Leonard Gershe, the playwright of Butterflies Are Free, the 1969 Broadway comedy that launched the career of Blythe Danner, died March 9 of complications from a stroke, according to his business manager. Mr. Gershe was 79 and lived in California. He leaves behind varied theatre and film credits. He wrote the libretto for the Harold Rome musical, Destry Rides Again, and penned screenplays for the movie-musicals "Funny Face" and "Silk Stockings," both vehicles for Fred Astaire. He also wrote the screenplay to "40 Carats" and the screen adaptation of his most famous work, Butterflies Are Free.
The play concerns a young blind man (originally, Keir Dullea) who decides to leaves suburban New York and move to Manhattan, against the wishes of his protective mother (Eileen Heckart, who was Tony Award-nominated and won the Academy Award for the part). His neighbor in New York is a quirky free spirit (Blythe Danner, who won the Tony Award for it) and they fall in love. Goldie Hawn starred in the film, which was relocated to the more scenic San Francisco. Gloria Swanson succeeded Heckart on stage.
Mr. Gershe was born in Manhattan. The New York Times reported that a play of his, Snacks, was announced for Broadway in the early 1980s, but never made it.
— By Kenneth Jones