On the way to becoming an Oscar Award winning screenwriter Murray Schisgal served in the military during World War II, was a mediocre musician (but good enough to be in a band), a failed novelist, a bored lawyer, and a part-time teacher before finding the seeds of success in having some one-act plays produced off-Broadway.
The takeaway today from Schisgal is every writer faces long odds against them, but the good news is—in face of a long line of people who can reject your work—all you need to do is to find one fan/one cheerleader of your writing.
“I sent the plays [The Typist and The Tiger] to the Phoenix Theatre Company. Someone who worked there, by the name of Claire Nichtern, read these plays and liked The Typist and The Tiger very much, but the people who ran the group didn’t like the plays. Miss Nichtern was a friend of Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, she showed the plays to them and they said they would do it, and Claire Nichtern decided to produce them herself and that’s how it happened. It was all through the mail.”
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Somewhere around that time in the early 1960s Schisgal also found a fan of his work in an up and coming actor named Dustin Hoffman, which would begin a long collaboration with him on various projects including Tootsie.
Way to go Claire. May you find a Claire to embrace your work.
Schisgal followed the success of his one-act plays with the play LUV on Broadway. It was released as a feature film in 1967 starring Jack Lemmon, Peter Falk, and Elaine May…and an uncredited part for another up and coming actor named Harrison Ford.
P.S. Claire Nichtern benefited from helping launch Schigal’s career. She had begun as a receptionist at the Phoenix Theatre Company and rose to casting director. After embracing and producing Schisgal’s one-act plays, in 1965 she won a Tony Award for producing Schisgal’s play Luv. After her death in 1994, The New York Times Obituary stated; “From 1979 to 1985 Ms. Nichtern was president of Warner Theater Productions, a division of Warner Communications. During that period she produced over 30 plays and musicals for Warner, among them Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley, which won a Pulitzer Prize.”