Vicksburg native, breakthrough playwright Crowley dies in New York

Published 4:50 pm Tuesday, March 10, 2020

A Vicksburg native who went on to become an award-winning writer, producer and actor has died.

Mart Crowley reportedly died of a heart attack Saturday in New York City. He was 84.

Crowley grew up in Vicksburg and attended St. Aloysius High School, where he served as the equipment manager for the school’s football team. He was also active in the Vicksburg Theatre Guild.

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As a connoisseur of the theater, Crowley went on to graduate from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., which had a quality drama department.

Crowley is best known for his 1968 play “Boys in the Band.”

Daniel Boone, programmer for the Strand Theatre, described Crowley’s play as scandalous for its time, since it was about gay men.

“I don’t think he had ever written a play or had anything produced before and someone produced the play (“Boys in the Band”) and it was a sensation in New York,” Boone said. “Boys in the Band” was a landmark play,” Boone said, “Because it was essentially the first play about gay people.”

The play was later turned into a film and directed by William Friedkin, who also directed “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist.”

Following the success of the “Boys in the Band,” Crowley penned another play, “A Breeze from the Gulf,” which was based on his life in Vicksburg.

Although he does mention Vicksburg by name in the play, Boone said, he does mention the house he lived in.

Boone said the Vicksburg Theatre Guild produced this play in the 1970’s.

“Here we had a local playwright who was very successful with the ‘Boys in the Band,’ so of course the VTG couldn’t resist the idea of producing his (Crowley’s) new play,” Boone said.

Described as the “granddaddy of gay theater,” Boone said he had tried inviting Crowley back to his hometown multiple times.

“Because Mart is from Vicksburg, I had actually been pursuing him over the years to do something at the Strand,” Boone said, but Crowley’s answers were always no. “As a closeted gay person, his life was not always sunny in Vicksburg.”

In addition to “Boys in the Band,” which had a new performance open on Broadway in 2018, and “A Breeze from the Gulf,” Crowley’s other plays include “Remote Asylum, “Avec Schmaltz” and “For Reasons That Remain Unclear.”

Also, in 2011, a documentary about Crowley, titled “Making the Boys,” was produced.

Boone has reached out to individuals, he said, in an attempt to explore the possibility of putting Crowley up for the Mississippi Governor’s Award for excellence in the arts.

“It was brave of Mart to write a play like this (“Boys in the Band”) and if it hadn’t been him it would have been somebody else to step into the light, but he did,” Boone said, adding, “It’s ironic that a person from Mississippi is the one to do it — a Catholic boy from Mississippi was the one to say ‘OK, I’m not afraid.'”

About Terri Cowart Frazier

Terri Frazier was born in Cleveland. Shortly afterward, the family moved to Vicksburg. She is a part-time reporter at The Vicksburg Post and is the editor of the Vicksburg Living Magazine, which has been awarded First Place by the Mississippi Press Association. She has also been the recipient of a First Place award in the MPA’s Better Newspaper Contest’s editorial division for the “Best Feature Story.”

Terri graduated from Warren Central High School and Mississippi State University where she received a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis in public relations.

Prior to coming to work at The Post a little more than 10 years ago, she did some freelancing at the Jackson Free Press. But for most of her life, she enjoyed being a full-time stay at home mom.

Terri is a member of the Crawford Street United Methodist Church. She is a lifetime member of the Vicksburg Junior Auxiliary and is a past member of the Sampler Antique Club and Town and Country Garden Club. She is married to Dr. Walter Frazier.

“From staying informed with local governmental issues to hearing the stories of its people, a hometown newspaper is vital to a community. I have felt privileged to be part of a dedicated team at The Post throughout my tenure and hope that with theirs and with local support, I will be able to continue to grow and hone in on my skills as I help share the stories in Vicksburg. When asked what I like most about my job, my answer is always ‘the people.’

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