Tony-win­ning stage, screen di­rec­tor Jack Hof­siss dies at 65

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OBITUARIES - By Mark Kennedy

NEW YORK >> Stage and screen di­rec­tor Jack Hof­siss, who won a Tony Award in his first out­ing on Broad­way while helm­ing “The Ele­phant Man” and kept work­ing de­spite an ac­ci­dent that left him with­out the use of his arms and legs, died Tues­day, ac­cord­ing to pro­ducer and long­time friend El­iz­a­beth McCann. He was 65.

Hof­siss died at his home in Man­hat­tan af­ter re­cently be­ing hos­pi­tal­ized at Mount Si­nai Hos­pi­tal for res­pi­ra­tory dis­tress. “He fell asleep and slipped away from us,” McCann said Wed­nes­day.

Hof­siss also di­rected sev­eral TV films, in­clud­ing a 1982 adap­ta­tion of “The Ele­phant Man,” a ver­sion of “Cat of a Hot Tin Roof” star­ring Jes­sica Lange, and “The Old­est Liv­ing Grad­u­ate” with Henry Fonda.

He was best known for shep­herd­ing “The Ele­phant Man” to Broad­way from of­fBroad­way and in 1979, at 28, be­came the youngest man at the time to win the Tony for best di­rec­tion.

The play was based on the ac­tual case his­tory of John Mer­rick, a Vic­to­rian-era freak show out­cast whom a Lon­don sur­geon, Fred­er­ick Treves, pro­tected and en­cour­aged. In the play, Philip Anglim played Mer­rick with­out the aid of make-up or spe­cial cos­tum­ing.

McCann, who pro­duced the play, called Hof­siss a gre­gar­i­ous and witty man and said she con­sid­ered him the smartest di­rec­tor she ever worked with. “He was to­tal man of the theater,” she said.

Hof­siss’ ca­reer was in­ter­rupted on July 20, 1985, when he dived into the shal­low end of a Fire Is­land swim­ming pool and broke his neck. He ended up in hos­pi­tals for nearly eight months.

“You spend a lot of time fig­ur­ing out how you might get rid of your­self. Sui­cide be­comes a very strong pos­si­bil­ity. A re­lease,” he told The As­so­ci­ated Press in 1986. “I never got to the method­ol­ogy, though. I only got as far as the fan­tasy.”

The sup­port of his fam­ily, his show busi­ness col­leagues and the of­fer of a job helped Hof­siss ad­just. The job of­fer from Josephine Abady, artis­tic di­rec­tor of the Berk­shire Theater Festival, came while Hof­siss was still in the hos­pi­tal. “It was an in­spi­ra­tion to get bet­ter,” Hof­siss said.

The ac­ci­dent made him con­front his phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions as a di­rec­tor. “Not be­ing able to jump up and get in the mid­dle of things forced me to be more ar­tic­u­late. Now I have an as­sis­tant who jumps up and shoves peo­ple around in­stead of me,” he said.

His first job af­ter the ac­ci­dent would be di­rect­ing Philip Barry’s “Paris Bound.” The first day of rehearsal I told them, ‘Treat me with your usual awe and re­spect that you give di­rec­tors,’” he said, laugh­ing.

“It didn’t stop him,” said McCann. “He went ev­ery­place he could. He went to the theater all the time.” When­ever they went out to din­ner, theater was all they talked about.

Hof­siss, a grad­u­ate of Georgetown Univer­sity, came to New York in 1971. He par­layed a job in the cast­ing depart­ment at the New York Shake­speare Festival into sev­eral di­rect­ing as­sign­ments, in­clud­ing work at the Pub­lic Theater, the New York City Opera and the tele­vi­sion soap opera “An­other World.”

He made his movie-di­rect­ing de­but in 1982 with “I’m Danc­ing As Fast As I Can,” which starred Jill Clay­burgh. Af­ter the ac­ci­dent he would di­rect on Broad­way with “The Shadow Box” in 1994 star­ring Estelle Par­sons and Mercedes Ruehl, and such off-Broad­way shows as “Sur­viv­ing Grace” in 2002, “James Joyce’s The Dead” in 1999 and “Con­fes­sions of a Mor­mon Boy” in 2006.

Hof­siss also served as a Tony nom­i­na­tor and on the board of di­rec­tors of the Al­liance for In­clu­sion in the Arts, which ad­vo­cates for artists with dis­abil­i­ties and artists of color, for sev­eral years.

He is sur­vived by three sis­ters.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.