producing two works, "The Moonwatcher" and "Crimes of the Heart". A friend submitted the latter to the 1979 Great American Play Contest at the Actors Theatre of Louisville where it received first prize and a production. After several regional theater mountings, "Crimes of the Heart" opened off-Broadway to critical praise and was eventually moved to Broadway. In 1981, Henley became the first woman in over twenty years to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. While her subsequent theater pieces ("The Wake of Jamey Foster" 1982; "The Debutante Ball" 1985; "The Lucky Spot" 1986-87; and "Abundance" 1989-90) were not as successful, the playwright has generally received favorable notices. Many critics have compared her writings with those of other eccentric Southern writers like Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty.

Henley's first screen credit was for her contributions to the screenplay of "True Stories" (1986), co-written with David Byrne and her companion Stephen Tobolowsky. That same year, her first solo screenplay, "Nobody's Fool" was produced. Directed by Evelyn Purcell, "Nobody's Fool" was a quirky romantic comedy which depicted the growing relationship between an outcast waitress (Roseanna Arquette) and a drifter (Eric Roberts) in a small Southern town. Also in 1986, Bruce Beresford helmed the feature version of "Crimes of the Heart", starring Sissy Spacek, Diane Keaton and Jessica Lange. Henley received an Oscar nod for her screenplay. She went on to adapt another of her plays as "Miss Firecracker" (1989), about a local beauty pageant. Starring in the latter was Holly Hunter who had a long association with the playwright, having appeared in stage productions of "Crimes of the Heart", "The Wake of Jamey Foster", "The Lucky Spot" and "The Miss Firecracker Contest".

Henley's one screen acting role was as a Bible pusher in Jonathan Demme's "Swing Shift" (1984).

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Swing Shift (1984) Bible Pusher
2.
 Intimate Portrait: Holly Hunter (2000) Interviewee
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in Jackson, Mississippi
1973:
Had first play produced while still a college sophomore, the one-act "Am I Blue"
1976:
Moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career
:
Began writing "Crimes of the Heart"; first produced at the Actors Theatre of Louisville in 1979
1979:
Wrote TV pilot for "Morgan's Daughter"
1984:
Feature acting debut, cameo as a bible pusher, "Swing Shift"
1986:
Co-wrote first screenplay with David Byrne and Stephen Tobolowsky, "True Stories"
1986:
Solo screenwriting debut, from her story of the same title, "Nobody's Fool"
1987:
Served as a writer for the Jonathan Demme PBS special, "A Family Tree"
1989:
Play "Abundance" premiered at South Coast Repertory before transferring to Off-Broadway
1990:
"Signatures" debuted at the New York Stage and Film Company
1998:
Wrote play "Impossible Marriage"; produced Off-Broadway with Holly Hunter in the lead
2000:
Debuted new play "Family Week"
:
Wrote draft of screenplay for the film version of the novel "The Shipping News"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Southern Methodist University: Dallas , Texas - 1974
University of Illinois: Urbana , Illinois - 1975 - 1976

Notes

"Life must be looked at with irony and humor. You may be beaten and defeated but your spirit cannot be conquered. You WILL overcome bad times; you WILL have strength of character; you'll be better for the negative things which you are experiencing." -- Henley quoted in press information from "Nobody's Fool"

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Stephen Tobolowsky. Director, writer, actor. Met aas college undergraduates; lived together until c. 1989.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Charles Boyce Henley. Attorney. Involved in local politics; divorced from Henley's mother c. 1968; died at age 52 in 1978.
mother:
Elizabeth Josephine Caldwell. Actor. Involved in local theater; divorced from Henley's father c. 1968; remarried.
sister:
Len Gilliam.
son:
Patrick Henley. Born c. 1995.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

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