Beth Henley

Playwright, Abundance


Elizabeth Becker Henley was born on May 8, 1952, in Jackson, Mississippi. One of four daughters of an attorney and an actress, Henley knew from an early age that she wanted to walk in her actress mother’s footsteps. Henley earned a BFA in Acting from Southern Methodist University in 1974.

While still an undergraduate, Henley began to make her mark on the Dallas artistic community. She performed at Theatre Three, an on-the-rise local company, and taught in the children’s program at the Dallas Minority Repertory Theatre. She made perhaps the most significant venture of her pre-professional life during this time as well, when in 1973, Henley wrote her first play. Am I Blue was originally produced at SMU’s Margo Jones Theatre. It would later go on to be produced by the Circle Repertory Company in New York, and was published in several volumes of collected plays.

In 1976, after a year in the Master’s theatre program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Henley moved to Los Angeles with Stephen Tobolowsky, her then-boyfriend and later artistic collaborator, to pursue her writing career.

Henley’s national reputation was launched with her second play, Crimes of the Heart­ which was introduced at the Actors Theatre of Louisville in 1979, moved to the Manhattan Theatre Club in 1980, where it won the Pulitzer Prize in the Drama for 1980-81. It then moved to Broadway’s John Gold Theatre for a run of over 500 performances, closing in 1983 with several more accolades including a Tony Nomination for Best Play. The Broadway run was followed by a successful motion picture version, for which Henley received an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Despite this success early in her career, Crimes of the Heart is her only play to receive significant national attention.

Henley has been a prolific writer with sixteen stage plays to her credit, including The Miss Firecracker Contest, The Wake of Jamey Foster,The Lucky Spot, Impossible Marriage, and Abundance. She also has seven screenplays and screen adaptations to her credit, including the screen adaptation of Crimes of the Heart, Nobody’s Fool starring Rosanna Arquette, True Stories, which she co-wrote with David Byrne and Stephen Tobolowsky. Henley continues to write plays today and most recently returned to her Southern roots in The Jacksonian in 2013.