Home / Arts & Life / Bernard Pomerance, Who Wrote ‘The Elephant Man,’ Dies at 76

Bernard Pomerance, Who Wrote ‘The Elephant Man,’ Dies at 76

“The most important element in theater is the audience’s imagination,” he said in a 1979 interview with The New York Times.

The resulting play invited theatergoers to contemplate, among many other themes, what is normal and what isn’t. “The Elephant Man” was a hit for Foco Novo, and in 1979 it was brought to New York, first for an Off Broadway run at the Theater of St. Peter’s Church. The acclaimed production quickly transferred to Broadway, opening at the Booth Theater that April.

Philip Anglim played Merrick, and the cast also included Carole Shelley, who won a Tony as Mrs. Kendal, an actress who befriends Merrick. Another Tony went to Jack Hofsiss, the director, who at 28 was the youngest person ever to win that award. (Mr. Hofsiss died last year.)


From left, Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson in the 2014 Broadway revival of “The Elephant Man.”

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Mr. Pomerance was born on Sept. 23, 1940, in Brooklyn. He studied at the University of Chicago before moving to London in 1968. It was there that Mr. Rees directed Mr. Pomerance’s first play: “High in Vietnam, Hot Damn,” three sketches that Bernard Weinraub, writing in The Times, called “flawed by predictable cardboard figures.”

“The Elephant Man,” though, drew universal praise and ran for 916 performances. David Bowie took over the part of Merrick for several months in late 1980. That same year a David Lynch movie, also called “The Elephant Man” but unrelated to the play, gave even more exposure to Merrick’s story, with John Hurt portraying the title character.

The play has been restaged frequently. A 2002 Broadway revival starred Billy Crudup as Merrick, and in a 2014 Broadway staging Bradley Cooper played the role.

Mr. Pomerance’s other plays included “Melons,” about an aged American Indian chief, which was staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company in London in 1985 with Ben Kingsley in the lead role.

Mr. Pomerance’s wife, Evelyn Franceschi, died in 2015. He is survived by two children, Moby and Eve; two grandchildren; and a brother, Michael.

Mr. Pomerance was not a talkative sort. “The final impression he gives,” a Times reporter wrote in 1979, “is of a man of considerable intellectual integrity who is not prepared to compromise, in ill-considered conversation, the greater truths he seeks to express on stage.”

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