Ulu Grosbard dies at 83; Tony-nominated stage, film director

Ulu Grosbard, a Tony-nominated stage director who also worked in film, directing such movies as “True Confessions” and “The Deep End of the Ocean,” died late Sunday or early Monday in New York City, according to his family. He was 83.

During a five-decade career, Grosbard was known for choosing his projects carefully, which resulted in a relatively small but notable body of work consisting of about eight plays and seven movies.

On Broadway, he was associated with such highly regarded playwrights as Arthur Miller (“The Price”), Woody Allen (“The Floating Light Bulb”) and Beth Henley (“The Wake of Jamey Foster”). He was nominated for Tony Awards in 1965 for “The Subject Was Roses,” Frank D. Gilroy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about the struggles of a returning World War II soldier, and in 1977 for David Mamet’s “American Buffalo,” about a couple of con men and their bungled plot.

In movies he directed some of Hollywood’s most respected actors, including Robert Duvall, Robert DeNiro, Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman. Duvall was a particular favorite: After meeting Grosbard in the early 1950s when they were young actors in summer stock on Long Island, the two men worked together in 1965 in the Grosbard-directed “A View From the Bridge,” which won Obie Awards for both of them. Duvall later starred in “American Buffalo” in 1977 and “True Confessions,” the 1981 film adaptation of the John Gregory Dunne novel, which also featured DeNiro and Grosbard’s wife, Rose Gregorio. She is his only immediate survivor.


He was drawn to projects that depicted complicated family relationships. “True Confessions” (1981), for example, focused on two very different brothers, a Roman Catholic priest (DeNiro) and a Los Angeles police detective (Duvall) investigating a murder that might involve the church. In a highly favorable review, New York Times critic Vincent Canby said the movie was “one of the most entertaining, most intelligent and most thoroughly satisfying commercial American films in a very long time” and established Grosbard as a” major American filmmaker.”

Similarly, “The Deep End of the Ocean” (1999), based on the bestselling Jacquelyn Mitchard novel and starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Treat Williams, explored a family torn apart by a kidnapping.

“I guess I’m fascinated by the fact that circumstances can arise that will threaten bonds, that what in fact seems steel is a very, very fine thread that can be easily snapped,” Grosbard told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 1999.

He speculated that his interest in the fragility of familial bonds stemmed from his experiences as a child growing up during World War II. Born Jan. 9, 1929, in Antwerp, Belgium, he was 12 when the German army invaded. He fled with his family to Cuba and stayed there for six years until they were able to immigrate to the United States in 1946.

He earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Chicago and studied for a year at the Yale Drama School in 1952.

He served in the Army at the end of the Korean War before apprenticing as a director. He was an assistant to a number of distinguished directors, including Elia Kazan on “Splendor in the Grass,” Sidney Lumet on “The Pawnbroker” and Arthur Penn on “The Miracle Worker.”