BiographyNewark, New Jersey, USA
Richard Wesley was born in Newark, New Jersey on July 11, 1945, the older of two boys, to George Wesley and Gertrude Thomas Wesley, a laborer and housewife, respectively. After graduating high school, he attended Howard University in Washington, DC, where he studied Playwriting and Dramatic Literature. His mentors there were the Chair of the Drama Department, Owen Dodson, and his playwriting teacher, Ted Shine. Howard was an exciting place and fascinating experience for Wesley. The civil rights movement was capturing the minds of youth everywhere. Stokely Carmichael was a junior on campus. Read more... miles from the campus. Among Wesley's classmates in the College of Fine Arts were, Hattie Winston, who would later go on to star on Broadway and in the TV series Becker (1998), with 'Ted Danson'; Donny Hathaway, the late composer and R&B star; Jessye Norman, the opera and concert star; and in his senior year, a young freshman who would later be known to the world as Phylicia Rashad, star of two Bill Cosby TV series and the first black woman to earn the Tony Award for Best Actress. Wesley's own promise became apparent early on when, as a nineteen year-old sophomore, he was awarded an Honorable Mention in the Samuel French publishing company's then annual National Collegiate Playwriting Competition. After graduation, Wesley made his way to New York City. The actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, whom he had met while an undergraduate at Howard, pointed him in a direction that eventually led to the New Lafayette Theatre in Harlem. Wesley joined the writers workshop there, organized by 'Robert Macbeth', the Artistic Director, and Ed Bullins, the playwright in residence, and one of the leading voices in the then ascendant Black Theatre Movement. Four years later, Bullins introduced Wesley to the producer Joseph Papp who in turn produced Wesley's first play, The Black Terror, a political drama which was critically well received and which established Wesley as a prominent voice among a new generation of playwrights then emerging in New York: David Rabe, OyamO, Susan Yankowitz and David Mamet, among others. A subsequent off-Broadway drama, The Last Street Play, led to an offer from the actor Sidney Poitier to develop a screenplay for a comedy he had in mind. Uptown Saturday Night (1974), which also featured Bill Cosby, 'Richard Pryor', Flip Wilson and Paula Kelly, was the result. The movie was a box office winner and led to a second film, Let's Do It Again (1975) with Poitier, Cosby, John Amos, Denise Nicholas and Ossie Davis in its cast. This movie was also a major success. The ensuing years found Wesley actively working on stage and in film and television. Two more features in the 80s, Native Son (1986), the adaptation of Richard Wright's famous novel, and Fast Forward, a movie musical directed by Sidney Poitier. Wesley also penned a children's film for PBS entitled House of Dies Drear (1984), an adaptation of a Virginia Hamilton book for children. On stage, he was involved in the musical, The Dream Team, for the Goodspeed Opera House, then a new drama, The Talented Tenth, at the Manhattan Theatre Club. In the nineties, he worked primarily penning scripts for television movies: Murder Without Motive (NBC), Mandela and de Klerk (1997) (Showtime), _Bojangles_ (Showtime) and Deacons for Defense (2003) (Showtime). He also penned episodes for the Sidney Lumet drama series 100 Centre Street (2001), on the A&E cable network. Still a working professional, Wesley is also currently the Associate Chair of the Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing in the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.