Obie Award-winning playwright Corinne Jacker, best known off-Broadway for her ‘70s-era plays Bits and Pieces and Harry Outside, has died of a stroke at age 79.
The playwright and television writer, who got her start off-Broadway at 40, was skilled at taking on heavy subject matter – divorce, death, domestic strife – with a light touch and a wry smile. She got her start in regional, repertory and off-Broadway theater in the early ‘70s, with plays staged at renowned off-Broadway institutions like the Manhattan Theatre Club, the Circle Repertory Company, and Playwrights Horizons.
Jacker's Obie Award-winning Bits & Pieces opened in 1974 at the Manhattan Theater Club. The drama follows the widow of a late college professor, who chose to donate most of his organs for transplants, as she searches the globe for transplant recipients. Jacker's second Obie Award came from Harry Outside, which opened one year after Bits and Pieces at the Circle Repertory Company. It follows a successful architect who has just recovered from a mental breakdown. Disillusioned with the constraints of modern society, he refuses to stay indoors, moving his studio into the woods.
"It is a life portrait of a community of unfinished people—destructive, self-destructive, yet surviving," The New York Times wrote of Harry.
Jacker (whose given name is Corinne Muriel Litvin) was born in Chicago on June 29, 1933, to Thomas and Theresa Bellak Litvin. She earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in theater at Northwestern University. The deep relationship issues explored in Jacker's work echoed in her own life. Her marriage to Richard Jacker ended in divorce. No immediate family members survive her.
In 1981, Jacker became head writer for the NBC soap opera Another World. It wasn't her thing. She left after a single season. Jacker went on to write scripts for public television, including episodes of The Best of Families, a 1977 series that follows three families in 1890s New York City.
Jacker's first play, at the ripe age of 24, was an adaptation of Katherine Anne Porter's Pale Horse, Pale Rider. It closed after one performance, and Jacker spent 10 years on hiatus from theater before hitting off-Broadway hard. During that time, she wrote five mass-market-style science novels, all of which were published.
Jacker did not pre-plan her theatrical works, novels, or television shows in advance. She started with one scene, image or idea.
"If I had to give advice to give to a young writer, I'd just say, ‘Put a piece of paper in the typewriter and start writing,'" she said in a 1981 interview with The Day. "[M]ostly I don't know what I'm doing. The fun is learning from what you're writing."