Venable Herndon, a playwright, biographer and screenwriter who taught in New York University's dramatic writing program, died Dec. 8 in Manhattan. He was 72 and the cause of death was acute leukemia.
An associate professor of screenwriting in NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, Mr. Herndon earned his bachelor's in French literature at Princeton and his master of fine arts in comparative at Harvard, and penned such plays as Until the Monkey Comes... (staged in New York, Chicago and Berlin), Bag of Flies and Independence Night.
His screenplays include "Alice's Restaurant" (directed by Arthur Penn), "Too Far to Walk" (for Otto Preminger), "Uncle Sam's Wild West Show" (for Paul Mazursky) and more.
"He came here originally to teach in the film school, which he started doing in 1975," said Mark Dickerman, chair of the NYU Tisch dramatic writing program. "He was always considered a screenwriting teacher, though he certainly had intense and important relationships with playwrights. He was a terrific dramaturg, and students sought him out. Venable would say things aloud that most human being don't. He was always controversial, provocative and outrageous."
Both playwrights and screenwriters would make the trek to Mr. Herndon's NYU office (the door always was open) for advice about work, Dickerman told Playbill On-Line. "He was very blunt, but he had such affection for the person whose work he was talking about that as blunt as he became people never objected," Dickerman said. "Venable got people to think in vital ways about themselves, which he thought was important if they were going to be good writers. He became a habit for people. Once you were Venable-ized, that was it."
In addition to his dramatic writing, Mr. Herndon was founder and editor of the literary journal, "Chelsea Review" (1958-1966) and penned a biography, "James Dean: A Short Life."
He is survived by wife Sharon Anson and daughter Isabelle Molinaro of Manhattan.
-- By Kenneth Jones