Playwright Robert Eugene Somerfeld Passes Away at 90

He is best known for his one-act plays The Silent Men, The Projection Room, and Yo Yo.

By: Jan. 24, 2023
Playwright Robert Eugene Somerfeld Passes Away at 90
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BroadwayWorld is saddened to report the passing of playwright Robert Eugene Somerfeld. He was 90 years old.

Born in Chicago, Illinois to Mary Somerfeld (née Rose) and Moses Somerfeld, Robert's first production as a professional writer was at age 13 for "Junior Junction" at ABC Radio Network. He authored prize-winning books on mental magic in 1951 and 1952, and graduated from the University of Illinois in 1953, where he edited a college humor magazine and played college basketball. After attending graduate school at UCLA, Robert went on to become a Clio award- winning ad agency copywriter in NY & LA, followed by a robust freelance career writing for major corporations such as IBM, Mobil, and Pfizer.

In 1963, he wrote the highly-acclaimed short film Weekend Pass, which launched his screenwriting career. Throughout the 1960's, he pitched, developed and completed numerous TV movies (including Love Hate Love with Ryan O'Neal and Ali McGraw), feature films, and TV shows. Rod Serling, a friend and mentor, recalled Robert as "an enormous talent with an unerring sense of humor."

He was most well-known as an absurdist playwright of one-act plays such as The Silent Men (La Mama), The Projection Room (Lucille Lortel Theatre) and Yo Yo (Ensemble Studio Theatre), in New York's off and off-off broadway circle in the late 1960's - 70's. Other theatre credits include Richie (Orpheum Theatre, 1980) and Whistler's Mummy (staged reading with Kathleen Chalfant, directed by David Schweitzer, Playwrights Horizon, 2007).

Honors and awards include the prestigious Audrey Wood National Playwriting Award for his first full-length play, Hugger, Mugger (1976), and the Dramatists Guild Playwriting Award for Revelation Pie (1990). His 40+ plays were performed internationally, with favorable reviews in the New York Times, the L.A. Times and the Village Voice. He was a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, The Writers Guild of America, the Westport Theatre Group, the Circle Rep Playwright Project and was a devoted mentor to many young playwrights and screenwriters. He also taught writing to the blind at NYC's Lighthouse Guild. Richard Kostelanetz, author of the book, The End of Intelligent Writing, named Robert Somerfeld "one of the most interesting recent playwrights."

He is survived by his wife of 53 years, writer Nancy Swallow Somerfeld, his two daughters (also writers), Gretchen Somerfeld and Erika Somerfeld, and his stepson, Jesse Daughtrey.

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