Thomas Babe, a playwright whose work was a mainstay at the Public Theater in the late '70s and early '80s, died Dec. 6. The cause was lung cancer. Mr. Babe was 59.
Mr. Babe's writing first came to widespread attention in 1975, when his play Kid Champion, with Christopher Walken as a physically and emotionally broken rock star, bowed at the Public. Walken won an Obie Award for his performance.
The play was to become Mr. Babe's first at the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater, where he became a playwright in residence. Other productions included Rebel Women (1976), A Prayer for My Daughter, for which director Robert Allan Ackerman won on Obie (1978), Fathers and Sons (1978), Salt Lake City Skyline (1980) and Buried Inside Extra (1983).
Mr. Babe's plays were often populated by mythic figures from history. Fathers and Sons, for instance, featured Wild Bill Hickok. (The play was later the basis of a 1995 Walter Hill film starring Jeff Bridges, the screenplay for which Mr. Babe co-wrote.) And Salt Lake City Skyline concerned Joe Hill. A then-unfamous John Lithgow played the labor leader.
Mr. Babe's work rarely lacked for top acting talent like Lithgow and Walken. A Prayer for My Daughter, set in a police station, starred the solid foursome of Jeffrey DeMunn, George Dzundza, Laurence Luckinbill and Alan Rosenberg. Rebel Women featured Mandy Patinkin (pre Evita), John Glover, David Dukes and Peter Weller. And the cast of Buried Inside Extra—a rare play directed by Joe Papp himself — included Hal Holbrook, Dixie Carter, Vincent Gardenia and Sandy Dennis. Other plays by Mr. Babe are Planet Fires, Junk Bonds and Great Day in the Morning. Outside of New York, he was produced at Geva Theater in Rochester, NY, Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles Theater Center, Denver Theater Center and South Coast Repertory.
Playwriting was not Mr. Babe's only interest, however. His directing credits were also numerous. He often staged the work of his longtime partner, Neal Bell, including such plays as Two Small Bodies, Operation Midnight Climax and Sleeping Dogs. Other directing credits were Terry Curtis Fox’s Justice and Keith Reddin’s Life and Limb. In the field of musical theatre, he was the co-librettist with Arnold Weinstein on William Bolcom’s Casino Paradise. He also taught an undergraduate playwriting class at NYU from 1984 through 1999.
Mr. Babe was born in Buffalo on March 13, 1941. He attended Harvard, Cambridge and Yale universities. In addition to Bell, he is survived by his mother, Ruth Babe, of Rochester, NY, his daughter, Charissa Pacella, of Pittsburgh, PA, two sisters, Mimi Babe Harris, of Roanoke, VA and Karen Ford, of Rochester, NY, two nieces, Sara and Katherine Sheppard, and two nephews, Brad and Joel Harris.
— By Robert Simonson