England Loses Playwright of Rancor

LONDON -- John Osborne, the English dramatist who made an art form out of bile in "Look Back In Anger" and other plays, once summarized his passions and style in three words: "Damn you, England."


Osborne, who died Saturday at 65, poured his anger into spiteful outbursts -- particularly against his ex-wives -- in his memoirs and passionate speeches in his plays.


Born in London to what he once described as impoverished middle-class parents, Osborne became the prototypical Angry Young Man of British theater, pioneering the "kitchen sink" drama of gritty urban life of the 1950s.


"I'm accustomed to the anger of upturned seats," Jimmy Porter, Osborne's alter ego, said in "D?j? Vu," the 1992 West End play that examined the characters from the 1956 smash "Look Back In Anger."


But what the public was mostly accustomed to was Osborne's own rancor, especially once the object of it had died. Osborne called the 1990 suicide of ex-wife No. 4, Jill Bennett, "the coarse posturing of an overheated housewife."


In play after play, which included "The Entertainer" (1957) and "Inadmissible Evidence" (1964), Osborne aimed his spleen at an England he thought to be parched, cramped, and soulless, while suggesting, every so often, that his characters looked back less in anger than in regret.


"Look Back In Anger" radicalized the English stage with its portrait of intellectual despair in a squalid bed-sitting room, but critics over time have been divided as to its merits.


Osborne won a 1964 Academy Award for a more buoyant achievement -- his screenplay for Tony Richardson's acclaimed film "Tom Jones."


Osborne began his career as an actor, and his achievement lay in charting a new course for the English stage, away from the upper-class gentility and strangulated emotions of the theater that preceded him.


"He was a revolutionary writer," American playwright Arthur Miller said. "He opened up British theater."


In April 1994 Osborne published a collection of his prose entitled "Damn You, England."