Jean Anouilh, 77, one of France's greatest playwrights, who is perhaps best known for his play "Becket" and for his dramatic interpretation of classical Greek myths in such works as "Antigone," "Oreste" and "Eurydice," died Oct. 3 at a hospital in Lausanne, Switzerland.

During a career that spanned five decades, he wrote about 40 plays and saw his work translated into 27 languages. He also wrote stories for the ballet, dialogue and scripts for movies including "Monsieur Vincent" (1947) and "Deux Sous de Violettes" (Two Cents Worth of Violets) (1951). He directed several movies and in 1959 won the prix Dominique for his direction of "Madame M."

French President Francois Mitterrand mourned Mr. Anouilh's death, saying in a message of condolences to the family, "It is a great writer who has disappeared, one whose works have marked the French theater."

Although his works did not gain a wide following in the United States, many critics regarded Mr. Anouilh as one of this century's great playwrights. He was hailed for writing that was technically deft and completely human. His plays, especially the ones based on Greek myths, posed seemingly insoluble moral questions.

He wrote of loneliness, old age, the end of innocence, and the breakdown of communication.

The plays featured moral players in an immoral setting with heroes forced to live life on the fringes of a corrupt and bankrupt society. He saw a world largely fueled by cowardice, revenge and hatred. He expressed horror at what man's life was compared to what it could be.

His play "Antigone" was produced in 1944 during the Nazi occupation of France. A modern version of Sophocles' masterpiece, it pitted the innocent, youthful and indomitable idealist, Antigone, against King Creon's voice of power and pragmatism.

French audiences interpreted the work as a "Resistance" play and made Mr. Anouilh a hero for his clever defiance of Nazi power. Mr. Anouilh later said that though he was pleased, he was genuinely surprised. Unlike many of his generation, he did not make a career of beating his breast while boasting of resistance work; he maintained that he had neither the time nor the inclination for politics.

One of his greatest and most popular plays was "Becket," produced in 1959. It was the tale of Thomas a Becket, a worldly English chancellor who became a sainted archbishop of Canterbury. After defying his king, Henry II, he was murdered on the steps of a cathedral.

The play was a critical triumph and led to a popular film. There were British critics, however, who attacked him on historical grounds, pointing out that the play presented Becket, who was a Norman, as a Saxon. Mr. Anouilh admitted the error, replying that he was a playwright, not a historian.

He had previously been attacked on political grounds for such plays as "Poor Bitos," a 1956 comedy with a sardonic view of a French liberation politico trying to settle wartime scores against the socially prominent. The play was said to be Mr. Anouilh's favorite, and despite poor reviews, it enjoyed a two-year run in Paris.

Mr. Anouilh had maintained something of a self-imposed exile from his native France since the 1950s. In recent years, he had lived in Pully, a suburb of Lausanne.

He was a lifelong critic of the late French president and wartime leader, Gen. Charles de Gaulle, once calling him "the Jupiter of the theater of human beings." De Gaulle was the man who came to lead France during a period Mr. Anouilh saw increasingly dominated by greed, revenge and a search for lost glory. Many believe that it was Mr. Anouilh's opposition to de Gaulle that prevented him from garnering any of France's great literary honors.

Mr. Anouilh was born in Bordeaux and grew up there and in Paris. He was considered somewhat retarded until his problem was diagnosed as nearsightedness. His father was a tailor who wanted his son to get a good education, his mother a musician who played at casinos and imparted to her son a love of music and operettas.

After studying law at the University of Paris, he worked in advertising. He told a reporter in 1950 that "for three years I wrote copy for products ranging from noodles to automobiles. I consider advertising a great school for playwriting. The precision, conciseness and agility of expression necessary in writing advertisments helped me enormously."

His first published work was "The Ermine" in 1932. His more popular works of the 1930s included "The Traveler Without Luggage," "The Wild One" and "The Thieves' Carnival." During the war, he moved to the front ranks of drama. In addition to "Antigone," he produced "Eurydice" in 1942 and "Oreste" in 1945.

His postwar work included plays with a psychological bent, including "l'Invitation au Chateau" (Invitation to the Castle) in 1947, "La Repetition ou l'Amoureux Puni" (The Rehearsal or The Punished Lover") in 1950, and "l'Alouette" (The Lark), a 1953 work about Joan of Arc.

A 1976 play, "The Script," was about a group of artists trying to make a movie on the eve of World War II. It ended tragically -- with exile for some, suicide for others.

His survivors include a daughter by his first wife, Monelle, and three children by his second wife, Nicole, whom he married in 1953 and who also survives.

WILLIAM RANDOLPH BRANCH,

69, a retired project manager with the Naval Sea Systems Command who also was a retired commander in the Navy reserves in 1974, died of pneumonia Oct. 2 at a hospital in Merritt Island, Fla., where he was stricken while visiting his brother.

Mr. Branch, who lived in Washington, was born in Manchester, N.H. He graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and was a sailor in the Merchant Marine during World War II.

After the war, he joined the Navy and had assignments on destroyers during the late 1940s. He was transferred to the Washington area in 1950 and became a civilian employe of the Navy Department in 1952.

When he retired from the Navy in 1979, Mr. Branch was a project manager for the development of the FFG7, a guided missile frigate. For the next five years, he was a real estate agent with Colquitt-Carruthers in the Chevy Chase area.

He was a member of the Kenwood Country Club.

His marriage to Lennie H. Freethey ended in divorce. His second wife, Anna Elizabeth Branch, died in 1984.

Survivors include one son by his second marriage, Roger A. Branch of West Palm Beach, Fla.; three sons by his first marriage, Hugh W. Bowden of Brooklin, Maine, William R. Bowden of Brooksville, Maine, and Robert L. Bowden of Penobscot, Maine, and one brother, Peter W. Branch of Merritt Island.

GRACE CAMPBELL EGOLF,

83, an area resident since 1943 who was a member of All Saints Episcopal Church in Chevy Chase, died Oct. 2 at the Althea Woodland nursing home in Silver Spring after a stroke. She had a heart ailment.

Mrs. Egolf, who lived in Chevy Chase, was a native of Marietta, Ohio, and moved to this area from Tulsa. She was a graduate of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and a member of the Junior League of Washington and the Kenwood Golf and Country Club.

Her first husband, Harry I. Clarkson, died in 1933. Her second husband, Willard D. Egolf, died in 1964. Survivors include a son by her first marriage, Harry I. Clarkson of Rockville, and six grandchildren.

MARIA LEON CASTRO,

93, an area resident since 1951 who was a native of Mexico and who lived in New York before moving here, died Oct. 3 at the home of a daughter in Hyattsville after a stroke. She lived in New Carrollton.

Mrs. Leon Castro, who moved to this country in 1915, had been a concert singer in Mexico and this country in her twenties.

Her husband, Jose Castro Leon, died in 1986. Her survivors include a son, Roman Castro Leon of San Francisco; two daughters, Teresa Parcells of New Carrollton, and Cristina Jimenez of Hyattsville; nine grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

MARY MARSHALL JONES,

78, an area resident since 1963 who also had lived here during World War II, died Oct. 3 at her home in Washington after a stroke.

She was a member of the Navy Sponsors. Mrs. Jones was born in West Virginia. She grew up in Farmville, Va., where she graduated from Longwood College.

Her first husband, Navy Capt. William Wallace Anderson Jr., died in 1946. Her second husband, retired Navy Rear Adm. William Thomas Jones, died in 1963.

Survivors include two children by her first marriage, William Wallace Anderson V of Bethesda, and Apphia Page Schley of Middlebury, Vt.; two brothers, Edwin R. Marshall of Edders, Pa., and James J. Marshall Jr. of New York City, and four grandchildren.