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.
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.
Edward Albee met McNally in February 1959 at a party, beginning a relationship lasting five years. The relationship ended in 1963 when McNally became involved with actor Robert Drivas.
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.
Together since 2001, Terrence McNally married Thomas Kirdahy in a civil union ceremony in Vermont in 2003, and they subsequently in Washington, D.C. on April 6, 2010.
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"
James Coco's first modern collaboration with playwright Terrence McNally was a 1968 off Broadway double-bill of the one-act plays “Sweet Eros” and “Witness.”
In 1974, Doric Wilson (with Billy Blackwell, Peter del Valle and John McSpadden) formed TOSOS (The Other Side of Silence), the first professional theatre company to deal openly and honestly with the gay experience. The company featured new plays and revivals by such writers as Brendan Behan, Noël Coward, Christopher Hampton, Charles Jurrist, Joe Orton, Terrence McNally, Robert Patrick, Sandra Scoppettone, Martin Sherman and Lanford Wilson.
In 1983 Casey Donovan turned his hand to producing, with a Broadway revival of Terrence McNally's play The Ritz in which he also appeared.
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 1986 Alan Buchsbaum designed McNally Townhouse, at 57 Bank Street.
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.
In 1991 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. John Benjamin Hickey originated the role of Arthur in Terrence McNally's Tony Award-winning play Love! Valour! Compassion! in 1995, a role he would recreate for the 1997 film version.
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. Joe Mantello directed The Ritz, his sixth production with playwright Terrence McNally, in 2007. 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.
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. Kelly McGillis appeared in a production of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune by Terrence McNally, which toured the United Kingdom in 2010
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.
Tom Kirdahy has dedicated his professional career and personal life working for LGBT causes. Tom spent nearly two decades as an attorney providing free legal services to people with HIV/AIDS, helping to create projects at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Bronx AIDS Services and on Long Island. Tom currently serves on the board of a LGBT Center. Separately, Tom has raised the curtain on the second act of his career as a theater producer, receiving a Tony nomination as one of the lead producers of RAGTIME.
Terrence McNally, playwright, and Thomas Joseph Kirdahy, public-interest lawyer, affirmed their partnership on December 20, 2003, at the Inn at Sawmill Farm in West Dover. Vt. Millicent B. Atkin, a justice of the peace for Dover, Vt., performed the civil union ceremony. (Picture: Terrence McNally)
Mr. McNally won Tony awards for best play for ''Love! Valour! Compassion!'' (1995) and ''Master Class'' (1996) and for best book of a musical for his adaptations of ''Kiss of the Spider Woman'' (1993) and ''Ragtime'' (1998). Mr. McNally also wrote ''Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune'' (1987) and ''Lips Together, Teeth Apart''(1991).
Mr. McNally's play, ''The Stendhal Syndrome,'' opened in February 2004 at Primary Stages in New York, with a cast led by Isabella Rossellini and Richard Thomas.
Mr. McNally graduated from Columbia. His parents, the late Dorothy K. McNally and Hubert A. McNally, lived in Corpus Christi, Tex., where his father owned Ace Sales, a beer distributor.
Mr. Kirdahy is a public advocate in Riverhead, N.Y., with Nassau-Suffolk Law Services, a nonprofit program that provides legal assistance in civil matters to low-income clients. He specializes in representing people with H.I.V. or AIDS. He graduated from New York University, from which he also received his law degree.
He is a son of Joan M. Kirdahy and Dr. Paul E. Kirdahy of Stony Brook, N.Y. His father, who for many years was the superintendent of schools in West Islip, N.Y., retired as the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. His mother retired as a clerk-typist who conducted police exams for Suffolk County.
The couple met at Guild Hall in East Hampton, N.Y., in the summer of 2001 when Mr. Kirdahy, who was then the chairman of the East End Gay Organization on Long Island, organized a panel discussion called ''Fear From a Gay Perspective.'' The panel included Mr. McNally, Edward Albee and Lanford Wilson.
''I met him backstage at Guild Hall, in the wings,'' Mr. McNally recalled, noting that he quickly took to Mr. Kirdahy. But Mr. McNally was leaving the next day for a long trip to Peru and agreed to look him up when he got back. ''We became a couple fairly soon after,'' Mr. McNally said.
Before long Mr. McNally was off to Chicago, where he was working with John Kander and Fred Ebb on a musical version of ''The Visit'' by Friedrich Dürrenmatt. ''So Tom came out to see me there,'' he continued. ''The play, however, ran into some problems. And Sept. 11 happened, and my mother died.''
After that, his relationship with Mr. Kirdahy became a much closer one. ''When you've lost so much, you tend to cut to the chase quickly,'' Mr. McNally said.
Then, around Thanksgiving 2001, Mr. McNally said, he learned he had lung cancer. He initially debated about telling Mr. Kirdahy. ''Then I said to myself, 'You really must talk to him about it.' When I did, he said to me, 'I'll be there for you, if that's what you'd like.' I told him I'd like that very much.''
Mr. McNally said that his two operations had gone well and described himself as ''extremely happy and a little nervous'' about the ceremony they had in 2003.
''Although we haven't been together long, I feel as if we've been together for 20 years,'' Mr. McNally said.
On April 6, 2010, in Washington, Terrence McNally and Tom Kirdahy tied the knot on the banks of the Potomac near the Kennedy Center, which is running a series of McNally's plays. The couple had a civil union in Vermont in 2003, but wanted a marriage: Rev. George Walker of the People's Congregational United Church of Christ performed the ceremony -- Kirdahy read a scene from McNally's play "Corpus Christi" -- and actress Tyne Daly served as a witness. The couple live in New York City.
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)
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