Terrence McNally was an American playwright, librettist, and screenwriter whose work spanned six decades. Winner of five Tony Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019, McNally’s work includes plays, musicals, operas, and screenplays. Born in St. Petersburg, Florida, McNally took frequent trips with his parents to New York City to see shows on Broadway. He attributes his love of theatre from these trips and enrolled in Columbia College in 1956 to study a BA in English. In 1961, after his graduation, McNally was hired as a tutor for novelist John Steinbeck’s sons. While working for Steinbeck, McNally was asked by Steinbeck to write the libretto for a musical version of East of Eden.
McNally’s first show, This Side of the Door, was produced at the Actor’s Studio Workshop in 1962. He gained notoriety when his play And Things That Go Bump in the Night (1964) premiered at the Royale Theatre. The play prominently featured homosexuality and was met with negative reviews. Despite the negative reaction from his first show. McNally would go on to feature many stories of the LGBTQ community. When the AIDS crisis hit New York City, McNally centred a lot of his work around the impact of the crisis. When writing for musicals, Terrence McNally often partnered with musical teams such as Kander and Ebb and Flaherty and Ahrens. Some of his most famous works include Kiss of the Spiderwoman (1992), Frankie and Johnny at the Claire de Lune (1987), Ragtime, (1996) and Corpus Christi (1997).
In his personal life, McNally had a relationship with American playwright Edward Albee for many years. McNally ended the relationship, frustrated by Albee’s refusal to be open about his sexuality. He then began a long-term relationship with Robert Drivas, an actor and director. They broke up in 1976 and remained close friends until Drivas passed away from AIDS-related complications in 1986. McNally was in a long-term relationship with Tom Kirdahy, a Broadway producer and former civil rights attorney for an AIDS organization. They were married on December 20, 2003, in Washington, D.C., and renewed their vows on June 26, 2015, to celebrate the legalization of same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Terrence McNally was given a Tony for Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019. McNally passed away at the age of 81 from complications due to COVID-19 on March 24, 2020.
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