James Kirkwood, Jr.

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James Kirkwood
Kirkwood in 1975
Born James Kirkwood, Jr.
(1924-08-22)22 August 1924
Los Angeles, California
Died 21 April 1989(1989-04-21) (aged 64)
Manhattan, New York City
Nationality American
Related to James Kirkwood, Sr. (father)
Lila Lee (mother)
Notable work(s) P. S. Your Cat Is Dead!
Magnum opus A Chorus Line
Awards Pulitzer Prize for Drama (1976)

James Kirkwood, Jr. (August 22, 1924 – April 21, 1989) was an American playwright, author and actor. In 1976 he received the Tony Award, the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the Broadway hit A Chorus Line.


Kirkwood was born in Los Angeles. His father James Kirkwood, Sr. was an actor and director in silent films and his mother was actress Lila Lee. After their divorce, he spent much of his time with his mother's family in Elyria, Ohio where he graduated from high school.


From 1953 to 1957 he played Mickey Emerson on the CBS soap opera Valiant Lady.[1] Kirkwood wrote the semi-autobiographical novel There Must Be a Pony, which was made into a television film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Robert Wagner. Other novels include P. S. Your Cat Is Dead! (adapted into a play of the same name, which was, in turn, adapted into a film by Steve Guttenberg), Good Times/Bad Times, Some Kind of Hero, and Hit Me with a Rainbow.

In 1959 Kirkwood appeared on Perry Mason as Johnny Baylor, son of Sen. Harriman Baylor, in "The Case of the Foot-Loose Doll."

In 1970, Simon & Schuster published Kirkwood's American Grotesque about the trial of Clay Shaw.[2] Shaw, a New Orleans businessman, was tried by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison on charges that he was involved in a conspiracy to assassinate United States President John F. Kennedy and later acquitted.[2][3] Kirkus Reviews said "Kirkwood's portrait of Shaw as St. Sebastian is overdone to the point of self defeat" and that "the book does clinch the impression that legal grounds for the conspiracy charges were insufficient."[2]

Kirkwood won the 1976 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical, the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical, the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama with collaborator Nicholas Dante for A Chorus Line.

Kirkwood also wrote the comedic play Legends! which toured the United States with Mary Martin and Carol Channing in 1987. The plot concerns a producer with a sure-fire commercial script, but no credibility, who lures two out-of-work but long-time feuding actresses "of a certain age" to star in his putative Broadway production. Legends! was the most financially successful road production of that season, but when producers insisted on cutting an important speech about breast cancer by Mary Martin's character, the actress declared she would complete her contractual obligation, but would not open the play on Broadway, and the show closed on the road.[citation needed] Kirkwood wrote a book about the production of Legends! entitled Diary of a Mad Playwright: Perilous Adventures on the Road with Mary Martin and Carol Channing.

A revival of Legends! was mounted with Joan Collins and Linda Evans of Dynasty fame. It toured more than 30 cities in the United States and Canada beginning in autumn 2006, but did not appear on Broadway as had been planned. Beginning May 2015, Hayley Mills will tour Australia in Legends! with sister Juliet Mills and Maxwell Caulfield.

Personal life

In 1968, Kirkwood signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.[4]

Kirkwood died in his Manhattan apartment of spinal cancer in 1989.[5][6]

Literary Prize

In Kirkwood's memory, his friends and admirers established the James Kirkwood Literary Prize to honor new generations of fiction writers for their literary achievements. The competition is hosted by the UCLA Extension Writers' Program and the winner is determined by Andrew Morse, the prize's benefactor.


In 2011, author Sean Egan published a substantial biography of Kirkwood titled Ponies & Rainbows for which he interviewed more than sixty of Kirkwood’s friends, relatives and colleagues.


  • U.T.B.U. (Unhealthy To Be Unpleasant)
  • Legends!
  • A Chorus Line (book – co-authored with Nicholas Dante)
  • Stage Stuck (co-authored with Jim Piazza)
  • American Grotesque
  • Diary of a Mad Playwright: Perilous Adventures on the Road with Mary Martin and Carol Channing, about production of the play Legends! (Dutton, 1989)


  1. TV Guide Guide to TV. Barnes and Noble. 2004. p. 671. ISBN 0-7607-5634-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Kirkus Reviews (November 1, 1970). "American Grotesque". http://www.kirkusreviews.com. Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved July 20, 2015. External link in |work= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Leonard, John (December 8, 1970). "The Story of Garrison Vs. Shaw". The Day. 90 (134). New London, Connecticut. p. 22. Retrieved August 24, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” January 30, 1968 New York Post
  5. Hays, Constance L. (April 22, 1989). "James Kirkwood, Author of Book For Musical 'Chorus Line,' Dies". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. James Kirkwood at the Notable Names Database

Print references

  • Egan, Sean (2011). Ponies & Rainbows: The Life of James Kirkwood. Oklahoma: BearManor Media. ISBN 978-1-59393-680-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links