A. R. Gurney

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A. R. Gurney

Albert Ramsdell Gurney, Jr.
Born (1930-11-01) November 1, 1930 (age 86)
Buffalo, New York
Occupation Playwright, novelist, screenwriter
Education Nichols School
St. Paul’s School (1948)
Alma mater Williams College (1952)
Yale School of Drama (1958)
Genre Theatre
Spouse Mary Forman Goodyear
Children 4

Albert Ramsdell Gurney Jr (born November 1, 1930), sometimes credited as Pete Gurney, is an American playwright, novelist and academic.[1][2][3] He is known for works including The Dining Room (1982), Sweet Sue (1986/7), Love Letters (1988), and The Cocktail Hour (1988). His series of plays about upper-class WASP life in contemporary America have been called “penetratingly witty studies of the WASP ascendancy in retreat.”[4]


Early Life

Gurney was born on November 1, 1930 in Buffalo, New York to Albert Ramsdell Gurney, Sr. (1896-1977), who was president of Gurney, Becker and Bourne, an insurance and real estate company in Buffalo,[5] and Marion Spaulding (1908-2001).[6][7] His parents had three children, of which Gurney was the middle: (1) Evelyn Gurney (b. 1929),[8] who married Miller.[7] (2) Albert Ramsdell Gurney, Jr. (b. 1930), and (3) Stephen S. Gurney (b. 1933)[9]

Gurney attended the Nichols School in Buffalo and graduated from St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. He attended Williams College, graduating in 1952, and the Yale School of Drama, graduating in 1958,[6] after which he began teaching Humanities at MIT.[1][10]


His maternal grandparents were Elbridge G. Spaulding (1881-1974) and Marion Caryl Ely (1887-1971). Ely was the daughter of William Caryl Ely (1856-1921), a lawyer and Member of the New York State Assembly in 1883.[11] Gurney’s 2x great-grandfather was Elbridge G. Spaulding (1809-1897), a former Mayor of Buffalo, NY State Treasurer, and member of the U.S. House of Representatives who supported the idea for the first U.S. currency not backed by gold or silver, thus credited with helping to keep the Union economy afloat during the Civil War.[12]


In 1959, following graduation from Yale, Gurney taught English and Latin at a day school, Belmont Hill School, in Belmont, Massachusetts for one year. He then joined Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a Professor of Humanities, from 1960 until 1996, and Professor of Literature, from 1970 until 1996.[6]

He began writing plays such as Children and The Middle Ages while at MIT, but it was his great success with The Dining Room that allowed him to write full-time. Since The Dining Room, Gurney has written a number of plays, most of them concerning WASPs of the American northeast. While at Yale, Gurney also wrote the musical: Love in Buffalo; this was the first musical ever produced at the Yale School of Drama.[13] Since then, he is known to be a prolific writer, always writing something.[14]

His first play in New York, which ran for just one performance in October 1968, The David Show, premiered at the Players’ Theater on MacDougal Street. The play was cut after its first show by sneers from the entire press except for two enthusiasts, Edith Oliver in The New Yorker and another from the Village Voice.[15]

His 2015 play, Love and Money, is about a mature woman making plans to dispose of her fortune, and the twists that ensue; the world premiere was at New York’s Signature Theatre in August 2015.[16] Before that, The Grand Manner, a play about his real life encounter with famed actress Katharine Cornell in her production of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, was produced and performed by Lincoln Center for the summer of 2010. It was also produced in Buffalo by the Kavinoky Theatre.[17] He appeared in several of his plays including The Dining Room and most notably Love Letters.


Gurney’s plays often explore the theme of a declining upper-class White Anglo-Saxon Protestant “WASP” life in contemporary America. The Wall Street Journal has called his works “penetratingly witty studies of the WASP ascendancy in retreat.”[4] Several of his works are loosely based on his patrician upbringing, including “The Cocktail Hour” and Indian Blood.[15]

In his 1988 play, “The Cocktail Hour”, the lead character that tells her playwright son that theater critics “don’t like us…. They resent us. They think we’re all Republicans, all superficial and all alcoholics. Only the latter is true.”[4] The New York Times described the play as witty observations about a nearly extinct patrician class that regards psychiatry as an affront to good manners, underpaid hired help as a birthright.[18]

In an 1989 interview with the New York Times, Gurney said, “Just as it’s mentioned in ‘The Cocktail Hour,’ my great-grandfather hung up his clothes one day and walked into the Niagara River and no one understood why.” Gurney added that “he was a distinguished man in Buffalo. My father could never mention it, and it affected the family well into the fourth generation as a dark and unexplainable gesture. It made my father and his father desperate to be accepted, to be conventional, and comfortable. It made them commit themselves to an ostensibly easy bourgeois world. They saw it so precariously, but the reason was never mentioned. I first learned about it after my father died.”[5]


  • Ancestral Voices
  • Another Antigone (ISBN 978-0-8222-0051-2)[19]
  • Big Bill
  • Black Tie (ISBN 978-0-8222-2526-3)
  • Buffalo Gal
  • A Cheever Evening (based on stories by John Cheever; ISBN 978-0-8222-1458-8)
  • Children (ISBN 978-0-8222-0202-8)
  • The Cocktail Hour (ISBN 978-0-8222-0225-7)
  • The Comeback (ISBN 978-0-8222-0229-5)
  • Crazy Mary
  • Darlene
  • The David Show
  • The Dining Room (ISBN 978-0-8222-0310-0)
  • Far East
  • The Fourth Wall (ISBN 978-0-8222-1349-9)
  • The Golden Age (ISBN 978-0-8222-0455-8)
  • The Golden Fleece
  • The Grand Manner (ISBN 978-0-8222-2514-0)
  • The Guest Lecturer
  • Heresy
  • Human Events
  • Indian Blood
  • Labor Day (ISBN 978-0-8222-1685-8)
  • Later Life (ISBN 978-0-8222-1373-4)
  • The Love Course (ISBN 978-0-5736-2282-3)
  • Love Letters (ISBN 978-0-8222-0694-1)
  • The Middle Ages (ISBN 978-0-8222-0753-5)
  • Mrs. Farnsworth
  • Office Hours (ISBN 978-0-8222-2515-7)
  • O Jerusalem
  • The Old Boy (ISBN 978-0-8222-0840-2)
  • The Old One-Two (ISBN 978-0-5736-2370-7)
  • The Open Meeting
  • Overtime (ISBN 978-0-8222-1540-0)
  • The Perfect Party (ISBN 978-0-8222-0886-0)
  • Post Mortem
  • The Problem
  • The Rape of Bunny Stuntz (ISBN 978-0-5736-2439-1)
  • Richard Cory (ISBN 978-0-8222-1245-4)
  • Scenes from American Life
  • Screen Play
  • The Snow Ball (based on his novel; ISBN 978-0-8222-1318-5)
  • Sweet Sue (ISBN 978-0-8222-1106-8)
  • Sylvia (ISBN 978-0-8222-1496-0)
  • The Wayside Motor Inn (ISBN 978-0-8222-1225-6)
  • What I Did Last Summer (ISBN 978-0-8222-1236-2)


Gurney has also written several novels, including:[6]

  • The Snow Ball (1984)
  • The Gospel According to Joe (1974)
  • Entertaining Strangers (1977)
  • Early American (1996)


  • The House of Mirth (1972)[6]
  • Sylvia (1995)[6]

Personal Life

In June, 1957, Gurney married Mary Forman “Molly” Goodyear (b. 1935) of the prominent Goodyear family. The Gurneys lived in Boston until 1983, when they moved their family to New York to be near the theater, television, and publishers while he was on sabbatical from MIT.[20] They also have a house together in Roxbury, Connecticut. Together, they have four children:[21]

  • George Goodyear Gurney, who married Constance “Connie” Lyman Warren in 1985.[22][23]
  • Amy Ramsdell Gurney, who married Frederick Snow Nicholas III in 1985.[24]
  • Evelyn “Evie” R. Gurney, who is with Christopher Bumcrot[25]
  • Benjamin Gurney

Gurney’s father, Albert Ramsdell Gurney, Sr., died in 1977 and Molly’s mother, Sarah Norton, died in 1978. After their deaths, his mother, Marion, married Molly’s father, George, and remained married until Marion’s death in 2001,[7] followed by George’s death in 2002.[15][20]

Awards and Honors

In 2006, Gurney was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.[citation needed] In 2007, Gurney received the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award as a master American dramatist.


  1. ^ a b Sponberg AF.Broadway Talks: What Professionals Think about Commercial Theater in America. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1991. ISBN 9780313266874
  2. ^ A.R. Gurney Biography
  3. ^ Sponberg AF. A.R. Gurney: A Casebook. Psychology Press, 2004. ISBN 9780415929981
  4. ^ a b c For the quotes see Terry Teachout, “Anatomy of a WASP,” Wall Street Journal Jan 8, 2016
  5. ^ a b Magazine, Alex Witchel; Alex Witchel Is A. Senior Features Editor At Mirabella; Days, Writes The Inside Theater Column For 7 (12 November 1989). “LAUGHTER, TEARS AND THE PERFECT MARTINI”. The New York Times.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Gurney, A. R. (Albert Ramsdell). “Guide to the A. R. Gurney Papers YCAL MSS 728”. library.yale.edu. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Retrieved 16 April 2016.
  7. ^ a b c “MARION S. GOODYEAR, ACTIVE IN CHARITIES – The Buffalo News”. www.buffaloNews.com. The Buffalo News. July 29, 2001. Retrieved 16 April 2016.
  8. ^ “Evelyn Gurney from Ward 20 Buffalo in 1940 Census District 64-438”. www.archives.com. 1940 Census. Retrieved 16 April 2016.
  9. ^ “Stephen Gurney from Ward 20 Buffalo in 1940 Census District 64-438”. www.archives.com. 1940 US Census. Retrieved 16 April 2016.
  10. ^ Lasman, Sam. “A Look At Playwright A.R. Gurney”. www.huntingtontheatre.org. Huntington Theatre Company. Retrieved 16 April 2016.
  11. ^ Cauldwell, William (January 1903). “The Successful American”. Press Biographical Company (Volume 7, Part 1): 20–22. Retrieved 23 October 2015.
  12. ^ Mr. Spaulding and Greenback Resumption (1875, October 16). In The Commercial and Financial Chronicle (Vol. XXI, p. 358). New York, NY: William B. Dana.
  13. ^ Sternlicht, Sanford (2002). A reader’s guide to modern American drama (1. ed.). Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Univ. Press. ISBN 0815629397. Retrieved 16 April 2016.
  14. ^ Hoke, Donna (May 2012). “Onstage: A. R. Gurney: A playwright to call our own”. Buffalo Spree. Retrieved 16 April 2016.
  15. ^ a b c Tallmer, Jerry (August 23, 2006). “Gurney takes a page from his life in ‘Indian Blood'”. thevillager.com (Vol. 76, No. 14). The Villager. Retrieved 16 April 2016.
  16. ^ Zinoman, Jason (12 August 2015). “A.R. Gurney’s ‘Love & Money’: Wealth, a Widow and Complications”. The New York Times. Retrieved 16 April 2016.
  17. ^ Lincoln Center Theater: The Grand Manner, lct.org; accessed May 25, 2015.
  18. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (2008-06-10). “New York Times, June 10, 2008”. Theater.nytimes.com. Retrieved 2012-04-16.
  19. ^ Hartigan K. Greek Tragedy Transformed: AJ Gurney and Charles Mee Rewrite Greek Drama. in Foster VA. Dramatic Revisions of Myths, Fairy Tales and Legends: Essays on Recent Plays.. McFarland, 2012 ISBN 9780786465125
  20. ^ a b Freeman, Patricia (January 23, 1989). “Playwright A.R. Gurney Jr.’s Cocktail Hour Leaves His Genteel Family Shaken, Not Stirred”. People (Vol. 31 No. 3). Retrieved 16 April 2016.
  21. ^ “A. R. Gurney, Jr. Biography”. eNotes.com. Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature. Retrieved 16 April 2016.
  22. ^ “Caroline Whiteside Warren’s Obituary on GreenwichTime”. Greenwich Time. October 22, 2014. Retrieved 16 April 2016.
  23. ^ “MISS WARREN WED TO G. G. GURNEY”. The New York Times. 9 June 1985. Retrieved 15 August 2016.
  24. ^ “AMY GURNEY AND FREDERICK S. NICHOLAS 3D MARRY”. The New York Times. 15 September 1985. Retrieved 15 August 2016.
  25. ^ “THE FLEA CAPITAL CAMPAIGN” (PDF). theflea.org. Retrieved 15 August 2016.

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Content retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._R._Gurney.