( b. Nov 25, 1938 Salford, UNITED KINGDOM - d. Nov 20, 2011 Suffolk, UNITED KINGDOM ) Female
Shelagh Delaney, a British playwright and screenwriter who reached the height of her literary fame at 19 as an “angry young woman” — a characterization she detested — with the premiere of her play A Taste of Honey, died at her daughter’s home in Suffolk, England.
A precocious young woman with a keen eye for detail and a gift for naturalistic dialogue, Ms. Delaney — her first name is pronounced Sheila — said she wrote A Taste of Honey in just two weeks in 1958. She had been spurred by her dislike of the genteel stage writing of Terence Rattigan, specifically the play Variation on a Theme, which Rattigan intended to be socially bold but which dealt only covertly with its themes of homosexuality, promiscuity and bisexuality.
After seeing the Rattigan play, she determined she could do better, and turned a novel she was writing into the stage play that became A Taste of Honey. It is the story of Jo, a teenage girl abandoned by both her slatternly mother and her lover, a gentle black sailor who leaves her pregnant when he returns to sea. Finally, it is another outcast, a homosexual man, who cares for her and provides the only true solace she’s ever known, though he, too, is destined to leave.
The play was a long-running hit in London’s West End. On Broadway, where it opened in 1960 and ran for more than 300 performances, it was directed by Tony Richardson and George Devine and starred Angela Lansbury as the mother, Billy Dee Williams as the sailor and, as Jo, Joan Plowright, who won the Tony Award as best actress in a play. (Richardson and Ms. Delaney collaborated on a screenplay for a film version in 1962. Also directed by Richardson, it earned stellar reviews.)
The play was controversial for its forthrightly harsh and morally complex depiction of life in a place much like Salford, and it offered critics an easy opportunity to consider her work alongside that of the so-called angry young men: John Osborne, Alan Sillitoe and other writers who were rejecting the traditional reserve and gentility of British high culture.
Ms. Delaney, striking in appearance at six feet tall and intellectually self-possessed from a young age, rejected the comparison, saying that to lump her with other writers was to miss the individuality of them and, moreover, that she was not angry at all. Rather, she said, she was simply recording life as she saw it in the teeming urban environment in which she grew up.
A Taste of Honey, which was revived on Broadway in 1981 with Amanda Plummer as Jo, was the pinnacle of Ms. Delaney’s playwriting career. But though she is often listed among one-hit wonders, she wrote several screenplays, including “The White Bus” (1967), directed by Lindsay Anderson, which she adapted from one of her short stories; “Charlie Bubbles” (1967), with Albert Finney (who also directed) and Liza Minnelli, about a successful young writer who returns home from London to Manchester and struggles to cope with his good fortune in the world of commonplace deprivation he encounters there; and “Dance With a Stranger,” Mike Newell’s 1985 film, starring Miranda Richardson and Rupert Everett, about Ruth Ellis, who murdered her lover and in 1955 became the last woman to be executed in Britain.
Ms. Delaney was born in Salford, and though most sources give the year of her birth as 1939, her daughter said the date was Nov. 25, 1938. Her father was wounded during World War II and worked afterward as a ticket inspector on city buses; he died when his daughter was 18, shortly after she had completed her famous play. After A Taste of Honey, she lived much of her life in London.
In addition to her daughter, Ms. Delaney, who never married (and who always said that A Taste of Honey was not autobiographical), is survived by three grandchildren.
Source: The New York Times