March 18, 1940
Mount Carmel, Illinois, United States
April 23, 2019
Las Cruces, New Mexico, United States
Playwright, Screenwriter, Actor, Director, Novelist, College professor
A college professor of English since 1966 at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, Medoff took up playwriting and had his first play, the grim and claustrophobic "When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder?," produced Off-Broadway in 1974. (Its 1979 screen adaptation was a critical and box office disappointment). The following year, he was appointed the university's dramatist-in-residence and subsequently appointed chair of the drama department in 1978. That same year, he had a first screenplay, the co-authored script for the routine Chuck Norris action vehicle, "Good Guys Wear Black (1978), produced in Hollywood. Medoff's real breakthrough writing achievement came with his sensitive study of the romance between a teacher and a rebellious hearing-impaired woman, "Children of a Lesser God" (1980). The play won him a Tony Award (and eventually an honorary doctorate from Gallaudet University), and though Hollywood at first resisted what it saw as non-commercial material, the 1986 film version won both popular and critical acclaim and its author an Oscar nomination. Medoff's subsequent screen work has continued his interest in people who stand out from their surroundings. Both "Clara's Heart" (1988) and "City of Joy" (1992) won praise for their nuanced characterizations and tender emotions, yet were criticized for sentimentality and even pretension in some quarters. Mark Medoff died in his adopted home of Las Cruces, New Mexico in April 2019. He was 79.