The O'Neill Honors Max Wilk

By: Feb. 24, 2011
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Max Wilk, author, playwright, film and television writer, and long time dramaturg for the National Playwrights Conference passed away at the age of 90, on Saturday, February 19th, at his home in Westport, Connecticut. Mr. Wilk's work with the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center spanned nearly three decades.

While at the O'Neill, Mr. Wilk helped both emerging and established playwrights refine their plays, working with some of modern theater's top luminaries including: Pulitzer Prize winners August Wilson and John Patrick Shanley; Lee Blessing; OyamO; James Yoshimura; Jeffrey Hatcher; Wendy McLeod; Doug Wright; Willy Holtzman; Judy GeBauer; Charles Shulman; Sam Hunter; Ursula Rani Sarma; and Lucy Caldwell. Amy Saltz, a frequent director for the National Playwrights Conference shared "Max loved the O'Neill and he loved show business. He was smart and sassy and blunt. He had great knowledge and experience, both of which he was anxious to share," she continued "I was at the O'Neill for 17 summers and he was there every year and long after, helping writers, offering support, and demanding the best of everyone. He made an indelible impression and will be missed."

Preston Whiteway, Executive Director said "Max will remain a legend at the O'Neill always. His intelligence, wit, and friendship shaped the O'Neill and the National Playwrights Conference for decades, impacting hundreds of playwrights and the American theater itself. I will miss Max holding court on the porch, and his insights, which were invariably correct." Current Artistic Director of the National Playwrights Conference, Wendy C. Goldberg, added "Max's contribution to the National Playwrights Conference is immeasurable. He was a true fixture in our community. He lent his dramaturgical gifts to countless plays, supporting many of our country's finest playwrights with great intelligence and great humor. He will be profoundly missed."

Skip Mercier, long-time friend of Max, Scenic and Costume Designer for NPC, and instructor at the National Theater institute shared, "In typical Max form, plagued with growing dementia for his last week, he told me how hard it was not to have any ideas. Then his eyes got wide and he said: ‘You know all the pictures on the wall in my study?' (Many friends covered his walls; most deceased & famous) I nodded. ‘Well they are all in train windows - there's a train just behind the walls you know. It's waiting for me but I don't know where it's going! I hope it's fun.' Then we sang "Minnie the Mermaid." To the end, he was creative, funny, and with a unique take on life and whatever is beyond."

Mr. Wilk graduated from the Yale School of Drama in 1941. Following his graduation, Mr. Wilk toured with Irving Berlin's This is the Army and wrote training films in the First Motion Picture Unit AAF. After the war, Mr. Wilk continued his impressive career as playwright, scriptwriter, and television scriptwriter writing for all types of media. He was author of three Broadway shows, Small Wonder in 1948-49, Cloud 7 in 1958, and A Musical Jubilee in 1975-76. Mr. Wilk is also the author of Mr. Williams and Ms. Wood which he adapted for the stage from his book "Represented by Audrey Wood" which he co-wrote with Audrey Wood. Additionally, Mr. Wilk authored the book for The Yellow Submarine, which featured The Beatles, as well as They're Playing Our Song: The Truth Behind the Words and Music of Three Generations; OK! The Story Of Oklahoma!: A Celebration of America's Most Beloved Musical; and The Golden Age of Television: Notes from the Survivors among many others. Mr. Wilk won both an Emmy and Peabody award for his two-hour television show The Fabulous Fifties. Overall, Mr. Wilk was the author of 19 books, four films, three produced plays, and countless television shows and magazine articles.

The impact that Mr. Wilk has had on the entire field of entertainment is impossible to measure. He will be greatly missed at the O'Neill for his constant wisdom and wit he shared with any and all. Our condolences are with the entire Wilk family.

A memorial service to celebrate the life of Mr. Wilk is currently being planned by the family in Westport for April and the O'Neill is planning a gathering during its 2011 summer season. More details will follow.


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