Born in St. Petersburg, Florida and raised in Corpus Christi, Texas, McNally moved to New York City in 1956 to attend Columbia University, where he majored in English and wrote Columbia's annual Varsity Show, graduating in 1960, the same year in which he gained membership into the Phi Beta Kappa Society. He worked briefly for the alumni magazine Columbia College Today. (Picture: Thomas Kirdahy & Terrence McNally)
After graduation, McNally moved to Mexico to focus on his writing, completing a one-act play which he submitted to the Actors Studio in New York for production. While the play was turned down by the acting school, the Studio was impressed with the script, and McNally was invited to serve as the Studio's stage manager so that he could gain practical knowledge of theater. In his early years in New York, he was a protégé and lover of the noted playwright Edward Albee.
In 1968, McNally asked that his name be removed from the credits for what would have been his first major project, the musical Here's Where I Belong. His decision proved to be a wise one, as the show closed after one performance. Although several early comedies such as Next in 1969 and The Ritz in 1975 won McNally critical praise, it was not until later in his career that he would become truly successful with works such as his Off-Broadway play Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune and its screen adaptation with stars Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer. (Picture: Edward Albee, 1961, by Carl Van Vechten)
His first credited Broadway musical was The Rink in 1984, a project he entered after the score by composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb had been written. In 1990, McNally won an Emmy Award for Best Writing in a Miniseries or Special for Andre's Mother, a drama about a woman trying to cope with her son's death from AIDS. A year later, he returned to the stage with another AIDS-related play, Lips Together, Teeth Apart, a study of the irrational fears many people harbor towards homosexuals and people who have AIDS. In the play, two married couples spend the Fourth of July weekend at a summer house on Fire Island. The house has been willed to Sally Truman by her brother who has just died of AIDS, and it soon becomes evident that both couples are afraid to get in the swimming pool once used by Sally's brother. It was written specifically for Christine Baranski, Tony Heald, Swoosie Kurtz, and oft-collaborator, Nathan Lane, who had also starred in "The Lisbon Traviata".
With Kiss of the Spider Woman (based on the novel by Manuel Puig) in 1992, McNally returned to the musical stage, collaborating with Kander and Ebb on a script which explores the complex relationship between two men caged together in a Latin American prison. Kiss of the Spider Woman won the 1993 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical. He collaborated with Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens on Ragtime in 1997, a musical adaptation of the E.L. Doctorow novel, which tells the story of Coalhouse Walker Jr., a fiery black piano man who demands retribution when his Model T is destroyed by a mob of white troublemakers. The play also features such historical figures as Harry Houdini, Booker T. Washington, J.P. Morgan, and Henry Ford. Ragtime recently finished a Broadway run on January 3, 2010.
McNally's other plays include 1994's Love! Valour! Compassion!, with Lane and John Glover, which examines the relationships of eight gay men; Master Class (1995), a character study of legendary opera soprano Maria Callas which won the Tony for Best Play, and Dedication, or The Stuff of Dreams with Lane and Marian Seldes.
In 1997, McNally stirred up a storm of controversy with Corpus Christi, a modern day retelling of the story of Jesus' birth, ministry, and death in which both he and his disciples are portrayed as homosexual. In fact, the play was initially canceled because of death threats from extremist religious groups against the board members of the Manhattan Theatre Club which was to produce the play. However, several other playwrights such as Tony Kushner threatened to withdraw their plays if Corpus Christi was not produced, and the board finally relented. When the play opened, the theatre was besieged by almost 2,000 protesters, furious at what they considered blasphemy. When Corpus Christi opened in London, a British Muslim group called the Defenders of the Messenger Jesus even went so far as to issue a fatwa sentencing McNally to death. On January 19, 2008, Robert Forsyth, Anglican bishop of South Sydney condemned Corpus Christi (which opened for February's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, a play depicting Judas seducing Jesus): "It is deliberately, not innocently, offensive and they're obviously having a laugh about it." The play also showed Jesus administrating a marriage between two male apostles. Director Leigh Rowney accepted that it would offend some Christians and said: "I wanted this play in the hands of a Christian person like myself to give it dignity but still open it up to answering questions about Christianity as a faith system."
In a January 2003 interview, McNally addressed critics who said he had "added" two gay characters to his Broadway adaptation of the film The Full Monty: "If Neil Simon had written the script, they wouldn’t have said that. I get it for being gay, for proselytising. It’s so annoying, all that bullshit."
McNally's play Deuce ran on Broadway in a limited engagement in 2007 for 121 performances. Directed by Michael Blakemore, it starred Angela Lansbury and Marian Seldes.
The Kennedy Center, Washington, DC presented three of McNally's plays that focus on his works involving opera, titled Nights at the Opera in March 2010. The pieces included a new play, Golden Age; Master Class, starring Tyne Daly; and The Lisbon Traviata, starring Malcolm Gets and John Glover.
McNally has collaborated on several operas, including composer Jake Heggie's adaptation of Sister Helen Prejean's book Dead Man Walking, for which McNally wrote the libretto. In 2007, Heggie composed a chamber opera, Three Decembers, based on original text by McNally titled Some Christmas Letters (and a Couple of Phone Calls, Too), with libretto by Gene Scheer.
On March 8, 2011 it was announced that McNally will pen a new book for the Rogers and Hart musical Pal Joey. The production will play at the Kennedy Center in June 2011.
Terrence McNally & Thomas Kirdahy by Scott Pasfield (Gay in America)
"The best thing I've done in my long life is marry Tom Kirdahy. It was that moment, just a year ago, in the shadow of the Kennedy Center in our nation's capital when I understood who I was and all I still could be. The total commitment of two lives to each other is a profound moment for anyone, but for a gay man born in 1938 it was an overwhelming one"
Love! Valour! Compassion! By Terrence McNally – Okay…so it’s a play, not a novel or short story. But it’s totally bril so it has to be included in this list. I know some people can’t get into reading plays the same way they do a book, and maybe it’s the writer in me, but I LOVE it. I get to create the sets in my mind, cast it with actors I like and basically direct the entire thing in my head while I’m reading it. Try it sometime if you haven’t already. It’s fun, damn it!! : ) Other than playing director, the story is also in my opinion, one of the best and most true depictions of gay men I’ve ever read. I can honestly say I either am or know every single one of the characters and like life – it is at times funny & sad, sexy & romantic, as well as sweet & sarcastic. If you just can’t get into reading the play, then watch the film. For me the play is better, but either way, McNally will have you running the emotional gamut, yet somehow leaving you with this incredible sense of hopefulness. --Ethan Day
Terrence McNally, 1986, by Robert Giard (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl_getrec.asp?fld=img&id=1081979)
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digitallibrary/giard.html)
Gay Conversations with God: Straight Talk on Fanatics, Fags and the God Who Loves Us All by James Alexander Langteaux
Hardcover: 176 pages
Publisher: Findhorn Press (April 1, 2012)
Amazon: Gay Conversations with God: Straight Talk on Fanatics, Fags and the God Who Loves Us All
Representing a first in gay and Christian publishing, this provocative book presents a complete reversal of thought and action, contending that God loves homosexuals without attempting to refute scripture references. The study confronts its subject with a quirky sense of humor in the spirit of the “bedtime story,” providing a rare, evangelical Christian volume addressed directly to the gay community. Unorthodox in its presentation, this guide speaks the language of those who may feel abandoned, condemned, and damned while avoiding reinterpretations of scriptural passages, making the gospel accessible to a younger, free-spirited generation. Spearheading a volatile topic with candor and grace, it reframes the never-ending question, Is homosexuality a sin? and instead asks the gay community for a cease-fire—to forgive, love, and help put a stop to a cultural war being waged in the world.