Israel Horovitz, a playwright, screenwriter and director whose career was tarnished by sexual assault allegations in the late 2010s, died from cancer on Monday at his Manhattan home, his wife told The New York Times. He was 81.
Horovitz’s best-known plays include “Line,” “Park Your Car in Harvard Yard,” “The Primary English Class,” “The Widow’s Blind Date,” “What Strong Fences Make” and “The Indian Wants the Bronx.”
In 2017, nine women accused Horovitz of sexual misconduct in a New York Times article. Some of the women were actresses in plays he had directed or employed. One woman alleged he had raped her and another alleged he assaulted her when she was 16.
Horovitz responded to the accusations in the Times and apologized, saying he had “a different memory of some of these events. I apologize with all my heart to any woman who has ever felt compromised by my actions, and to my family and friends who have put their trust in me.”
His play “The Indian Wants the Bronx” won the Obie Award for distinguished play in 1968, and the production featured future Hollywood stars John Cazale and Al Pacino, who would later appear as brothers in “The Godfather.”
Horovitz based his screenplay for “Author! Author!,” on his own experiences as a playwright coping with the stress of having his work produced on Broadway while having to raise a large family. Most recently he adapted his own 2002 play “My Old Lady” for the screen and directed the film, which starred Maggie Smith, Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott-Thomas and Dominique Pinon. It was released in fall 2014. Kline played a failed playwright who seeks to claim his only asset, a splendid Paris apartment in which Smith’s character has long resided — and French law precludes the sale of the apartment until the death of the tenant.
Other cinematic efforts by Horovitz included the script, co-written with director Istvan Szabo, to the critically acclaimed 1999 film “Sunshine,” which followed the vicissitudes of a Jewish family in Hungary over the course of the 20th century; Ralph Fiennes starred (playing three roles) along with Rosemary Harris and Rachel Weisz. The screenplay won the European Film Award. He also wrote the 2001 TNT TV movie “James Dean,” directed by Mark Rydell and starring James Franco as the iconic actor who died young. In 2002’s “3 Weeks After Paradise,” written, directed and starring Horovitz, the playwright offered up his testimony about his family’s experience after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Horovitz’s first film work was adapting a novel by James Simon Kunen for 1970’s “The Strawberry Statement,” which concerned the on-campus political unrest of the 1960s.
The playwright only had two plays mounted on Broadway: “Morning, Noon and Night” in 1968 and “Park Your Car in Harvard Yard” in 1991. A 1982 profile in New York magazine declared that his “paradoxical career demonstrates that a playwright can create a significant body of work — and generate a not insignificant income — without going near Broadway.”
In 1972 he was invited by City College of New York to teach playwriting, but when filling out the routine forms necessary, Horovitz, who had never attended, much less graduated from, any college, wrote that he had a bachelor’s degree from Harvard. An intrepid reporter at the Harvard Crimson uncovered the fraud the next year, leading to an article in The New York Times. But despite lying about his credentials, New York magazine said, “His colleagues and students agree that he was a brilliant teacher.”
Beyond writing 70 plays, many of them translated and performed in other languages, Horovitz directed French-language productions of his plays while living between France and the U.S.
He founded the Gloucester Stage Company in Gloucester, Mass., in 1979 and served as its artistic director for 28 years; he also founded the New York Playwrights Lab in 1975, and long served as its artistic director. He was co-director of Italian theater company Compagnia Horovitz-Paciotto, which produces only Horovitz’s plays.
A worldwide celebration of the playwright’s 70th birthday, called the 70/70 Horovitz Project, was masterminded by New York City’s Barefoot Theatre Company. Beginning March 31, 2009, 70 of his plays were afforded productions or dramatic readings by theater companies around the world, including the national theaters of Nigeria, Benin, Greece and Ghana.
He was one of a small number of non-actors awarded membership in the Actors Studio on the basis of their contributions to the life and work of that august institution.
Horovitz was born in Wakefield, Mass. He wrote his first novel at age 13. Four years later he began his professional life as a playwright, penning his first play, “The Comeback,” which was performed at the Boston area’s Suffolk University.
He first made a splash in the winter of 1967-68, with four critically acclaimed plays produced Off Broadway.
Horovitz was thrice married, the first time to Elaine Abber from 1959-60, the second time to painter Doris Keefe from 1959-72.
In addition to son Adam Horovitz by Keefe, he is survived by third wife Gillian Adams, whom he wed in 1981; a daughter, Julie, by Abber; a daughter, film producer Rachael Horovitz, and a son, TV producer-director Matthew Horovitz, by the late Keefe; and twins, Hannah and Oliver, by Adams.