John Osborne was an English playwright, actor, and screenwriter who transformed English theatre in the mid-1950s.
Osborne was born in London in 1929 but the family moved to Surrey in 1935. The young Osborne hated his mother but adored his father, who died when Osborne was 11 years old. After briefly working as a trade journalist, Osborne turned to the stage and tried his hand at acting and stage managing before he discovered his strength in playwriting.
He had limited regional success with his first two plays, The Devil Inside Him and Personal Enemy, before he wrote the play that would launch his career. Look Back in Anger premiered in 1956 and was a huge success in both the West End and on Broadway. The realist play about the marital struggles of a young, working class man made him a household name and transformed modern English theatre. A film version was released in 1959, starring Richard Burton. He followed this success with his 1957 play The Entertainer, which starred Laurence Olivier and was critically acclaimed.
Osborne continued to write for the stage throughout the 1960s and 1970s and won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1964 for Luther. Other plays included A Patriot For Me (1965), The Hotel in Amsterdam (1968), and West of Suez (1971). He also wrote for the screen and won an Oscar for his adaptation of Tom Jones (1963).
Dubbed the quintessential "angry young man," Osborne's plays depict a post-WWII England much harsher than his contemporaries. Filled with anger and disillusionment, Osborne's characters rail against the mores of society, its class system, religion, politics, and press. His plays can be characterized by their high emotions, meant to cleanse the actor and audience of bad, ingrained behaviors and tastes, as well as unsparing truth and surprising wittiness.
Osborne married five times and was known to have had many affairs throughout his life. He died in 1994 at the age of 65.
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