June 10, 2021

Alumnus and award-winning television writer and producer John Sacret Young dies at 75

Author, screenwriter, director, producer, and Princeton alumnus John Sacret Young died June 3 in Brentwood, California, after a ten-month battle with brain cancer. He had just celebrated his 75th birthday.

john sacret young

Award-winning writer, producer and Princeton alumnus John Sacret Young ’69. Courtesy of John Sacret Young

A member of Princeton’s Class of 1969, Young provided the funding to establish the John Sacret Young ’69 Fund for Visiting Filmmakers at Princeton, which in recent years has made possible several film series such as Sonic Resistance, Cinema Today, Radical Nonfiction, SHE BAD: Women in Film, Combahee Experimental: Black Women’s Experimental Filmmaking, and several other film series presented by the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Visual Arts. The John Sacret Young fund has also supported film series produced in partnership with the Princeton Garden Theatre, as well as campus visits by guest artists including Terrence Malick, Charlie Kaufman, Kelly Reichardt, and Todd and Jedd Wider.

The youngest of four siblings growing up in Montclair, New Jersey and Manomet, Massachusetts, Young was born on May 24, 1946, to Peggy and Bill Young. He attended a small public school in Montclair and later Princeton, where he participated in freshman football, hockey and lacrosse. For his senior thesis, he wrote his first novel about two women working in
the 1968 presidential campaign.

Young began his work in television on the Emmy Award-winning series Police Story as a researcher embedded with the LAPD. He wrote three scripts for the show in 1976 and that year the series took home the Emmy for Best Drama. Soon after, he won his first Writers Guild Award for adapting Philip Caputo’s A Rumor of War as a mini-series.

As co-creator with William Broyles, Jr., Young executive produced and served as showrunner for the ground-breaking series China Beach from 1988-1991. He received five Emmy and four Writer’s Guild Award (WGA) nominations for his work on the show. The WGA honored him with an award for an episode he also directed.

Young worked on a number of other projects after China Beach, including Keys, VR.5, Orleans, Sirens, King of the World, and Level 9. His 1998 original mini-series about the Gulf War, Thanks of a Grateful Nation, earned him a fifth Humanitas Prize nomination as a writer and a second win. From 2004-2006 he wrote and produced for The West Wing, earning additional Emmy and Writer’s Guild Award nominations. Most recently, he wrote for and co-produced the popular Netflix series Firefly Lane.

Young also wrote and produced feature films. He was honored with two Christopher Awards for the Academy Award-nominated film Testament starring Jane Alexander and Kevin Costner, as well as the film Romero with Raul Julia and Richard Jordan. A Golden Globe, People’s Choice, and a Peabody Award are counted among Young’s other awards.

jon stands at a table signing books

Young signs copies of “Pieces of Glass — An Artoire” at the Princeton Garden Theatre in November 2017.

In addition to writing for television and film, Young wrote his first novel in 1982 entitled The Weather Tomorrow, about which a Los Angeles Times review compared him to a “young William Faulkner.” His 2005 memoir REMAINS: Non-Viewable, revolving around his cousin Doug’s death in Vietnam, was a Los Angeles Times best seller. Critic Elmore Leonard wrote that “Young writes so well his memoir works as a novel.”

Young also wrote extensively about American art, contributing introductions and essays to various publications including the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and Written By magazine, on subjects ranging from John O’Hara to abstract expressionism.

His critically well-received memoir, Pieces of Glass – An Artoire, about the effect art has had on his writing, his screen work, and his life, was published in 2016. In November 2017, he visited the Princeton campus to give a visual presentation and join in conversation with visual arts professor Joe Scanlan about Pieces of Glass.

Pieces of Tinsel, Young’s final book about his life and career experiences in Hollywood, will be published posthumously in 2022.

As an educator, Young lectured at University of Southern California, University of California Santa Barbara, the Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton Presidential Libraries, and he taught at Princeton University and Claremont-McKenna College. He served on the boards of several institutions including the Firestone Library at Princeton, the Humanitas Prize, the Burchfield Penney Art Center, and for over 25 years he served on the board of the Writers Guild Foundation.

Young is survived by his beloved family and the many young writers, directors, producers, and crew members he mentored.

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