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Mart Crowley, Author of Groundbreaking Play The Boys in the Band, Dies at 84

Crowley earned a 2019 Tony Award for the drama's 50th anniversary revival.

Mart Crowely has died at 84.
(© David Gordon)

Mart Crowley, author of the groundbreaking play The Boys in the Band, has died at the age of 84, due to complications from heart surgery.

Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, on August 21, 1935, Crowley was a graduate of the Catholic University of America, where he studied drama. After the 1961 Elia Kazan film Splendor in the Grass, Crowley took on a job as the assistant to one of the film's stars, Natalie Wood, who encouraged him to write the play that would become The Boys in the Band.

Considered a landmark piece of gay theater, The Boys in the Band put gay men's lives onstage without judgment at a time when that kind of openness was still unacceptable. "I was fed up with the way gay people were treated in those days, so I didn't care if people were enraged or outraged," Crowley told TheaterMania in 2019. "I knew that this play was a 'taboo' subject at that time, and the chances of getting it done were slim, but at least, if people read it, it might get their attention." It debuted in 1968 and caused a sensation, running for 1,001 performances over two years. William Friedkin directed the 1970 film version, which featured the original off-Broadway company.

Crowley's later works include Remote Asylum, A Breeze From the Gulf, and The Men From the Boys, a sequel to The Boys in the Band that premiered in 2002.

Though The Boys in the Band was popular in its day, "It went through a bad patch of being 'politically incorrect,' not the right image to project for the gay community," Crowley told us as he reflected on the play's star-studded Broadway premiere the year before. That production, staged by Joe Mantello, earned Crowley a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play. A new film adaptation, directed by Mantello and featuring his recent Broadway company, is due later this year on Netflix.

"Thank God, that cloud has passed," Crowley added. "That was indescribably fulfilling for me."