George Furth was an American playwright, librettist, and actor. He was born with the name George Schweinfurth (he dropped the first syllable when he began his acting career) on December 14, 1932, in Chicago, Illinois. Furth attended Northwestern University, from where he graduated in 1954 with a bachelor of science in speech, and Columbia University, where he earned his master of fine arts degree in 1956.
After graduating from Columbia, Furth began to act in New York theatres, and he made his Broadway debut in 1961 in the Broadway flop A Cook for Mr. General, which also starred a young Dustin Hoffman. Because of Furth’s bespectacled, nervous look and disposition, he led a successful career acting in films and television shows as a milquetoast-type character. Some of Furth’s film credits include The Boston Strangler, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Shampoo, and he appeared on television shows such as I Dream of Jeannie, Happy Days, Murder, She Wrote, and Little House on the Prairie.
As a writer, Furth is most notable for his collaborations with composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. He wrote the book for the landmark 1970 musical Company, which chronicles a 35-year old bachelor and his relationships with his married friends and girlfriends. Company won the Tony Award for Best Musical and earned Furth the Tony for Best Book. Furth’s two other collaborations with Sondheim, the 1981 musical Merrily We Roll Along and the 1996 play Getting Away with Murder, both had ill-fated runs on Broadway, though the former has been revived numerous times successfully and has now become a cult classic among Sondheim fans. Furth also wrote the book for the 1977 John Kander and Fred Ebb musical The Act (which served primarily as a vehicle for actress-singer Liza Minnelli), as well as three plays of his own: Twigs (which appeared on Broadway in 1971 and used some of Furth’s material that didn’t make it into Company), The Supporting Cast, and Precious Sons.
Furth, who was gay, had no serious relationships throughout his life, and he was thankful for that, for he believed it allowed him to be freer in terms of his career. He was generally loved by the members of the acting community, and he refused to do interviews and live his life in the limelight because he wanted to maintain his large circle of friends. Furth died in Santa Monica, California, on August 11, 2008, of a lung infection.
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