John Patrick; Playwright, Screenwriter Won Pulitzer


John Patrick, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of "Teahouse of the August Moon" and a screenwriter who hit his stride in the 1950s with "Three Coins in a Fountain" and "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing," has died. He was 90.

Patrick, who left a poem titled "A Suicide Note," was found Tuesday with a plastic bag over his head in the assisted care facility where he lived in Delray Beach, Fla.

The writer, whose prose delighted millions and allowed him to live as a gentleman farmer in rural New York and later the Virgin Islands, wrote as his final words:

"I won't dispute my right to die;

I'll only give the reasons why;

You reach a certain point in time

When life has lost reason and rhyme."

Best known for his play and subsequent screenplay of "Teahouse," Patrick amassed not only the coveted Pulitzer for that reworking of Verne J. Sneider's novel about the Americanization of Okinawa, but also the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, the Tony Award, the Aegis Club Award and the Donaldson Award. The play ran for 1,027 performances on Broadway and was produced in more than 30 countries.

Always striving for commercial success, Patrick later said the best thing about winning the Pulitzer was that, although the award never made anybody a better writer, it did double the writer's salary.

Patrick also won the Screenwriters Guild Award and the Foreign Correspondents Award for his 1957 screenplay of the musical film "Les Girls," starring Gene Kelly.

But his all-time favorite award, Patrick told The Times in 1979, was a plaque he won in 1963 stating: "First Prize International Stock Show Senior Yearling Bull."

"Pulitzers and Tonys are easy," he said. "This is the toughest award. When you win this, you know you've done something."

Born John Patrick Goggan in Louisville, Ky., the writer attended Our Lady of Holy Cross College in New Orleans and Harvard and Columbia universities. He began his career writing for NBC Radio in San Francisco in the 1930s, churning out about 1,100 radio plays.

He wrote his first Broadway play, "Hell Freezes Over," in 1935. It was a dreadful flop, inducing one critic to write, "Back to the ashcan with this Hollywood writer."

At that time Patrick had never been to Hollywood and had never written a screenplay, but his rejection by New York quickly prompted 20th Century Fox to offer him a job.

"In other words," Patrick later joked, "having a bad play on Broadway qualified you as a picture writer."

From the 1930s through the 1960s Patrick wrote more than 30 screenplays, the early ones forgettable. He took time out to serve as a captain in the American Field Service during World War II, driving an ambulance in Britain.

The experience provided the material for his first Broadway success, "The Hasty Heart," which was produced in 1945 and later became a movie starring Ronald Reagan.

Patrick spun critical and commercial gold in the 1950s, with "Teahouse" on Broadway and successive screenplays for the hit films "The President's Lady," "Three Coins in a Fountain," "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing," the screen version of "Teahouse," "High Society," "The Philadelphia Story," "Les Girls" and in 1960 "The World of Suzie Wong."

He also wrote extensively for regional theater, and his plays were widely published and produced by small theater groups around the world.

"It's a craft," he told The Times, describing his prolific writing. "That's all. And I'm a pretty good craftsman. If I were a carpenter, I'd say the same thing. 'I can build a good outhouse.' My plays are assembled like very good outhouses."

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