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December 21, 2008

Writer Dale Wasserman Dies

Man of La Mancha Playwright

Writer Dale Wasserman Dies

Man of La Mancha Playwright

Dale Wasserman, author of the book for the Tony-winning musical Man of La Mancha, as well as the stage adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, died December 21, 2008, of congestive heart failure at his home in the Phoenix suburb of Paradise Valley. He was 94.

A musical rendering of Miguel Cervantes’ classic Don Quixote saga, Man of La Mancha was one of the most successful Broadway shows of the 1960s. Starring Richard Kiley and Joan Diener, it opened in 1965 and ran for more than 2,300 performances, winning the Tony for best musical along the way.

Wasserman’s adaptation of Cuckoo’s Nest, about a rabble-rousing patient at a mental hospital, opened on Broadway in 1963. Although the production, which starred Kirk Douglas and Joan Tetzel, did not have a long run, it was frequently performed in community theaters.

The film adaptation of Cuckoo’s Nest, starring Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher, won several Academy Awards. But prior to his death, Kesey expressed special admiration for Wasserman’s stage version, which has been published in 27 languages.

Wasserman began his writing career in television in the 1950s, and went on to write feature films as well, including 1958’s The Vikings, starring Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis, and Mister Buddwing, starring James Garner.

The son of Russian immigrants, Wasserman, one of 14 children was born in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Orphaned at age 10, he went to live with uncles and aunts. Independent at an early age, he spent several vagabond years in which, he wrote, he spent his time “jumping freight trains, graduating as a hobo cum laude,” before becoming a writer.

Wasserman wrote until his death, working on a new play to the very end.

Survivors include his wife, Martha.

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