Paul Zindel, who won the Pulitzer Prize and the Obie Award for his play The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, died of cancer on Thursday, March 27 at the Jacob Perlow Hospice of Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan. He was 66.
Born on May 15, 1936 in the remote and sleepy Tottenville section of Staten Island, Zindel earned bachelor's and master's degrees in chemistry from Wagner College, which later awarded him an honorary doctorate. He then had a six-year career as a high school chemistry teacher. That experience and his upbringing certainly influenced the title and subject matter of his prize winning play, which focuses on a shrill, desperately unhappy Staten Island mother and her two daughters, one of whom is epileptic while the other displays budding talent as a scientist. The title of The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds is a metaphor, referring both to the daughter's science class experiment and to the toxic family situation depicted in the play.
The Effect of Gamma Rays opened Off-Broadway in 1970 with a cast that included Sada Thompson, Pamela Payton-Wright, and Swoosie Kurtz, following a production in Houston. It ran for two years in New York, winning for its author an Obie Award for Best American Play in 1970 and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1971. A 1978 Broadway revival, starring Shelley Winters and Carol Kane, was short lived. Zindel penned the screenplay for the 1972 film version, directed by Paul Newman and starring Joanna Woodward as Beatrice, a character modeled after Zindel's own mother. (The play is currently being revived by the Jean Cocteau Repertory at the Bouwerie Lane Theatre in Manhattan; click here for information.)
Zindel's later plays were nowhere near as succesful as Marigolds but he became well known as a novelist for teenagers, with such titles The Pigman (1968), My Darling, My Hamburger (1969), I Never Loved Your Mind (1970), Pardon Me, You're Stepping on My Eyeball (1976), Confessions of a Teenage Baboon, (1977) and The Undertaker's Gone Bananas (1978) to his credit. One of his often unremarked works was his screenplay for the 1974 film version of the Jerry Herman musical Mame, which starred Lucille Ball.
Paul Zindel is survived by a son, David, of Los Angeles, and a sister, Betty Hagen, of Edison, N.J. He was divorced in 1998 from novelist Bonnie Hildebrand, whom he had married in 1973.