Peter Hall (director)
Sir Peter Reginald Frederick Hall, CBE, was an English theatre and film director. His obituary in The Times declared him "the most important figure in British theatre for half a century" and on his death, a Royal National Theatre statement declared that Hall's "influence on the artistic life of Britain in the 20th century was unparalleled". In 1955 Hall introduced London audiences to the work of Samuel Beckett with the UK premiere of Waiting for Godot. Hall founded the Royal Shakespeare Company and went on to build an international reputation in theatre, opera and television, he was artistic director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera. He formed the Peter Hall Company and became founding director of the Rose Theatre, Kingston in 2003. Throughout his career, he was a tenacious champion of public funding for the arts. Peter Reginald Frederick Hall was born in Suffolk at Bury St Edmunds, the only son of Grace Florence and Reginald Edward Arthur Hall, his father was the family lived for some time at Great Shelford Station.
He won a scholarship to The Perse School in Cambridge. Before taking up a further scholarship to read English at St. Catharine's College, Hall did his National Service in Germany at the RAF Headquarters for Education in Bückeburg. Whilst studying at Cambridge he produced and acted in a number of plays, directing five in his final year and a further three for The Marlowe Society Summer Festival, he served on the University Amateur Dramatic Club committee before graduating in 1953. In the same year, Hall staged his first professional play, The Letter by W. Somerset Maugham, at The Theatre Royal Windsor. In 1954 and 1955, Hall was the director of the Oxford Playhouse where he directed several prominent young actors including Ronnie Barker and Billie Whitelaw. Eileen Atkins and Maggie Smith were part of the company as acting Assistants Stage Managers. From 1955–1957, Hall ran the Arts Theatre in London where he directed the English-language premiere of Waiting for Godot in 1955; the production's success transformed his career overnight and attracted the attention, among others, of Tennessee Williams, for whom he would direct the London premieres of Camino Real and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Harold Pinter.
Other productions at The Arts included the English language premiere of The Waltz of the Toreadors by Jean Anouilh. Hall made his debut at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1956 with Love's Labour's Lost: his productions there in the 1957–1959 seasons included Cymbeline with Peggy Ashcroft as Imogen, Coriolanus with Laurence Olivier and A Midsummer Night's Dream with Charles Laughton. In 1960, aged 29, Hall succeeded Glen Byam Shaw as director of the theatre, expanded operations to be all-year, founded the Royal Shakespeare Company to realise his vision of a resident ensemble of actors and designers producing both modern and classic texts, with a distinctive house style; the company not only played in Stratford but expanded into the Aldwych Theatre, its first London home. Hall's many productions for the RSC included Hamlet, The Government Inspector, the world premiere of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming and The Wars of the Roses adapted with John Barton from Shakespeare's history plays.
The latter was described as "the greatest Shakespearian event in living memory which laid down the doctrine of Shakespearian relevance to the modern world". Hall left the RSC in 1968 after ten years as its director. Hall was appointed director of the National Theatre in 1973 and led the organisation for fifteen years until 1988, he supervised the move from the Old Vic to the new purpose-built complex on London's South Bank "in the face of wide-spread scepticism and violent union unrest, turning a potential catastrophe into the great success story it remains today." Frustrated by construction delays, Hall decided to move the company into the still-unfinished building and to open it theatre by theatre as each neared completion. Extracts from his production of Tamburlaine the Great with Albert Finney were performed out on the terraces, free to passers-by. Hall directed thirty-three productions for the NT including the world premieres of Harold Pinter's No Man's Land and Betrayal, Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, the London and Broadway premieres of Alan Ayckbourn's Bedroom Farce.
Other landmark productions included The Oresteia which became the first Greek play to be performed by a foreign company at the ancient theatre of Epidaurus. Hall returned to the NT for the last time in 2011 with a production of Twelfth Night mounted by the company to celebrate his eightieth birthday, his daughter, Rebecca Hall, played Viola. Upon leaving the NT in 1988, Hall launched his own commercial company with productions in the West End and on Broadway of Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending and The Merchant of Venice; the Peter Hall Company went on to stage more than sixty plays in association with a number of producing partners including Bill Kenwright and Thelma Holt. In addition to an ensemble repertory season at the Old Vic, the company enjoyed a long collaboration with the Theatre Royal, Bath where a series of summer festivals were staged from 2003–2011: many productions were subsequently performed on domestic and international tours and in the West End. T
Harold Rowe Holbrook Jr. is an American actor, television director and writer. He first received critical acclaim in 1954 for a one-man stage show he developed, Mark Twain Tonight, while studying at Denison University, performing as Mark Twain, he won Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play in 1966 for his portrayal of Twain. Throughout his career, he won five Primetime Emmy Awards. Holbrook made his film debut in Sidney Lumet's The Group, he gained international fame for his performance as Deep Throat in the 1976 film All the President's Men. He played Abraham Lincoln in the 1976 miniseries Lincoln, he has appeared in such films as Julia, The Fog, Wall Street, The Firm and Men of Honor. Holbrook's role as Ron Franz in Sean Penn's Into the Wild earned him both Screen Actors Guild Award and Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor; until Robert Duvall was nominated for an Academy Award in 2015, Holbrook was the oldest actor to receive a Best Supporting Actor nomination. In 2009, Holbrook received critical acclaim for his performance as retired farmer Abner Meecham in the independent film That Evening Sun.
In his career, Holbrook appeared as Francis Preston Blair in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, provided his voice as Mayday in the Disney animated film Planes: Fire & Rescue and as Whizzer in Blackway. As a television actor, Holbrook is known for starring in and directing four episodes in Designing Women as Reese Watson, opposite his wife, Dixie Carter. In his career, he has starred in minor roles in Sons of Anarchy, The Event, Rectify, he has guest-starred in many critically acclaimed television series such as NCIS, The West Wing, The Sopranos, ER, Grey's Anatomy, Hawaii Five-0. In 2003, Holbrook was honored with the National Humanities Medal by President George W. Bush. Holbrook was born in Cleveland, the son of Aileen Holbrook, a vaudeville dancer, Harold Rowe Holbrook Sr.. After being abandoned by his parents at age two, along with his two older sisters, they were raised by his paternal grandparents, first in Weymouth, in the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood, he graduated from Culver Military Academy, now part of the Culver Academies, from Denison University, where an honors project about Mark Twain led him to develop the one-man show for which he is best known, a series of performances called Mark Twain Tonight.
He additionally studied acting at HB Studio in New York City. From 1942-46, Holbrook served in the United States Army in World War II, achieving the rank of staff sergeant and was stationed in Newfoundland. In Newfoundland, he performed in theater productions such as the play Madam Precious. Holbrook's first solo performance as Twain was at Lock Haven State Teachers College in Pennsylvania in 1954. Ed Sullivan saw him and gave Holbrook his first national exposure on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 12, 1956. Holbrook was a member of the Valley Players, a summer-stock theater company based in Holyoke, which performed at Mountain Park Casino Playhouse at Mountain Park, he joined The Lamns in 1955. He was a member of the cast for several years and performed Mark Twain Tonight as the 1957 season opener; the State Department sent him on a European tour, which included pioneering appearances behind the Iron Curtain. In 1959, Holbrook first played the role off-Broadway. Columbia Records recorded an LP of excerpts from the show.
Holbrook performed in a special production for the New York World's Fair for the Bell Telephone Pavilion. Jo Mielziner created an innovative audio-visual ride experience and used Holbrook's acting talents on 65 different action screens for "The Ride Of Communications" with the movie itself known as From Drumbeats to Telstar. In 1967, Mark Twain Tonight was presented on television by CBS and Xerox, Holbrook received an Emmy for his performance. Holbrook's Twain first played on Broadway in 1966, again in 1977 and 2005. Holbrook won a Tony Award for the performance in 1966; until Holbrook retired in 2017, aged 92, Mark Twain Tonight toured the country, which amounted to over about 2100 performances. He has portrayed Twain longer. In 1964, Holbrook played the role of the Major in the original production of Arthur Miller's Incident at Vichy. In 1968, he was one of the replacements for Richard Kiley in the original Broadway production of Man of La Mancha, although he had limited singing ability. In 1966, Holbrook starred opposite Shirley Booth in the acclaimed CBS Playhouse production of The Glass Menagerie.
Holbrook co-starred with Martin Sheen in the controversial and acclaimed 1972 television film That Certain Summer. In 1973, Holbrook appeared as Lieutenant Neil Briggs, the boss and rival of Detective Harry Callahan in Magnum Force, an "obsessively neat and prim fanatic" who supports the obliteration of San Francisco's criminals and, the leader of a rogue group of vigilante officers. In 1976, Holbrook won acclaim for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in a series of television specials based on Carl Sandburg's acclaimed biography, he won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for the 1970 series The Bold Ones: The Senator. In 1979, he starred with Katharine Ross, Barry Bostwick, Richard Anderson in the made-for-TV movie Murder by Natural Causes. Holbrook had a major role on the sitcom Evening Shade throughout its entire run. Early in his career, Holbrook worked onstage and in a television soap op
Anthony Jared Zerbe is an American stage and Emmy-winning television actor. Notable film roles include the post-apocalyptic cult leader Matthias in The Omega Man, a 1971 film adaptation of Richard Matheson's 1954 novel, I Am Legend. Zerbe was born in Long Beach, the son of Catherine and Arthur LeVan Zerbe, he attended Pomona College in Claremont, graduating in 1958. His parents were alumni of Pomona College. Zerbe served in the United States Air Force from 1959 to 1961. Zerbe's interest in acting was kindled by stage productions when he was 17, he studied at the Stella Adler Studio in New York City. On television, he has played guest roles on such series as Naked City, The Virginian, Kung Fu "The scalp hunter episodeThe Big Valley, Route 66, The Wild Wild West, Twelve O'Clock High, Mission: Impossible, Hawaii Five-O, Mannix, It Takes a Thief, The Chisholms, The F. B. I; the Rookies, Columbo, among others. He held a starring role in The Young Riders and co-starred on Harry O in that series' second and final seasons.
Zerbe was seen as Pontius Pilate in the miniseries A. D. and as General Grant in North and South: Book II. He was in many episodes of the mini-series Centennial, in 1978, his latest appearance is in the 2013 American black comedy / crime film American Hustle. Zerbe is the former artistic director of Reflections, A New Plays Festival at the Geva Theatre in Rochester, New York, has toured the United States, in 1981, with Behind the Broken Words, a performance of contemporary poetry and dramatic works with fellow actor Roscoe Lee Browne. In 1976, Zerbe won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for his role as Lieutenant K. C. Trench in the private detective series Harry O. In 1981, he played eldest brother Benjamin Hubbard in a Broadway revival of The Little Foxes. Zerbe has been married to Arnette Jens, since October 7, 1962. Anthony Zerbe on IMDb Anthony Zerbe at the TCM Movie Database Anthony Zerbe at AllMovie
Denver Performing Arts Complex
The Denver Performing Arts Complex located in Denver, Colorado, is one of the largest performing arts centers in the United States. The DPAC is a four-block, 12-acre site containing ten performance spaces with over 10,000 seats connected by an 80 ft tall glass roof, it is home to a theatre company, Broadway touring productions, contemporary dance and ballet, chorales, a symphony orchestra and more. The City and County of Denver’s Arts & Venues owns and operates the three largest theatres in DPAC, the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, the Buell Theatre and Boettcher Concert Hall; the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex within DPAC is managed and operated by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Performing arts organizations which appear in one or other of the performance spaces include the Colorado Ballet, the Colorado Symphony, Opera Colorado and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ theatrical divisions — Denver Center Broadway and Denver Center Theatre Company; the Denver Performing Arts Complex houses the following performance spaces: The Ellie Caulkins Opera House, colloquially known as “the Ellie,” is the main venue inside of the Quigg Newton Denver Municipal Auditorium.
The Ellie is one of only three opera houses in the United States, one of nine worldwide, with seatback titling at every seat in the house. Its seating capacity is 2,225; the Buell Theatre is designed for dramatic plays and comedy acts. Its seating capacity is 2,884. Boettcher Concert Hall is the nation's first symphony hall in the round designed to place the audience close to the stage – 80% of the seats are within 65 feet of the stage, its seating capacity is 2,679. The Stage, Ricketson and Garner Galleria, as well as the Seawell Grand Ballroom are managed by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex The Stage Theatre features a thrust stage; the Space Theatre has 450 seats in-the-round. The Ricketson Theatre has 250 seats in a proscenium theatre; the Jones Theatre features a thrust stage. The Donald R. Seawell Grand Ballroom is a pentagonal shaped room with panoramic views of the mountains; this 10,000-square-foot facility holds a maximum capacity of 1,029 people. It can accommodate a variety of functions and performances, featuring its own catering kitchen, freight elevator, chairs, portable dance floor, moveable platform staging and a lighting, audio and projection systems.
The Garner Galleria Theatre has 210-seats. Sculpture Park is located at the southwest corner of the complex at N. Speer Blvd. and Champa St. The Dancers by Jonathon Borofsky are two 70 foot dancers made of steel and fiberglass. List of concert halls Denver Performing Arts Complex's official website
William James Pullman is an American film and television actor. After graduating with a Master of Fine Arts degree in theater, Pullman worked as an adjunct professor at Montana State University before deciding to pursue acting, he made his film debut in the 1986 film Ruthless People, has since gone on to star in other films, such as Spaceballs, The Accidental Tourist, Sleepless In Seattle, While You Were Sleeping, Independence Day, Lost Highway and Lake Placid. He has appeared on television in TV films, though starting in the 2000s he has starred in miniseries and regular series, including starring roles in 1600 Penn and The Sinner. Pullman has had a long stage acting career, has appeared on Broadway several times, including in Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? in 2002. Pullman was born in Hornell, New York, the son of James Pullman, a physician, his wife Johanna, a nurse. After graduating from Hornell High School in 1971, he attended the State University of New York at Delhi and the State University of New York at Oneonta in the 1970s.
He received his Masters of Fine Arts degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Pullman taught theater at SUNY Delhi and was an adjunct professor at Montana State University's School of Film and Photography in Bozeman, where he was persuaded by his students to attempt film. During the 1980s, he worked with theater companies around New York and Los Angeles, his first prominent film role was in Ruthless People. Other notable films included the lead in Spaceballs, The Serpent and the Rainbow, While You Were Sleeping. In 1996, he played the president of the United States in the sci-fi film Independence Day. A year he had a major role in Lost Highway and voiced Korso in the animated post-apocalyptic film Titan A. E.. His more recent films have included The Grudge and Scary Movie 4, he starred along with Christian Bale in the musical Newsies. From February 2001 until February 2002, Pullman starred with Mercedes Ruehl, in Edward Albee's play The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? on Broadway. The play won several awards: 2002 Tony Award for Best Play.
Pullman was nominated for the 2002 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actor in a Play. He starred as Dr. Richard Massey in the miniseries Revelations. Pullman starred in Albee's play Jerry, at Off-Broadway's Second Stage Theatre in New York. For his performance, Pullman received a second Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Actor in a Play in 2008. In addition to acting, Pullman is a creative writer, his first play, Expedition 6, is about the International Space Station mission Expedition 6, in orbit at the time that the Space Shuttle Columbia was destroyed on reentry, grounding the U. S. space shuttle program, to provide the vehicle for the crew's return to earth. The play opened at San Francisco's Magic Theater in September 2007, he appeared in the Broadway production of David Mamet's Oleanna, co-starring Julia Stiles. The production opened at the John Golden Theatre October 11, 2009, closed on December 6, 2009, playing 65 performances, he is a Jury Member for the digital studio Filmaka, a platform for undiscovered filmmakers to show their work to industry professionals.
Pullman played Oswald Danes, a pedophile and child killer, in Torchwood: Miracle Day, the fourth series of the BBC/Starz Entertainment television show Torchwood, the former of which began airing in July 2011. For his performance as Danes, Pullman received a Saturn Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor on Television. From 2012-13, Pullman portrayed the President of the United States in the television comedy series 1600 Penn, he plays Detective Harry Ambrose in the USA Network mystery series The Sinner, which premiered in 2017 and has aired for two seasons so far. Pullman is married to Tamara Hurwitz, a modern dancer, Their three children are actor Lewis Pullman singer-songwriter Maesa Pullman, Jack Pullman. At the age of 21, Pullman lost his sense of smell, he co-owns a cattle ranch with his brother in Montana, near the town of Whitehall, where he lives part-time. He serves on the Board of Trustees at Alfred University and was awarded an honorary doctorate on May 14, 2011. In 2018, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Montana State University, where he was employed.
Official website Bill Pullman on IMDb Bill Pullman at FEARnet
Sir Patrick Stewart is an English actor whose work has included roles on stage and film in a career spanning six decades. He has been nominated for Olivier, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, Saturn Awards throughout his career. Beginning his career with a long run with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Stewart received the 1979 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance in Antony and Cleopatra in the West End. Stewart's first major screen roles were in BBC-broadcast television productions during the mid-late 1970s, including Hedda, the I, Claudius miniseries. From the 1980s onward, Stewart began working in American television and film, with prominent leading roles such as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation and its successor films, as Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men series of superhero films, the lead of the Starz TV series Blunt Talk, voice roles such as CIA Deputy Director Avery Bullock in American Dad! and the narrator in Ted.
Having remained with the Royal Shakespeare Company, in 2008 Stewart played King Claudius in Hamlet in the West End and won a second Olivier Award. In 1993, TV Guide named Stewart the Best Dramatic Television Actor of the 1980s, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on 16 December 1996. In 2010, Stewart was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for services to drama. Patrick Stewart was born on 13 July 1940 in Mirfield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England, to Gladys, a weaver and textile worker, Alfred Stewart, a regimental sergeant major in the British Army, he has two older brothers and Trevor. His parents did not give him a middle name, but he used the middle name "Hewes" professionally for a while in the 1980s. Stewart grew up in a poor household with domestic violence from his father, an experience which influenced his political and ideological beliefs, he spent much of his childhood in Jarrow. Stewart's father served with the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and was regimental sergeant major of the 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment during the Second World War, having worked as a general labourer and as a postman.
As a result of his wartime experience during the Dunkirk evacuation, his father suffered from what was known as combat fatigue. In a 2008 interview, Stewart said, "My father was a potent individual, a powerful man, who got what he wanted, it was said. It was many years before I realised how my father inserted himself into my work. I've grown a moustache for Macbeth. My father didn't have one, but when I looked in the mirror just before I went on stage I saw my father's face staring straight back at me."Stewart attended Crowlees Church of England Junior and Infants School. He attributes his acting career to his English teacher, Cecil Dormand, who "put a copy of Shakespeare in my hand said,'Now get up on your feet and perform." In 1951, aged 11, having failed the eleven-plus examination, he entered Mirfield Secondary Modern School, where he continued to study drama. Around the same time he met the actor Brian Blessed at a Mytholmroyd drama course, the two have been friends since. At the age of 15, Stewart increased his participation in local theatre.
He gained a job as a newspaper reporter and obituary writer at the Mirfield & District Reporter, but after a year his employer gave him an ultimatum to choose acting or journalism, he left the job. His brother tells the story that Stewart had been attending rehearsals during work time and inventing the stories he reported. Stewart trained as a boxer. Stewart reported. Both Stewart and his friend Blessed received grants to attend the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Following a period with Manchester's Library Theatre, he became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1966, remaining with them until 1982, he was an associate artist of the company in 1968. He appeared with actors such as Ian Richardson. In January 1967, he made his debut TV appearance on Coronation Street as a fire officer. In 1969, he had a brief TV cameo role as Horatio, opposite Ian Richardson's Hamlet, in a performance of the gravedigger scene as part of episode six of Sir Kenneth Clark's Civilisation television series, he made his Broadway debut as Snout in Peter Brook's legendary production of A Midsummer Night's Dream moved to the Royal National Theatre in the early 1980s.
Over the years, Stewart took roles in many major television series without becoming a household name. He appeared as Vladimir Lenin in Fall of Eagles, he took the romantic male lead in the 1975 BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South. He took the lead, playing psychiatric consultant Dr Edward Roebuck in BBC's Maybury in 1981. Stewart continued to play minor roles in films, such as King Leondegrance in John Boorman's Excalibur, the character Gurney Halleck in David Lynch's film version of Dune and Dr. Armstrong in Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce. Stewart preferred classical theatre to other genres, asking Doctor Who actress Lalla Ward why she would work in science fiction or on television. In 1987, he nonetheless agreed to work in Hollywood on a revival of an old science-fiction television show, after Robert H. Justman saw him while attending a literary reading at UCLA. Stewart knew nothing about the original show, Star Trek, or its iconic status in Amer
Terrence McNally is an American playwright and screenwriter. McNally has been described as "a probing and enduring dramatist" and "one of the greatest contemporary playwrights the theater world has yet produced", he has received the Tony Award for Best Play for Love! Valour! Compassion! and Master Class, as well as the Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical for Kiss of the Spider Woman and Ragtime. He is a 2018 inductee of the American Academy of Letters; the honor of election is considered the highest form of recognition of artistic merit in the United States. His other accolades include an Emmy Award, two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Rockefeller Grant, four Drama Desk Awards, two Lucille Lortel Awards, two Obie Awards, three Hull-Warriner Awards, he is a recipient of the Dramatists Guild Lifetime Achievement Award as well as the Lucille Lortel Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2016, the Lotos Club honored McNally at their annual "State Dinner," which has honored such luminaries as W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, George M. Cohan, Moss Hart, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, Saul Bellow, Arthur Miller.
In addition to his award-winning plays and musicals, he written two operas, multiple screenplays, a memoir. He has been a member of the Council of the Dramatists Guild since 1970 and served as vice-president from 1981 to 2001, was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1996. In 1998, McNally was awarded an honorary degree from The Juilliard School in recognition of his efforts to revive the Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program with fellow playwright John Guare. In 2013, he returned to his alma mater, Columbia University, where he was the keynote speaker for the graduating class of 2013 on Class Day, his career has spanned six decades, his plays and operas are performed all over the world. The diversity and range of his work is remarkable, as McNally has resisted identification with any particular cultural scene. Active in the regional and off-Broadway theatre movements as well as on Broadway, he is one of the few playwrights of his generation to have passed from the avant-garde to mainstream acclaim.
His work centers on urgent need for human connection. For McNally, the most important function of theatre is to create community and bridge rifts opened between people by differences in religion, race and sexual orientation. In an address to members of the League of American Theatres and Producers he remarked, "I think theatre teaches us who we are, what our society is, where we are going. I don't think theatre can solve the problems of a society, nor should it be expected to... Plays don't do that. People do. Provide a forum for the ideas and feelings that can lead a society to decide to heal and change itself." McNally was born in St. Petersburg, Florida, to Hubert and Dorothy McNally, two transplanted New Yorkers who ran a seaside bar and grill called The Pelican Club, but after a hurricane destroyed the establishment, the family relocated to Port Chester, NY to Dallas, TX and to Corpus Christi, TX where he remained until McNally moved to New York City in 1956 to attend Columbia University.
Once in Corpus Christi, Hubert McNally purchased and managed a Schlitz beer distributorship, McNally attended W. B. Ray High School. Despite his distance from New York City, McNally's parents enjoyed Broadway musicals, some of his first memories of the theater come from their occasional trips to New York; when McNally was eight years old, his parents took him to see Annie Get Your Gun, starring Ethel Merman, on a subsequent outing, McNally saw Gertrude Lawrence in The King and I. Both productions had a lasting impression on the young McNally, it was in high school where McNally was first encouraged to write, having become a dedicated protege to a gifted English teacher named Maurine McElroy. He would subsequently dedicate several of his plays to her, when she died in 2005, he supplied the inscription to her tombstone: "Not just an English teacher, but a life teacher." McElroy encouraged McNally to concentrate in schools outside Texas, which led him to matriculate at Columbia University as a journalism major.
He attended the prestigious university in its "golden age" of instruction, where his teachers included Meyer Schapiro for art history, Eric Bentley for drama, Lionel Trilling for literature. Influential was Andrew Chiappe, who instructed a popular two-semester course on Shakespeare in which students read every one of Shakespeare's plays in the order of their composition, he joined the Boar's Head Society and wrote Columbia's annual Varsity Show, which featured music by fellow student Edward L. Kleban and directed by Michael P. Kahn, he graduated in 1960 with a B. A. in English, the same year in which he gained membership into the Phi Beta Kappa Society. In 1961, only one year out of Columbia University, McNally was hired by novelist John Steinbeck to accompany him and his family on a cruise around the world. McNally had been recommended by Molly Kazan, the Steinbecks' neighbor and McNally's mentor at the Playwrights Unit of the Actors Studio, as a tutor for his two teenage boys; the voyage would prove influential as McNally completed a draft of what would become the opening act of And Things That Go Bump in the Night.
Steinbeck would go on to ask McNally to write the libretto for a musical version of the novel East of Eden. After graduation, McNally moved to Mexico to focus on his writing, completing a one-act play which he submitted to the Actors Studio in New York for production. While the play was turned down by the acting school, the Studio was impressed with the script, McNally was invited to serve as