Thursday, June 9, 2016

R.I.P. Peter Shaffer (1926-2016)

Peter Shaffer
On June 6, 2016, writer Peter Shaffer died at the age of 90 while on a trip to Ireland. While he received two Oscar nominations, he may better be remembered for his work on stage with the plays Amadeus and Equus. One of his most impressive feats was his ability to do productions that ranged from serious dramas to comedies such as Black Comedy that featured characters wandering around in the dark. His work continues to remain successful on stage as well as his work on director Milos Forman's adaptation of Amadeus, which won Best Picture. His passing marks the end of an impressive career that spanned many decades and awards that honored his many talents. 

Shaffer was born on May 15, 1926 to a Jewish family in Liverpool, England. During his youth, he was a Bevin Boy coal miner during World War II. He also volunteered for various other jobs such as bookstore clerk at the New York Public Library. It was here that he found that he had a knack for writing dramas. Of course, he wasn't the only one in the family who did. His twin brother Anthony Shaffer wrote plays that were adapted into films - including the Oscar-nominated Sleuth. He also wrote Frenzy and The Wicker Man. As for Peter, his experience took him immediately to the world of theater.

In 1954, Shaffer wrote The Salt Land, which was presented on the BBC. This encouraged him to write more, including 1958's Five Finger Exercise - of which won him his first Evening Standard Drama Award. The Private Ear/The Public Eye featured talents like Maggie Smith and Kenneth Williams, the former of whom Shaffer would work with again on Lettice and Lovage in 1986. He also had a skill with comedy, as Black Comedy was renowned for its story focusing on characters stumbling around in the dark despite the stage being flooded with light. His biggest success and first Tony win came in 1973 with Equus about a stable boy who has an odd relationship with his horse. He would follow this success with the equally successful Amadeus about composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Both of these shows ran for over 1,000 performances.

While it is true that most of his screenplays were later turned into films, the two of note came from his biggest successes. First came 1977's Equus, which earned his first Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, though lost to Alvin Sargent for Julia. Later on, he worked on Amadeus with director Milos Forman, of which became one of the runaway favorites at The Oscars that year. It won eight Oscars including Best Picture. For Shaffer, it was a win in the category that he had previously lost. Presented by Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster, his speech was quaint and to the point.

During his speech, he made sure to mention everyone that he had worked with. He didn't do this by rambling down names, but suggesting that they'd forgive him for only mentioning one name: Forman. For the entire speech, he mentioned how much he enjoyed working with the director and felt that he did substantial work with his original material. It's a speech meant to honor the effort that went into making Amadeus, and he did so in such an economic and straightforward way. It may not be one of the most memorable speeches, but it is on the humbler side of the equation. The film joined a small collection of Best Picture winners that also won the Tony equivalent for best production.

Shaffer continued to work mostly in theater for the rest of his life. He produced various shows, including Lettice and Lovage that won Smith a Tony. He even worked on a revival of Equus, which played on stage in 2009. It received a lot of attention for starring Daniel Radcliffe, who was still associated with the Harry Potter franchise at the time. The play's necessity to have their protagonist nude at points caused quite a stir in the news. Otherwise, his career in his final years has avoided the eventful nature of his long and impressive early run of hits. What he leaves behind now is several impressive plays that were turned into equally engaging movies. With plenty of wit and heart, he is a writer unlike any other, and whose talents are sorely missed. Even if he's just the Amadeus writer to readers here, his expansive work is worthy of note, and that's quite the impressive legacy to leave behind.

No comments:

Post a Comment