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Now, about that play: Before McNally had Tonys rolling in like boulders chasing Indiana Jones, he expanded an eight-minute sketch he did for a Manhattan Theatre Club benefit into a 50-minute teleplay for the "American Playhouse" series.
"Andre's Mother" starred Richard Thomas and the late Sada Thompson in 20-year earlier versions of the characters Weller and Daly play now — and much to his amazement, it won him his first award — the 1990 Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special. The National Board of Review seconded that acclaim by naming Andre's Mother Outstanding Television Movie of the Year.
"It was surprising," McNally remembered, "because everyone said 'There's no way a modest-budget PBS television movie will win over a network film with big stars.'" Apparently, the person in charge of the seating arrangements agreed with him. "I was seated in the last row in the last seat on the aisle — not the good aisle either, the aisle by the wall — so when they said, 'The winner is...' there was a lot of 'excuse me's on live TV to get to that podium." The long schlog home with his unwieldy win the following day was also awkward and clumsy. "Unlike the Tonys, they give you the award that night, and it's a big dangerous thing with sharp edges. You can't pack it — it's too big — so, on the plane back, I was holding it on my lap all the way home."
Jed Bernstein, currently a kingpin at Lincoln Center, deserves some oblique creative credit for Mothers and Sons. When he was in charge of rebooting the Bucks County Playhouse, he asked McNally to dramatize "Andre's Mother" for Daly to do there.
Bernstein said the project was on the express track. "From there to here, it was 14 months," he relayed. "That's fast, and that's the way theatre should be produced."
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