Peerless Wit of Mark O'Donnell Is Remembered at Broadway Gathering; Doug Hughes, Jack O'Brien, Margo Lion Speak

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13 Nov 2012

Mark O'Donnell
Mark O'Donnell
Photo by Aubrey Reuben

One day, Steve O'Donnell was walking around the Village with his brother, Mark O'Donnell, the Tony Award-winning bookwriter of Hairspray and Cry-Baby, when a tourist came up to them and asked, "Where is Bleecker?"

"Without missing a beat," Steve O'Donnell remembered, "Mark said, 'Between bleak and bleakest.'"

The story was one of many examples of the late writer's mordant, yet impish humor that were shared at a Nov. 12 memorial at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Mark O'Donnell died suddenly on Aug. 6, 2012. He was 58.

The speakers — who including members of the Hairspray team, colleagues from O'Donnell's days at Harvard, and artists who worked on his early playwriting efforts produced at Playwrights Horizons — told of a man collectively remembered as a peerless wit, one of the cleverest people they'd ever met; and a man who was, somewhat paradoxically, also one of the nicest and more generous souls imaginable.

"He had a Beckett mind and led a Beckett life," said Patricia Marx, who worked with O'Donnell on the Harvard Lampoon, "but his presentation was feelgood Disney." She added, "His might have been the first instance of success not eliciting any envy or bitterness." She then read a short play by O'Donnell titled Exploration of Mars. Its single line: "Yoo-hoo!"



Steve O'Donnell, who was Mark's twin, and is a writer himself (he created the top ten list on the David Letterman show) recalled growing up with a brother who was "a zen master with a puppy mind." He would know the names and biographies of every bit Hollywood character actor, and, when still young, began writing his own book series for made-up characters like "Mousey." At the back of each book, he would write, "Have you read these other Mousey books by Mark O'Donnell?"

When Mark O'Donnell grew up and published actual books, at book singings he would scribble quirky private messages in each volume's end pages, like "Don't tell the others, but you're my favorite reader," or "Look for a veiled reference to you on page 8." "He didn't have to do that," said Steve, "but he did." When going through Mark's apartment, Steve found more bizarre comic detritus, like a blank matchbook on which Mark has scrawled "Le Club Stupid."

"Who was this all for?" asked Steve O'Donnell.

Continued...

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