Thom Thomas, a writer for stage, TV and film, succumbed to acute leukemia on Wednesday in Los Angeles. He was 80.
Thomas had recently co-written, with Iris Rainer Dart, the book for “Beaches, The Musical,” adapted from Dart’s popular novel. “Beaches” had a tryout in Chicago at the Drury Lane Theatre last summer, and a Broadway transfer is pending availability of a theater. And production is planned for spring on Thomas’ completed screenplay adaptation of the novel “Vanished.”
In 1981 producer Steven Bochco, who had been Thomas’ classmate in the playwriting program at Carnegie Mellon University, asked him to come to Los Angeles to write several episodes for “Hill Street Blues”; that led to other TV writing gigs for series including “Hotel,” “A Day in the Life” and “Tales of the Gold Monkey,” as well as the TV movie “Private Sessions” (1985), starring Mike Farrell and Maureen Stapleton. Thomas was also story editor for series in development at Universal Studios.
Thomas was a native of the Pittsburgh area, where, during the 1960s and ’70s, he directed plays and musicals at Pittsburgh Playhouse, Civic Light Opera, Little Lake Theatre and his own summer theater, the Odd Chair Playhouse. In 1966 he became a member of the American Conservatory Theatre under the helm of William Ball. He received the Cameron Overseas Grant from CMU to study in Europe, where he joined the Young Vic theater. Upon returning to the U.S. in 1967, he joined the faculty at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, where he led the theater department from 1974-77. He became artistic director at the Pittsburgh Playhouse and was a.d. for the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera in 1972.
His first play, “The Interview,” premiered at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in a production starring Jose Ferrer and in 1976 did a stint Off Broadway starring Louis Edmonds.
Thomas moved to New York City in 1976 to concentrate on writing for the stage, and several of his plays were produced Off Broadway and in London, including “Without Apologies” (Hudson Guild, N.Y.; the Open Space, London); “The Ball Game” (Playwrights Horizons, N.Y.); and “Approaching Zero” (LaMaMa ETC, N.Y.).
More recently Thomas concentrated on writing plays. The drama “A Moon to Dance By” received several regional productions, including a critically acclaimed 2009 version starring Jane Alexander, Robert Cuccioli and Gareth Saxe, directed by Edwin Sherin at the Pittsburgh Playhouse and reprised at the George Street Playhouse in New Jersey with the same cast and creative team. It was named 2009’s best play by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, was nominated by the American Theatre Critics Assn. as best play and was short-listed for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in Drama. In L.A., “Set in Motion” had a well-reviewed premiere in 1995 at the Group Repertory Theatre.