Wrote books on Tin Pan Alley, Hollywood
Author, playwright and film and TV writer Max Wilk, who penned mostly comedy, died Feb. 19 in Westport, Conn. He was 90. Wilk studied drama at Yale, graduating in 1941. During WWII, he served in the Army Air Force Motion Picture Unit, whose captain was Ronald Reagan. He worked on Irving Berlin’s “This Is the Army” show and wrote and appeared in Army training films. After the war, Wilk penned plays (including “Small Wonder” with George Axelrod) and was a founding member of the 52nd Street Players group. His original play “Cloud 7″ ran briefly on Broadway in 1958 (a much later play, 1990’s “Mr. Williams and Miss Wood,” about Tennessee Williams, has been widely produced in recent years). He then turned to television, writing live TV shows and later sitcoms and comedy specials. He co-penned 1960 special “The Fabulous Fifties,” which won both the Emmy for variety show and a Peabody Award. He wrote the 1977 animated film “Raggedy Ann and Andy” and the 1977 TV special “They Said It With Music,” among many other television and film properties. During the 1960s he began publishing humorous novels, often set in New York suburbia. One, “Don’t Raise the Bridge, Lower the Water,” was made into a 1968 Jerry Lewis film whose screenplay he wrote. Wilk spent a few years living in London during the 1960s and became involved with the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” project; he was commissioned to write the novel based on the film. He wrote comedy specials for stars including Melina Mercouri and Jonathan Winters. His best-known nonfiction work was 1973’s “They’re Playing Our Song.” This collection of interviews with and stories about the great Tin Pan Alley and Broadway songwriters of the 20th century has been in print for almost 40 years. Other books include “The Golden Age of Television,” “The Wit and Wisdom of Hollywood,” “Schmucks With Underwoods” and “OK! The Story of Oklahoma.” In all, Wilk was the author of 19 books, four films, three produced plays as well as many TV shows and magazine articles. In later years, Wilk became a local music impresario, producing scores of jazz and live shows for the Westport Arts Center. In addition, for more than 20 years, he served as dramaturge at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference, working with playwrights including August Wilson and David Lindsay-Abaire. Wilk is survived by his three children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.