John (James) Osborne

Definition

Theater

  • (1929 - 94) British playwright and actor, who became theleading representative of the so-called Angry Young Men ofthe 1950s. Osborne's Look Back in Anger (1956), the firstof his plays to be accepted for production, ushered in a new era inBritish theater with its attacks on conventional middle-class valuesand its vituperative antihero, Jimmy Porter. The forerunnerof many so-called kitchen sink dramas, it provided the EnglishStage Company at the Royal Court Theatre with one of itsgreatest triumphs. Although the initial notices were indifferent,The Observer's Kenneth Tynan wrote a powerful reviewin which he said he would be unable to love anyone who did not wishto see it. Both Osborne and Look Back in Anger leapt to fameovernight. Osborne consolidated his success with The Entertainer(1957), about a seedy music hall comedian, Archie Rice, whichwas first produced with Olivier in the role. This, too, was highlypraised and like his first play now forms part of the Eng. Lit. schoolsyllabus. Among the plays that followed, the best received wereLuther (1961), Inadmissible Evidence (1964), and APatriot for Me (1966), which was refused a licence because of itshomosexual theme. In the 1970s, however, such works as West of Suez(1971) and A Sense of Detachment (1973) failed to please eitheraudiences or critics. Osborne had no new play produced on the British stagebetween the failure of Watch It Come Down (1975) and the premiereof Déjà Vu (1992), a sequel to Look Back inAnger that looks at Jimmy Porter 35 years after his first appearance.The first production of Déjà Vu was postponedfor several months following a bitter dispute between Osborne andPeter O'Toole, who was to have played Porter.

    Osborne also wrote for television and the cinema, winningan Oscar for his screenplay for Tom Jones (1964). He producedtwo volumes of autobiography: A Better Class of Person (1981)deals with his early life and draws a deeply hostile picture of hismother, while Almost a Gentleman (1991) has been describedby a critic as "dancing on the graves" of his two deceasedwives, the actresses Mary Ure and Jill Bennett.

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