Sir Terrence Rattigan, 66, the British playwright who such international success as "The Winslow "Boy" and "Separate Tables," died Wednesday at his home in Bermuda. He had suffered from cancer.
Rattigan was one of the most successful playwrights of the modern era. He turned out farces and he turned out dramas. He wrote for films as well as for the theater. He was acclaimed by critics as well as by audiences.His work attracted some of the greatest actors and actresses of the day, including Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine and Laurence (Lord) Olivier and Marilyn Monroe.
Whether he was praised or panned, whether he meant to please or provoke, Rattigan stuck to a view of the theater that he stated in these works:
"From Aeschylus to Tennessee Williams, the only theater that has ever mattered is the theater of character and narrative."
Thus, "The Winslow Boy," produced in London in 1946, was about a lad who was unjustly accused of stealing at the Royal Naval College. His family is determined to clear his name. Their attorney, Sir Robert Morton, an idealist, pursues the case into Parliament and prevails. But the stresses on the family, including social ostracism, are enormous. The play was based on the Archer Shee case a cause celebre in Britain in the early days of this century.
"The Winslow Boy" won the Ellen Terry Award as the best British play of the season. In 1948, it won the New York Drama Critics Award as the best foreign play of the 1947 season.
"Separate Tables" was presented in London in 1955, and was hailed as the best play of the year. It actually is two short plays in which the same actor and actress (Eric Potman and Margaret Leighton in the original production) create separate characters. Each playlet is the story of a lonely couple whose love is brought to life through the intervention of the manageress of a shabby hotel.
"What makes these plays so engrossing," wrote critic Marya Mannes in "The Reporter," "is Rattigan's complete command over his characters. . You care for Rattigan's lovers; it matters greatly from moment to moment what happens to them."
Rattigan's other seccesses included "The Browning Version" (1948), for which he won a second Ellen Terry Award, and "Ross" (1960), a biographical drama based on the later years of T. E. Lawrence, the legendary "Lawrence of Arabia," Lawrence had enlisted in the Royal Air Force as a private under the name T. E. Ross. In the play, he ponders the humiliation and degeneracy that were part of his exploits in World War I in Arabia.
In all, Rattigan wrote more than 20 plays. Many were made into films, for which he wrote the scripts. Among his film credits were the star-studded production of "The Yellow Rolls Royce," "The VIPs" and "Conduct Unbecoming."
His first great success was "French Without Tears" (1936), a comedy about romantic goings-on at a French summer school. It ran for 1,039 performances in London and brought stardom to Greer Garson and Nigel Patrick.
During World War II, Rattigan served as a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force. He used his experiences as the basis for "Flare Path" (1943), a romantic drama about life in the RAF that had an enormous success in Britain and many other countries. In New York, however, it closed after a week, even though Sir Alec Guinness played the leading part.
In the same period, Rattigan wrote "While the Sun Shines," a comedy that ran for 1,154 performances in London. Like "Flare Path," it ran into a frigid reception in New York, where the critic of The New York Times said it was "contrived as though by ruler, a pencil, and a pair of shears."
Many of Rattigan's plays made their American debuts in Washington. In this group was "The Winslow Boy," which was presented at The National Theater.
Terrence Rattigan was born in London on June 10, 1911. His father was a diplomat and wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. To this end he went to Harrow and then Oxford University, to which he had won a scholarship in history.
But he had been stagestruck early in life and determined to give up the study of history and diplomacy for the theater. His father agreed to finance him for a trial period. "French Without Tears" became a success shortly before the trial was to have expired.
"I'd have been a terrible ambassador," Rattigan once told an interviewer. "I can't resist careless talk and I would have been an utter disgrace to my father."
In 1971, a knighthood was conferred on Rattigan.Apart from Sir Noel Coward, he was the only playwright so honored for his work in the post World War II period.
Rattigan was a bachelor. At his death, his old friend, impressario Harold French, was with him.