Bernard Pomerance, 76, playwright ("The Elephant Man")
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That Derek
2017-08-29 19:26:46 UTC
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‘The Elephant Man’ Playwright Bernard Pomerance Dies at 76

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Seth Kelley

News Editor, Online

Bernard Pomerance, the acclaimed playwright known best for writing “The Elephant Man,” has died. He was 76.

He died on Saturday at his home in Galisteo, N.M., his long time agent Alan Brodie confirmed. The cause of death was complications from cancer.

Pomerance was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1940, and studied at the University of Chicago before moving to London in his late 20s. His first play was “High in Vietnam, Hot Damn.” Pomerance would go on to form the theater company Foco Novo in 1972 with the show’s director, Roland Rees, and David Aukin.

Pomerance first wrote “The Elephant Man” for Foco Novo. The play opened on Broadway at the Booth Theatre in 1979 and it went on to win the Tony for best play. It ran for 916 performances.David Schofield originated the lead role, John Merrick, but it has been played by many actors over the years including Philip Anglim, David Bowie, and Billy Crudup. Most recently, Bradley Cooper starred in the 2015 revival.

The play was famously adapted into a film in 1980 that was nominated for eight Academy Awards. David Lynch directed the adaptation that starred John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, and Anne Bancroft.

Pomerance also wrote several other plays including “Quantrill in Lawrence” and “Melons.” Grove Press published a collection of his works for stage in 2001.

Also a poet, his long form work “We Need to Dream All This Again” was published in 1988. At the time of his death Mr. Pomerance was preparing new productions of his plays “Miranda” and “Spinoff.”

He is survived by his children Moby and Eve, two grandchildren William Mossek and Gabriel Pomerance and a brother Michael. His wife, Evelyn Franceschi, died in 2015.

2017-08-29 19:54:19 UTC
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Post by That Derek
The play was famously adapted into a film in 1980 that was nominated for eight Academy Awards. David Lynch directed the adaptation that starred John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, and Anne Bancroft.
The movie was NOT based on Pomerance's play; it was based on a pair of non-fiction books about Merrick. It was a completely different telling of Merrick's life. (Perhaps to avoid paying Pomerance royalties.)

One notable difference is that in the movie John Hurt was heavily made up to resemble Merrick, while in the play the actor playing Merrick uses no makeup and instead contorts his body and voice to suggest Merrick's deformities.

Pomerance's play was the basis of the 1982 ABC-TV production, starring David Anglim (recreating his Tony-nominated performance).
2017-08-29 23:37:09 UTC
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Here's what I wrote this January, when John Hurt died:

Re David Lynch's "The Elephant Man": Good movie in its own way (maybe), but am I the only one who preferred the 1982 TV movie of the Broadway play, with Philip Anglim? (Too bad there's no recording of David Bowie's performance, to my knowledge.) I found it deeply touching. Btw, Glenn Close has a cameo - as Princess Alexandra. Later on, I saw Anglim on stage, in "M. Butterfly." Unforgettable.

The notorious critic John Simon, as I remember, condemned Lynch's movie as a pseudo-classy gothic re-exploitation of Merrick's deformities (since you constantly see them in the movie but not in the play), also calling it "inept and contemptible." (I can't seem to find the exact book of Simon's this was in - not right now, anyway. I have no fondness for him, but since I saw the play first, I can sort of see where he's coming from.)

Simon's shortened review:

"A thoroughly bad movie... The story, which needs tact and taste in the telling, was, unfortunately produced by Mel Brooks, not known for either... Wild elephants shouldn't drag you to this one." (National Review, Jan. 1981)

Not that he was overly fond of the play either, despite calling it a "decent effort to write something literate, symbolic, significant":


"John Simon, for example, found the structure imbalanced and accused Pomerance of suspending dramatic action in the later scenes to create a vehicle for anti-imperialist polemic."

And, Simon said that in the second act: "things fly apart; neither the center nor the periphery can hold."

Somehow, I had no trouble finding Simon's full review of the play:


Bizarrely, though, at one point Simon implies that Merrick would have been happier if only his genitals had been deformed, too (as in, to the point of depriving him of any sex drive, as if one's libido had nothing to do with the brain). Somehow, I doubt any deformed person would agree with THAT!

2017-08-29 23:56:35 UTC
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The play and 1982 production started Philip Anglim, not David whomever that might be.

He created the role on Broadway.

It's pretty clear Lynch got the idea from the play but Mel Brooks not wanting to pay for the rights optioned 2 books instead.
2017-08-29 23:58:35 UTC
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John Simon is wrong, no surprise. The play is brilliant there was no way you could make a movie on the subject without showing the deformities.

Philip Anglim -- apart from the Thorn Birds done around the same time -- seemed to pretty much disappear.