Discipline: Interdisciplinary Art

Spalding Gray

Discipline: Interdisciplinary Art
Region: Sag Harbor, NY
MacDowell Fellowships: 1988

Spalding Gray (1941-2004) was an American actor and writer. He is best known for the autobiographical monologues that he wrote and performed for the theater in the 1980s and 1990s, as well as for his film adaptations of these works, beginning in 1987. He wrote and starred in several, working with different directors.

Theater critics John Willis and Ben Hodges described his monologue work as "trenchant, personal narratives delivered on sparse, unadorned sets with a dry, WASP, quiet mania. Gray achieved renown for his monologue Swimming to Cambodia, which he adapted as a 1987 film in which he starred; it was directed by Jonathan Demme. Other of his monologues which Gray adapted for film were Monster in a Box (1991), directed by Nick Broomfield, and Gray's Anatomy (1996), directed by Steven Soderbergh.

Gray is believed to have died by suicide by jumping into New York City's East River in January 2004, when he was found drowned, after struggling with depression and severe injuries following a car accident. Steven Soderbergh made a documentary film about Gray's life titled And Everything Is Going Fine (2010). An unfinished monologue and a selection from his journals were published in 2005 and 2011, respectively.

Spalding Rockwell Gray was born in Providence, Rhode Island, to Rockwell Gray, Sr., the treasurer of Brown & Sharpe and Margaret Elizabeth "Betty" (née Horton). He was the middle-born of three sons; his brothers were Rockwell, Jr. and Channing. They were raised in the Christian Science faith of their mother. Gray and his brothers grew up in Barrington, Rhode Island, spending summers at their grandmother's house in Newport, Rhode Island. Rockwell became a literature professor at Washington University in Saint Louis, and Channing a journalist in Rhode Island.

After graduating from Fryeburg Academy in Fryeburg, Maine, Gray enrolled at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, as a poetry major. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1963.

In 1965, Gray moved to San Francisco, California, where he became a speaker and teacher of poetry at the Esalen Institute. In 1967, while Gray was vacationing in Mexico City, his mother committed suicide at age 52. She had suffered from depression. After his mother's death, Gray returned to the East Coast and settled permanently in New York City. Gray's books Impossible Vacation and Sex and Death to the Age 14 are largely based on his childhood and early adulthood.

Gray began his theater career in New York in the late 1960s. In 1970, he joined Richard Schechner's experimental troupe, The Performance Group. With actors from The Performance Group, including Willem Dafoe and Elizabeth LeCompte, Gray helped to co-found the theater company The Wooster Group. He worked with them from 1975 to 1980, before leaving the company to focus on his monologue work. During this time, he also appeared in adult films, having a featured role in Farmer's Daughters (1976) and appearing in Radley Metzer's Maraschino Cherry (1978).

Gray received a Guggenheim Fellowship and the National Book Award in 1985 for this work. He continued to write and perform monologues until his death. Through 1993, these works often incorporated his relationship to his girlfriend Renée Shafransky. They married and she became his collaborator. He later married Kathleen Russo.

Gray's success with his monologues brought him various supporting movie roles. He also played the lead role of the Stage Manager in a high-profile 1988 revival of Thornton Wilder's play Our Town by the Lincoln Center Theater.



Spalding Gray worked in the Garland studio.

Marian MacDowell and friends originally named this studio in memory of Anna Baetz, the nurse who helped care for Edward MacDowell in the waning years of his life. With generous support from the Garland family, the studio was renovated in 2013 and renamed the Peter and Mary Garland Studio. The inward opening, diamond-pane windows were replaced…

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