Harvey Perr has written more than 16 plays, including “Rosebloom,” “Afternoon Tea” and “The Night Little Girl Blue Made Her Social Debut.” He has acted in off-off-Broadway shows and movies such as “Stranger than Paradise.”
I lived most of my childhood in Flatbush and East Flatbush, Brooklyn. My father was in prison from the time I was a year old, so I had a lot to write about. In 1955, I went to London and saw a production of “Waiting for Godot,” which really changed my life. I went to the New School for Social Research. I wrote a play about being a working-class Jew, and it was about my own life. It was called “Upstairs, Sleeping.”
Edward Albee was conducting a workshop at the Circle in the Square. I was about 23. When Albee started the Playwrights’ Unit, he asked me to join and that started my career.
In 1965, I was asked to go to Universal Studios for a screenwriting seminar. I went out there for two weeks. I came back to New York. They called and asked me if I wanted to come out there on a one-year contract. I had no choice. At the time, I had a wife and small daughter. We were poor. I was working in the credit office of a trucking company that had just gone bankrupt. I said, “Of course.” It was the last thing I wanted to do. I felt it was a mistake, but I went anyway. The only thing of mine that wound up on the screen was “Tobruk,” this terrible war movie with Rock Hudson. It was incoherent. I was called to rewrite some of that stuff.
When my career as a screenwriter went out the window after a year, I didn’t have enough money to take my family back to New York. I really became a playwright in Los Angeles. I was stuck there. I started doing my plays at the Mark Taper Forum. To make a living, I worked in the music business.
Ed Field thinks of me as a bohemian because he loves my writing and I’ve never made a penny. I have never compromised and I have never given it up. I never thought of myself as a bohemian. I thought of myself as a survivor. Maybe they are one and the same thing. I never knew where I fit in. I have been produced commercially, but I have never had a commercial success. It is no longer important to me if I become successful or accepted. I think it’s been a good life. I’ve written things that I wanted to write.
I didn’t really become politicized until the 1980s. The director Joe Chaikin really politicized me. He made me look at the world in a different way. I’m sort of sorry that I’ve become so political because it makes living in the world so difficult. I’ve been on this earth 67 years and there is a lot in America that I am unhappy with, but I could always live here. I now find it impossible to live here.