- Shepard, Sam
orig. Samuel Shepard Rogersborn Nov. 5, 1943, Fort Sheridan, Ill., U.S.U.S. playwright and actor.He worked as an actor and rock musician before turning to playwriting; his early one-act dramas and experimental plays were performed Off-Broadway in the 1960s, winning several Obie Awards. His successful full-length plays, noted for their often surreal images drawn from the American West, science fiction, and popular culture, include The Tooth of Crime (1972), Curse of the Starving Class (1976), Buried Child (1979, Pulitzer Prize), True West (1980), Fool for Love (1983; film, 1985), and Simpatico (1996). He wrote the screenplay for Paris, Texas (1984) and acted in numerous movies, including Days of Heaven (1978) and The Right Stuff (1983).
* * *▪ 1997It took some 30 years, but Sam Shepard, one of the leading U.S. playwrights, finally made it to Broadway in 1996 when his 1979 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Buried Child received a celebrated revival. This recognition came after Shepard already was renowned for his work as an actor, notably in the film The Right Stuff (1983), for which he received an Academy Award nomination as best supporting actor.The son of a career army officer, Samuel Shepard Rogers was born on Nov. 5, 1943, in Fort Sheridan, Ill. He grew up on military bases and on an avocado ranch in California. After one year of junior college, he joined a touring repertory group, and in 1963 he arrived in New York City to pursue an acting career. It was as the writer of experimental one-act plays in Off-Off Broadway theatre in the mid-1960s, however, that Shepard first made his mark. His early plays, memorably Cowboy Mouth (written with poet-singer Patti Smith), were characterized by striking language and imagery, violence and fantasy, and an innovative structure based on psychological reality. Shepard also played the drums with the rock band the Holy Modal Rounders, which fostered a rock-and-roll sensibility that informed his plays. Particularly notable was The Tooth of Crime, written in London, where Shepard and his wife, actress O-Lan Johnson (they later divorced), lived from 1971 to 1974.Returning to the U.S., Shepard won growing praise and became the resident playwright at San Francisco's Magic Theatre. In the mid-1970s his plays became increasingly realistic and linear in structure, though they continued to be concerned with myth, especially that of the American West. With Curse of the Starving Class (1976), Buried Child (1978), and True West (1980), Shepard also began to focus on families haunted by dark secrets and ones grappling with sexual taboos and rivalry. He began his film career in Days of Heaven (1978), establishing a rough-hewn image reminiscent of Gary Cooper. In Frances (1982), Country (1984), and Crimes of the Heart (1986), he costarred with Jessica Lange, with whom he had a long relationship and two children. Shepard's filmography also includes his lead role in Fool for Love (1985, adapted from his 1983 play) and the screenplay for Wim Wenders's Paris, Texas (1984), loosely based on Shepard's book Motel Chronicles (1982). His prose writing includes the collections Hawk Moon (1973) and Cruising Paradise (1996) and his firsthand account of Bob Dylan's 1975 tour of New England, Rolling Thunder Logbook (1977). Later, Shepard's dramatic output slowed. His most recent works include A Lie of the Mind (1985), the less-well-received States of Shock (1988), and Simpatico (1994). He also wrote and directed the films Far North (1988) and Silent Tongue (1994). (JEFF WALLENFELDT)
* * *▪ American playwrightbyname of Samuel Shepard Rogersborn Nov. 5, 1943, Fort Sheridan [near Highland Park], Ill., U.S.American playwright and actor whose plays adroitly blend images of the American West, Pop motifs, science fiction, and other elements of popular and youth culture.As the son of a career Army father, Shepard spent his childhood on military bases across the United States and in Guam before his family settled on a farm in Duarte, Calif. After a year of agricultural studies in college, he joined a touring company of actors and, in 1963, moved to New York City to pursue his theatrical interests. His earliest attempts at playwriting, a rapid succession of one-act plays, found a receptive audience in Off-Off-Broadway productions. In the 1965–66 season, Shepard won Obie awards (presented by the Village Voice newspaper) for his plays Chicago, Icarus's Mother, and Red Cross.Shepard lived in England from 1971 to 1974, and two notable plays of this period—The Tooth of Crime (1972) and Geography of a Horse Dreamer (1974)—premiered in London. In late 1974, he became playwright-in-residence at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco, where most of his subsequent plays were first produced.Shepard's works of the mid-1970s showed a heightening of earlier techniques and themes. In Killer's Head (1975), for example, the rambling monologue, a Shepard stock-in-trade, blends horror and banality in a murderer's last thoughts before electrocution; Angel City (1976) depicts the destructive machinery of the Hollywood entertainment industry; and Suicide in B-Flat (1976) exploits the potentials of music as an expression of character.Beginning in the late 1970s, Shepard applied his unconventional dramatic vision to a more conventional dramatic form, the family tragedy. Curse of the Starving Class (1976), the Pulitzer Prize-winning Buried Child (1978), and True West (1980) are linked thematically in their examination of troubled and tempestuous blood relationships in a fragmented society.Shepard returned to acting in the late 1970s, winning critical accolades for his performances in such films as Days of Heaven (1978), Resurrection (1980), The Right Stuff (1983), and Fool for Love (1985), which was written by Shepard and based on his 1983 play of the same name. He also appeared in The Pelican Brief (1993), Snow Falling on Cedars (1999), All the Pretty Horses (2000), which was based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy (McCarthy, Cormac), Black Hawk Down (2001), and The Notebook (2004).His other plays include La Turista (1966), Operation Sidewinder (1970), The Unseen Hand (1970), Seduced (1979), and A Lie of the Mind (1986). In 1986 Shepard was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.Additional ReadingLeslie A. Wade, Sam Shepard and the American Theatre (1997); Stephen J. Bottoms, Theatre of Sam Shepard: States of Crisis (1998); Matthew Roudané (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Sam Shepard (2002); Carol Rosen, Sam Shepard (2004).
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