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Dale Wasserman (November 2, 1914 – December 21, 2008) was an Americanmarker playwright.

His protagonists are a bit like Wasserman himself: raffish rebels, fiercely independent fools—poets, madmen and misfits—societal outcasts who defy authority and “tilt at windmills”, reluctant heroes (sometimes anti-heroes), who are called upon to make some extraordinary sacrifice in order to protect or preserve their personal freedom or that of others.


Dale Wasserman was born November 2, 1914 in Rhinelander, Wisconsinmarker, and was orphaned at the age of nine. He lived in a state orphanage and with an older brother in South Dakotamarker before he "hit the rails". As he said:

He worked in various aspects of theatre from the age of nineteen. His formal education ended after one year of high school in Los Angelesmarker. It was there that he started as a self-taught lighting designer, director and producer, starting with musical impresario Sol Hurok as stage managerr and lighting design and for the Katherine Dunham Company, where he invented lighting patterns imitated later in other dance companies. In addition to U.S. cities, he produced and directed abroad in places such as Londonmarker and Parismarker.

It was in the middle of directing a Broadway musical—which, out of persistent revulsion, Wasserman refused to name—that he abruptly walked out, feeling he "couldn't possibly write worse than the stuff [he] was directing" and left his previous occupations to become a writer. "Every other function was interpretive; only the writer was primary."

Matinee Theatre, the television anthology which presented his first play, Elisha and the Long Knives, received a collective Emmy for the plays it produced in 1955, the year that Elisha and the Long Knives was telecast on that series (it had originally been shown in 1954, on Kraft Television Theatre, another anthology. Wasserman wrote some thirty more television dramas, making him one of the better known writers in the Golden Age of Television. Two of his stage plays predominate: Man of La Mancha and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, whose stagings place him among the most produced American playwrights worldwide.Man of La Mancha ran for five years on Broadway and continues worldwide in more than thirty languages.One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest ran for six years in San Franciscomarker and has had extensive engagements in Chicagomarker, New Yorkmarker, Bostonmarker and other U.S. cities. Foreign productions have appeared in Parismarker, Mexicomarker, Swedenmarker, Argentinamarker, Belgiummarker, and Japanmarker.

Some insight into Wasserman's inner workings may be found in his work Man of La Mancha. He felt drawn to the author of the original novel Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes, who led a life that Wasserman called a "catalogue of catastrophe", but was able to produce one of the world's most memorable stories. Perhaps he holds with the words of his Don Quixote: "I hope to add some measure of grace to the world. . . . Whether I win or lose does not matter, only that I follow the quest".

He was a founding member and trustee of The Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and was the artistic Director of the Midwest Playwrights Laboratory, which encompasses twelve states in its program and awards fellowships and production to ten playwrights yearly.

Reclusive by nature, he and his wife, Martha Nelly Garza, made their home in Arizonamarker ("because it's the one State which refuses to adopt Daylight Saving Time.").

Recently, research by Howard Mancing, a Cervantes scholar and Professor of Spanish Literature at Purdue University, uncovered an earlier use of the famous lines "To dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe," which were made famous in Wasserman's "Man of La Mancha". The lines were actually invented for publicity matter that accompanied an earlier stage adaptation of "Don Quixote" by the American playwright Paul Kester, first performed in 1908. The phrase "To each his Dulcinea", featured in Wasserman's play, was also first used in the Kester play. An investigative report by Niccole Caan of WLFI-TV interviewed Prof. Mancing and exchanged emails with Wasserman in the weeks leading up to the dramaturg's death.

Wasserman died of heart failure on December 21, 2008 in Arizona, aged 94.



  • 2001 How I Saved the Whole Damn World — A sailor on a drunken spree welds items from a junkyard into the mast of his ship. A plane flying overhead explodes and presto! an all-powerful weapon is born, and willy-nilly there is peace on earth. This comedy is about people so dazed with the new technologies they no longer know what to believe and, as a consequence, will believe anything.

  • Boy On Blacktop Road — An investigation takes place related to the arrival and subsequent disappearance of a young boy.
The latter two plays comprise the World Premiere of Open Secrets which opened In June 2006 at the Rubicon Theatre Company in Ventura, Californiamarker.

Musical theatre

Screenwriter Credits

Television Writing Credits

More than fifty, mostly in the Golden Age of Television.


Honors & awards

"As to awards, I have received the usual quota of Emmys [Wasserman is mistaken here; according to the Emmy Awards website [], he received only one Emmy nomination], Tonys, Ellys and Robbys and, for all I know, Kaspars and Hausers. I’m unsure of the number because I don’t attend awards ceremonies and so receive the knick-knacks by mail if at all. Ah, yes, one exception: when the University of Wisconsin offered an Honorary Doctorate, I did appear in cap and gown to address the audience in the football stadium at Madison, because a scant quarter-mile from where I was being Doctored, I had hopped my first freight at the age of 12. Irony should not be wasted."

Writers Guild of America Award
  • 1959 Television Anthology, More Than a Half Hour: Winner--I, Don Quixote (episode of DuPont Show of the Month)

Tony award
  • 1966 Musical: Winner—Man of La Mancha. Book by Dale Wasserman, music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion. Produced by Albert W. Selden and Hal James

Three honorary degrees, including:
  • 1980 University of Wisconsin — Madison, L.H.D.


  1. Weber, Bruce. "Dale Wasserman, Playwright, Dies at 94",The New York Times, December 27, 2008
  2. Gans, Andrew. "Dale Wasserman, Playwright and Librettist, Is Dead at 94",, December 26, 2008
  3. Hoffman, Michelle. "Dale Wasserman, 94, creator of 'Man of La Mancha'",The Arizona Republic, December 27, 2008

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