Douglas McGrath, ‘Emma’ Director and ‘Bullets Over Broadway’ Screenwriter, Dies at 64

The director and actor was also known for writing the book for the Tony-winning "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical."
Douglas McGrath
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Douglas McGrath, the Oscar and Tony-nominated director, writer and actor best known for the films “Emma” and “Bullets Over Broadway,” died Thursday in New York City. He was 64.

At the time of his death, McGrath was starring in a one-man Off-Broadway show, “Everything’s Fine,” which was scheduled to run at the Daryl Roth Theatre until January 22, 2023. McGrath wrote the autobiographical play about his experiences growing up in rural Texas, while John Lithgow directed and produced with Daryl Roth and Tom Werner. The show played its final performance on Wednesday. The news was confirmed by a statement posted on the production’s official Twitter account.

“We are devastated by the sudden death of Douglas McGrath,” the statement reads. “The company of ‘Everything’s Fine’ was honored to have presented his solo autobiographical show. We send our warmest condolences to Jane and his family. May his memory be a blessing.”

Raised in Midland, Texas, McGrath attended the Trinity School of Midland, The Choate School, and Princeton University. In 1980, he began his professional career as a writer on the famously panned sixth season of “Saturday Night Live,” the first without any of the original cast or creator Lorne Michaels. He left the show after one season, and after a few scattered jobs — including as the screenwriter behind 1991’s “The Steven Banks Show” and 1993’s “Born Yesterday” — he came to prominence when he co-wrote the screenplay for 1994’s “Bullets Over Broadway” with director Woody Allen.

The film — which focuses on the tensions between the cast of a Broadway production backed by a mafia gang — was a financial and critical success, and McGrath and Allen were both nominated for original screenplay at the Oscars. McGrath would go on to act in seven of Allen’s films, including “Celebrity,” “Sweet and Lowdown,” “Small Time Crooks,” “Hollywood Ending,” “Café Society,” “Crisis in Six Scenes,” and 2020’s Rifkin’s Festival, his last acting credit.

After the success of “Bullets Over Broadway,” McGrath made his directorial debut in 1996 with the Jane Austen adaptation “Emma,” starring Gwyneth Paltrow as the title character. His other directing credits included “Company Man,” “Nicholas Nickleby,” the Truman Capote biopic “Infamous,” and the 2016 HBO documentary “Becoming Mike Nichols,” released two years after the Oscar-winning director’s death.

McGrath made his film acting debut in 1994’s “Quiz Show.” He would go on to have supporting parts in popular and acclaimed films like “Happiness,” “The Insider,” and “Michael Clayton.” In 2015, he appeared in four episodes of Lena Dunham’s HBO series “Girls” as the principal of a high school lead character Hannah worked at.

Outside of film and television, McGrath also wrote for the stage, including the 2012 Richard Nixon play “Checkers” and a 2018 adaptation of the Edith Warton novel “The Age of Innocence.” In 2014, he received a Tony nomination for his book of the musical “Beautiful,” about the life of songwriter Carole King.

McGrath is survived by his wife Jane Read Martin and their son.

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