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One On 1: Longtime Playwright Israel Horovitz Holds His Unique Place In Theater

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Israel Horovitz has written numerous plays and is a sensation abroad, but even after his years of international success, he continues to create for audiences around the world. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One on 1 report.

For many in the theater world, the path to success is unpredictable, but for Israel Horovitz, it's a path he could not have envisioned when he arrived in New York with dreams of becoming a playwright.

Playwright Israel Horovitz is prolific. He's done more than 70 plays in some 60 years of writing.

"A writer who explains his writing is like a snail who explains his shell," Horovitz says.

He says as a young man he tried to prove himself as a playwright, then gradually took into account the needs of the audience.

"Sometimes I find myself knowing that I’m writing something that people won’t want, but I feel that they need," Horovitz says. "So I have to find a way to tell that story that's engaging."

Israel Horovitz has carved out a unique theatrical niche.

You won't find his plays on Broadway, but they've been staged all over the world.

His play "Line" has been performed continuously at the 13th Street Repertory Company since 1974, the longest running off off Broadway show in New York.

In France he's considered a playwright king.

"I think in this life if you love me I love you. If I love you, you love me. It goes back and forth," Horovitz says. "I got just such wonderful response to my plays there that it made me want to do more."

His French Connection is deep, he travels there constantly.

Back in New York he teaches a bi-lingual class in screenwriting with students from France's National Film School and Columbia's graduate program.

He first brought his plays to France in his twenties, where he was given a chance to meet once of his heroes, writer Samuel Beckett.

"So we stayed together, talking, for about 3.5 hours," Horovitz says. "At the end of it I said to him, 'Do you think we can be friends?' And he said, 'Oh I think we are friends.'"

They became great friends.

Horovitz's reputation in France was helped when one tough theater critic in Paris saw an early version of "Line."

"I can’t imagine he really liked it, but he stood up at the end and yelled bravo," Horovitz says. "That just doesn’t happen in France. And the whole audience was like, holy s***, Gotye is standing up yelling. And they all stood up and yelled bravo."

When "Line" had its New York opening at La Mama in the late 1960s, Horovitz actually had to fill in at the last minute when one of the actors split to shoot a television pilot.

The play got good reviews, as did Horovitz.

"Jerry Tallmer in the New York Post had written a review and the headline was 'Welcome, Mr. Horovitz.' It was amazing," Horovitz says. "That was the moment when I looked at it and because it said 'Welcome,' and I thought, OK, I’m here."

Horovitz is at home in New York, Paris and in Gloucester, Mass. close to his old hometown.

In 1979 he founded the Gloucester Stage Company, serving as its artistic director and writing several plays, including "North Shore Fish," about the travails of the fishing community.

"I really got hooked into the real problems of that community," he says.

Horovitz has also written for the big screen. He wrote and had a small part in the critically acclaimed "Sunshine," the story of three generations of a Hungarian Jewish family during the Holocaust and Communism.

In perhaps his best known film, "Author Author," Al Pacino plays a writer trying to finish a play and raising kids while struggling with a failing marriage, a reality Horovitz knew all too well at the time.

Pacino and Horovitz became friends in New York in the late 1960s with Horovitz writing plays and Pacino acting in them -- both passionate, desperate to make it.

"I remember when "The Indian Wants the Bronx" opened, I think if a critic had given us a bad review, a negative review that Pacino and [actor John] Cazale and I would have gone to the critic's house and beat them up.”

In an old Paul Simon song, there's a line "in my little town, I never meant nothing I was just my father's son."

Horovitz says he gave the line to Simon, impromptu, when they were friends in the 1970s.

It could have been taken from Horovitz's memoir "A New Yorker In Paris," first published in French in 2012.

He writes about a difficult childhood with an unhappy, occasionally abusive father.

"It’s not a death penalty, it’s not a fatal disease. It’s just some bad luck in your childhood,"he says. "I think a lot of artists are really born in from the suffering child."

There were happier moments, like when his parents took him to see the play, "A Raisin in the Sun," the story of a black family in Chicago.

It was a transformative moment -- the moment Horovitz knew he wanted to be a playwright.

"This play is taking me somewhere. It’s like a place of privilege. I really had that thought as a kid," Horovitz says. "It occurred to me that somebody wrote that. And that you could do that. And that plays could do that. They could take you somewhere."

As a teenager, he went through a period in his life that would become the inspiration for one of his most personal plays, "Hopscotch."

"My 16-year-old girlfriend got pregnant when I was 17. We got married, stayed married for about 6 months," Horovitz says. "The baby was born and died."

The marriage was annulled.

A few years later, Horovitz was off to New York and decades later he’s still here.

He's married to former British marathon winner Gillian Adams. Horovitz himself is a pretty serious runner.

They have two grown children.

Horovitz also has three children from a previous marriage, including his son Adam, also known as As-Rock the Beastie Boys.

At the age of 74, Horvitz’s passion has hardly waned.

He is preparing to direct his first feature film based on one of his plays, "My Old Lady."

"I have a particular love of doing stuff that scares the living you-know-what out of me," Horovitz says. "This is definitely one, right at the top of that list."

It's a life that's been enriched by an interesting mix of friendships, working relationships and interactions.

It seems that Horovitz long ago made peace with the unusual path of his career, respected here and beloved in France.

"There’s always somebody more famous, there is no number one out there," Horovitz says. "It just keeps rolling. When you can be comfortable with that, you can sit down and do your work properly." ClientIP:,, UserAgent: CCBot/2.0 ( Profile: TWCSAMLSP