George Axelrod, Seven Year Itch Playwright, Dead at 81

Obituaries   George Axelrod, Seven Year Itch Playwright, Dead at 81 George Axelrod, the playwright, director and screenwriter who penned the American stage comedy, The Seven Year Itch, which popularized that term and became a film hit, died June 21 in his sleep at home in Los Angeles.
Tom Ewell and Vanessa Brown in George Axelrod's The Seven Year Itch.
Tom Ewell and Vanessa Brown in George Axelrod's The Seven Year Itch.

Mr. Axelrod was 81, and penned the Broadway plays The Seven Year Itch (1952), Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1955), which he also directed; and Goodbye Charlie (1959), which he also directed. He also penned the sketches to a musical revue called Small Wonder (1948), and directed and produced Broadway shows, including 1957's Visit to a Small Planet (producer), 1966's The Star-Spangled Girl (director), and 1958's Once More, With Feeling (director).

His best-known work was Seven Year Itch, a Broadway hit about a Manhattan man who lusts after his comely neighbor while his family is away for the hot summer. Tom Ewell played the benign wolf on Broadway (winning a Tony) and repeated his role in the cleaned-up film version (which had Marilyn Monroe as the sexy girl next door). Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, which launched the career of Monroe manque Jayne Mansfield, was also turned into a film.

Like so many playwrights, he left New York for Hollywood and didn't look back.

Mr. Axelrod was also a screenwriter whose credits included "The Manchurian Candidate," "Phffft!," "Bus Stop," "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (Academy Award nomination for screenplay), "Lord Love a Duck" (which he also directed), "The Secret Life of an American Wife," "Paris When It Sizzles" (screenplay and producer) and "How to Murder Your Wife." History has been kind to his works: "Manchurian Candidate" got a theatrical re-release in the 1980s, and is embraced for its darkly comic plot of political assassination, brainwashing and mother fixation. Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury starred.

Mr. Axelrod wrote a memoir in 1971, "Where Am I Now When I Need Me?" and wrote the novels "Blackmailer" and "Beggar's Choice." Mr. Axelrod was born in New York City. During World War II he served in the U.S. Signal Corps. Before the war, he started in the theatre as an assistant stage manager for a play called Kind Lady in 1940.

His first marriage to Gloria Washburn ended in divorce. They had two sons, Peter and Steven, according to The New York Times. He had two children with his second wife, Joan: Actress Nina Axelrod and writer and TV producer Jonathan.

Mr. Axelrod also wrote for TV and radio in his varied career.