Ireland House Oral History Collection

John Patrick Shanley

John Patrick Shanley, taken by Linda Dowling Almeida.

Created/Published:

5 November, 2008

1 hour, 21 minutes, 45 seconds

Preferred Citation:

Ireland House Oral History Collection, Archives of Irish America, New York University

Biographical Note:

John Patrick Shanley (b. 1950) was born in the Bronx and attended primary school at traditional Catholic schools, St. Helena’s and St. Anthony’s, both in the Bronx. Despite behavioral problems triggered by rebellion against the rigid disciplinary and academic system, Shanley continued his parochial school education, beginning ninth grade at Cardinal Spellman High School, also in the Bronx. His creative side was misunderstood and discouraged by his parents and school administrators, and he continued to misbehave and subsequently was asked to leave the school. He graduated from a private boarding school in New Hampshire under the careful guidance of an older male teacher.

Shanley’s problems with educational institutions continued when he entered New York University. Shanley chose to leave NYU after one semester and joined the Marine Corps for two years. Though Shanley never went to battle, the structure of the Marines taught him how to make institutional systems work to his benefit. His wife persuaded him to return to New York University after a five year absence and Shanley graduated as valedictorian of his class.

While at NYU, Shanley took an introduction to playwriting class and learned he had a particular knack for the structure of dialogue. The first play he wrote in the class was produced three weeks later, after which his work was consistently produced in New York City. Shanley’s father was not supportive of a career without security and a pension, but Shanley persisted and worked odd jobs to support himself while waiting for his “big break.” A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in the 1980s allowed Shanley to write his first screenplay, which became a movie produced by the former Beatle, George Harrison. Shanley’s father’s questions as to whether his career choice was lucrative were silenced after his next script, Moonstruck, won three Oscars in 1988, including one for Best Original Screenplay.

Shanley’s success continued both on Broadway and in Hollywood. In 2004, his play Doubt: A Parable premiered to critical acclaim, winning four Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize. Shanley both wrote and directed the 2008 film adaptation, which starred Oscar-winning actors Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who both receibed acting award nominations for their performances in the film.

Shanley considers his Irishness more of a literal than social or cultural part of his identity, and attributes his creative nature to his Irish background. Though he grew up in a neighborhood that did not understand or appreciate his artistry and penchant for storytelling, a visit to the family farm in Ireland found him in a world where it was not only understood, but thought to be completely normal.

Click on image to enlarge.

  1. John Patrick Shanley and Mary Catherine Williamson, New York University student and oral history interviewer, taken by Linda Dowling Almeida.
  2. A copy of the play, Doubt: A Parable, by John Patrick Shanley.

Interviewers:

Photo Credit:

  1. John Patrick Shanley, taken by Linda Dowling Almeida.
  2. John Patrick Shanley and Mary Catherine Williamson, New York University student and oral history interviewer, taken by Linda Dowling Almeida.
  3. A copy of the play, Doubt: A Parable, by John Patrick Shanley.