Sleuth Playwright Anthony Shaffer Is Dead at 75

News   Sleuth Playwright Anthony Shaffer Is Dead at 75 Anthony Shaffer, the playwright who won a 1971 Tony Award for his delicious theatrical thriller, Sleuth, died of a heart attack in London Nov. 6.
Keith Baxter and Anthony Quayle in Sleuth.
Keith Baxter and Anthony Quayle in Sleuth.

Anthony Shaffer, the playwright who won a 1971 Tony Award for his delicious theatrical thriller, Sleuth, died of a heart attack in London Nov. 6.

Mr. Shaffer, whose health had been declining over the past year, was 75 and the twin brother of playwright Peter Shaffer, who penned Amadeus and Equus. Peter Shaffer survives his brother.

The late Mr. Shaffer was known primarily as mystery-genre writer who penned the screenplays to Alfred Hitchcock's "Frenzy" and a number of Agatha Christie-based films, and would later adapt Sleuth, a London and Broadway hit, into a screenplay for the film that starred Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier. The play is a staple in stock, amateur and regional theatre and is embraced for its twists, turns and surprises as two men Ñ a hairdresser and a mystery writer Ñ play deadly games while trapped in the writer's gothic manor.

Mr. Shaffer was born in Liverpool in 1926 and was educated at St. Paul's and Trinity College, Cambridge. He was a barrister before becoming a writer. His plays also included The Savage Parade, about the trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann (1963, revised in 1967) and Murderer (1975) and his screenplays include "Forbush and the Penguins," the Scottish-set "The Wicker Man" and three Agatha Christie screenplays: "Death on the Nile," "Appointment With Death" and "Evil Under the Sun," which is laced with a jazzy Cole Porter soundtrack. He also wrote for television. He also worked on the Christie-inspired film, "Murder on the Orient Express," but went uncredited. With his brother, he also wrote mystery novels.

"Pirandello said that every play is a detective story, in a very real sense," Shaffer said last year, according to The Los Angeles Times. "You don't know the characters and you don't know the plot. He was being a bit flip, as Pirandello often was, but the art of storytelling cannot be successfully done unless it has elements of concealment." At the time of his death, Mr. Shaffer was working on a stage version of his 1973 screenplay, "The Wicker Man," about the disappearance of a child on a Scottish island and the discovery of a modern pagan society there. Discussions with producers were under way when Mr. Shaffer took ill, according to Toronto playwright Thierry Nihill, who was co-adapting the piece with Mr. Shaffer. Canal + Films had given the greenlight for the property to become a stage play, and the project was to be called Anthony Shaffer's The Wicker Man. Nihill told Playbill On-Line that he will respect the wishes of Mr. Shaffer's wife and his representatives about the future of the project.

According to The Times of London, Mr. Shaffer split his time between a London studio and a farm near Cairns, Queensland, shared with his Australian actress-wife, Diane Cilento. They were married in 1985. He is survived by two daughters from a previous marriage to Carolyn Soley.

— By Kenneth Jones