Jack Hofsiss, who won a Tony Award for his direction of The Elephant Man on Broadway, died Sept. 13 at his home in Manhattan. He was born in 1950. (An exact date could not be ascertained.)
The Elephant Man was his first Broadway credit as director, and it was a smashing debut for the young man, then still under 30. He had staged the Bernard Pomerance play—about the life of Joseph Merrick, a Victorian man both celebrated and victimized for his physical deformities--Off-Broadway first. He earned excellent reviews for his stylized staging, in which the lead actor, Philip Anglim, played Merrick without the aid of make-up or special costuming.
Mr. Hofsiss was the youngest man to win the Tony for Best Direction at the time. He also won a Drama Desk Award and an Obie Award.
His career quickly shifted into overdrive. He was offered a three-picture deal with Paramount, beginning with I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can (1982), starring Jill Clayburgh. He directed several television films, including a 1982 adaptation of The Elephant Man, a version of Cat of a Hot Tin Roof starring Jessica Lange, and The Oldest Living Graduate, starring Henry Fonda. Socially, he became a fixture at Studio 54.
His career was interrupted, however, when, in July 1985, he dove into a swimming pool in Fire Island, hit his head on the bottom, and fractured his spine. He was left paralyzed from the waist down and used a wheelchair from then on.
During his long recovery, he suffered from depression. But, with the help of an assistant who saw to his physical needs, he eventually returned to work. He mounted a revival of The Subject Was Roses for the Roundabout Theater Company in 1990, the Cindy Lou Johnson play The Years at Manhattan Theatre Club in 1992, Seconds Out at the Public Theater in 1993, and a revival of The Shadow Box on Broadway in 1994.
Perhaps his most notable success of the 1990s was the musical James Joyce’s The Dead at Playwrights Horizons. He co-directed the work with author Richard Nelson, but left before the show opened and did not stay with the production when it transferred to Broadway.
Credits in the ‘00s included Avow, Surviving Grace, Kilt and Confessions of a Mormon Boy, all Off-Broadway. He also frequently directed at regional theatres, such as the McCarter in Princeton and the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor.
Hofsiss went to school at Georgetown, where he staged a musical he co-wrote, Senior Prom. It ran for nine months in Washington. He was a founding member of the Folger Theater Group in Washington D.C. There, Joe Papp saw his work and hired him to work in the casting department in the Public Theater. There, he began directing with Rebel Women by Thomas Babe in 1976. While at the Public, a producer named Richmond Crinkley sent him a copy of The Elephant Man.
“It changed my life overnight,” he recalled.
Hofsiss told the Washington Post in 1997 that, following his initial dose of success in the early 1980s, he often said that his life was turning into an express train, and that he yearned now and again to get on a local. "If this isn't a local, I don't know what is,” he told the paper.
When the Post reporter asked him to elaborate on the train metaphor, he said, “I guess you could say the train is moving through very nice landscape and that I'm enjoying the trip, and not worrying about the destination anymore. When I work, my life has to be completely structured around rehearsals. So the eight hours I spend in the rehearsal room have to be satisfying. Of course, you want people to appreciate what you do. The outcome of a show is important. But getting there is just as important. That is a very good lesson to learn."