Douglas McGrath, an actor, filmmaker, playwright, Princeton alum, and member of the Lewis Center for the Arts Advisory Council, died suddenly in Manhattan on November 3. He was 64.
“It was at 185 Nassau St. and McCarter Theatre that I first learned not to be sentimental about something just because I wrote it.”
McGrath was an artist whose talents crossed the screen and stage. He co-wrote the film Bullets Over Broadway with Woody Allen, which was nominated for an Oscar for best original screenplay. His other work in writing and directing for film includes the adaptation of the Jane Austen novel, Emma; Nicholas Nickleby, an adaptation of the Charles Dickens story; and Infamous. He also wrote the Tony Award-nominated book for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which ran for more than five years on Broadway. He directed the HBO documentaries His Way and Becoming Mike Nichols, which earned an Emmy nomination for outstanding documentary. For the theater, McGrath wrote Checkers, a play about Richard M. Nixon’s infamous “Checkers” speech, and an adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence.
McGrath began his career as a writer for Saturday Night Live in what he was always eager to boast, “was incontestably the worst year in the show’s history.” Over the course of his career, his writing appeared in The New Republic, The New York Times and other publications, and he was a columnist at Graydon Carter’s digital weekly newsletter, Air Mail.
In mid-October 2022, McGrath opened and starred in the solo Off Broadway show, Everything’s Fine, directed by John Lithgow, which received positive reviews and was in an extended run at the time of his death.
As an undergraduate member of the Class of 1980 at Princeton, McGrath performed in several musicals and wrote two musicals for Princeton Triangle Club, which performs annually at McCarter Theatre Center’s Matthews Theatre. For the first show entitled Happily Ever After, McGrath wrote the book and co-wrote the lyrics with David E. Kelley ’79, also a past member of the LCA Advisory Council. In a 2015 essay for Princeton Alumni Weekly, McGrath writes “It was at 185 Nassau St. and McCarter Theatre that I first learned not to be sentimental about something just because I wrote it.”
McGrath joined the Lewis Center for the Arts Advisory Council in July 2018, returning to campus for annual meetings with other business leaders and arts professionals on the advisory board. Fellow council members fondly attest to his “joyful presence” at council meetings.
He is survived by his wife, Jane Read Martin; his son, Henry; a sister, Mary McGrath Abrams; and a brother, Alexander.
More About Douglas McGrath
Read a PAW essay by McGrath on “Writing Carole King’s Life, Thanks to Triangle Club”