Remembering Buffalo-born playwright A.R. Gurney

Jun 15, 2017

Buffalo-born playwright A.R. "Pete" Gurney died Tuesday in his New York City home. He was 86. WBFO Senior Reporter Eileen Buckley says Gurney always remained fond of Buffalo. 

“Buffalo has always, in my opinion, been a theater town when I was growing up there,” said Gurney in a 2013 WBFO interview at the age of 83. In 2013, Gurney served as the Honoray Chair of Curtain Up! in downtown Buffalo.

Gurney was born in Buffalo in November of 1930. Gurney reflected his time growing up in Buffalo where he generated a true passion for the theater.

“I had a grandmother who lived down on Summer Street and she subscribed to the Erlanger Theater – you could subscribe and see what was coming in whether it was a Katharine Cornell vehicle or Gilbert and Sullivan or some new musical or many times some Broadway show that was beginning its tour,” recalled Gurney.

A.R. "Pete" Gurney, photo from 2016 to promote "Love Letters" at 710 Theater in Buffalo.

Gurney was known for writing about his experience of being raised in an upper class family in Buffalo. He wrote “The Cocktail Hour," "Love Letters,” and "The Dining Room."

“I grew up on Lincoln Parkway and our family and most families – had the evening meal was a very important part of family life. We all got together around the dining room table. I became very use to seeing a family talking about itself and being part of a family that aired problems around the dining room table,” explained Gurney.

“Writing about a certain social class and a way of life that existed in Buffalo when he was growing up. He documents that and examines that in very original ways and he would remember every conversation you had before and it was personal,” remarked Anthony Chase, co-host of WBFO’s Theater Talk. “And he never flinched from giving his personal view.”

Chase fondly remembers Gurney and his many playwrights.

“I would go anywhere to see the new plays. I saw more productions than any person outside his family.  But I think the personal attention that I enjoyed from him – talking to Pete and he is the great A.R. Gurney, but when he spoke to you it’s as if you were the most important person that he had to see that day,” Chase recalls. “He would never flinch from giving his candid view.”

Gurney's mother gave him the nickname "Pete" because she liked the sound of it. He was a Nichols School graduate. Gurney is survived by his wife, four children, eight grandchildren, and a brother and sister. 

No cause was given for his death.

“He was in every way a beautiful man and a great playwright,” declared Chase.