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William F. Brown, Tony-Nominated Book Writer of The Wiz, Dies at 91

Brown was also a cartoonist, author, and TV writer.

William F. Brown with his wife, Tina Tippit, in 2016.
(© David Gordon)

William F. Brown, the Tony-nominated book writer of The Wiz, died on June 23 in Westport, Connecticut, according to his wife, Tina Tippit. He was 91.

Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, on April 16, 1928, Brown began his professional writing career contributing to Look Magazine in 1950. After a year in the US Army, he worked as a television producer for the advertising agency Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborne (BBDO) from 1952-54 while starting a freelance career as an author, illustrator, cartoonist, and TV writer. His first show-business credits would come from contributing comedy sketches and lyrics to nine of cabaret producer Julius Monk's revues throughout the 1950s and '60s.

He made his Broadway debut in 1967 with the comedy The Girl in the Freudian Slip. Though it only ran for four performances, it did feature Bernadette Peters in her first adult Broadway credit, as a standby in the role of the psychiatrist's teen daughter. Later theatrical credits would include the book for the 1968 musical How to Steal an Election, composed by Oscar Brand; and the backstage musical A Broadway Musical (1978), written with Lee Adams and Charles Strouse, which played for 26 performances off-Broadway at the Theatre of the Riverside Church before transferring to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, playing 14 previews before opening and closing on the same day.

His most famous credit remains his book for The Wiz, a contemporary retelling of L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz, featuring a score by Charlie Smalls and an all-black cast of performers. It would win seven Tony Awards in 1975, including Best Musical, and run for four more years on Broadway. A movie adaptation followed in 1978, as did a Broadway revival in 1984.

In addition to his theatrical credits, Brown amassed more than 100 television writing credits, including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Johnny Carson Show, and Love, American Style. He was also a syndicated cartoonist with the comic strip Boomer, and he wrote and illustrated five books.

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