Hugh Leonard, Irish Playwright Whose Da Won the Tony, Has Died

News   Hugh Leonard, Irish Playwright Whose Da Won the Tony, Has Died
Hugh Leonard, the beloved Irish-born journalist and playwright who won the 1978 Tony Award for Best Play for Da, died in Dublin Feb. 12, after a long illness, according to reports in Irish newspapers. He was 82.

Mr. Leonard — born John Keyes Byrne in 1926, in the village of Dalkey in County Dublin — had the luck (and the talent) of the Irish for his three plays on Broadway. Each (including 1981's A Life and 1974's The Au Pair Man) was nominated for Best Play Tonys.

Da, a drama about an Irish father and son, which starred Barnard Hughes (who won a Tony in the title role) and Brian Murray, was later made into a film with Hughes and Martin Sheen. In addition to the Best Play Tony, the play also won a 1978 Drama Desk Award as Outstanding New Play. Featured actor Lester Rawlins and director Melvin Bernhardt also won Tonys for their work on Da.

Over a long career, Mr. Leonard wrote for newspapers (including the weekly "Curmudgeon" column in the Sunday Independent), and penned screenplays, teleplays and radio plays.

Ireland's Minister for Arts Martin Cullen said in a statement, "As a storyteller he was creative and compelling. As an individual he was honest, engaging, with a sharp wit and an enquiring mind. His plays in particular evoked a sense of nostalgia and of the triumph of the human spirit. Hugh Leonard was an immense presence in the fine Irish literary pantheon. Ireland will truly miss its beloved 'curmudgeon.'"

Mr. Leonard took on his pen name in the 1950s because he feared his bosses in his civil service day job would disapprove of his creative writing, according to the Irish Times. His many plays included The Big Birthday, A Leap in the Dark, Stephen D, The Poker Session, The Patrick Pearse Motel and more. The Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival produced 16 of his plays beginning with A Walk on the Water in 1960. He was program director of the festival from 1978-80.

Mr. Leonard also adapted classic novels "Nicholas Nickleby" and "Wuthering Heights," and the James Plunkett novel, "Strumpet City," for British television. He wrote two autobiographies: "Home Before Night" in 1979 and "Out After Dark" in 1989.

Mr. Leonard is survived by his second wife, Kathy, and his daughter, Danielle. His first wife, Paula, predeceased him.

Barnard Hughes and Brian Murray in Hugh Leonard's <i>Da</i>
Barnard Hughes and Brian Murray in Hugh Leonard's Da
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