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This was a man who knew he wanted to be a playwright when he was in his early teens in the 1950s, when no such thing as a Canadian playwright existed.

Hrant Alianak

Playwright and actor

David Benson French, O.C.


1939-2010

Playwright David French was born in the tiny Newfoundland outport of Coley’s Point on January 18, 1939, the middle child in a family of five boys. His father, Garfield French, was a carpenter, and during World War II worked in Canada for the Eastern Air Command. After the war, French’s mother, Edith, came to Ontario with the boys to join their father, and the family settled in Toronto in 1945 amidst a thriving community of Newfoundland exiles.

David French attended Rawlinson Public School, Harbord Collegiate and Oakwood Collegiate in Toronto. He was indifferent to books until Grade 8, when his English teacher, to punish him for talking in class, told French to sit down and read a book. The book he happened to pull off the shelf was Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. French said that by the time he finished reading it, he not only knew that he wanted to be a writer – he knew that he was one. Almost immediately he began to publish original stories and poems.

After finishing high school, David French trained as an actor. He spent a summer at the Pasadena Playhouse (California), and studied at various acting studios in Toronto. In the early 1960s, he played roles on stage and in CBC television dramas. Then he began writing dramas for television.

In 1971, French heard about a new theatre in Toronto, the Tarragon, which was producing a play called Creeps. After seeing the play, French was so impressed that he called up the director, Bill Glassco, and asked him to read a play he’d been working on. Glassco said yes, read the play – Leaving Home – and produced it in the final slot of the Tarragon’s first season. It was the beginning of a collaboration between the two men which was to last for over thirty years. David French was one of the first Canadians who could make his living and work full-time as a playwright. He lived in Toronto for most of the year and went to Prince Edward Island every summer.

In total, French wrote five very successful plays about the Mercer family. He also authored the popular backstage comedy Jitters, the mystery-thriller Silver Dagger, as well as That Summer, One Crack Out, and The Riddle of the World. Bill Glassco directed the first production of every one of these original plays, all of which have also been published. French also completed a number of translations, including Strindberg’s Miss Julie, Ostrovsky’s The Forest, and Chekhov’s The Seagull.

David French was one of the first inductees into the Newfoundland Arts Hall of Honour. He received the Queen’s Jubilee Medal, and was presented with a Lifetime Membership in the Playwrights Guild of Canada. He was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2001.

David French died on December 4, 2010, after a fifteen-month battle with brain cancer.