Playwright Ruth Goetz, Co-Author of The Heiress, Dead at 89

News   Playwright Ruth Goetz, Co-Author of The Heiress, Dead at 89 Playwright Ruth Goetz, the co-writer of Broadway's The Heiress, the popular psychological romance based on Henry James' "Washington Square," died Oct. 12 at the Actors' Fund Home in Englewood, NJ.
Cherry Jones starred in the most recent revival of The Heiress.
Cherry Jones starred in the most recent revival of The Heiress. (Photo by Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

Playwright Ruth Goetz, the co-writer of Broadway's The Heiress, the popular psychological romance based on Henry James' "Washington Square," died Oct. 12 at the Actors' Fund Home in Englewood, NJ.

Ms. Goetz, whose collaborator husband, Augustus Goetz, died in 1957, was 89. Her best-known work was the stage version the James novel, although she and her husband penned four other works together. The Heiress, about a nervous, shy spinster in 19th-century Manhattan who cannot live up to the memory of her elegant, dead mother, premiered on Broadway in 1947 and was made into a popular 1949 film that won star Olivia de Havilland an Academy Award. The Goetzes also won an Oscar for their screenplay. A TV version of the play was presented in 1961.

A character study of repression, longing and parental suffocation, the play has been popular in regional, amateur and stock theatres for 50 years. In 1995, Lincoln Center Theatre revived it to acclaim. Star Cherry Jones won the Tony Award for it, and the production took the Best Revival Tony. Her Playbill bio at the time said the play was "loosely suggested" by the James novel.

Ms. Goetz was born Ruth Goodman in Philadelphia in 1912, according to Who's Who of the American Theatre (although The New York Times reported her birth year as 1908). Her father was a theatrical producer, and she attended "Miss Marshall's Classes for Young Ladies," according to her Who's Who bio. She married Goetz in 1932. Before playwriting, Mr. Goetz was a scenic and costume designer. Together, the Goetzes wrote Franklin Street (seen in a pre-Broadway tryout that folded in Washington, DC in 1940), One Man Show (at Broadway's Ethel Barrymore in 1945), The Immoralist, based on Andre Gide's novel (at the Royale in 1954 and Off-Broadway in 1963) and The Hidden River (in 1957). On her own, she wrote Sweet Love Remembered, which folded in New Haven in 1959 when star Margaret Sullavan died, and Madly in Love, a version of André Roussin's L'Amour fou, in 1964. Together, the Goetzes also wrote the screenplays of "Carrie" (in 1952, based on "Sister Carrie"), "Rhapsody" (1954), "Trapeze" (1956) and "Stagestruck" (1958). The Goetzes were active members of the Dramatists Guild.

She is survived by a daughter, the poet Judy Firth Sanger and a granddaughter, the actress Katie Firth. — By Kenneth Jones