William Hanley, who received critical acclaim as a Broadway and Off Broadway playwright in the 1960s and who later won Emmys for television scripts, died on May 25 at his home in Ridgefield, Conn. He was 80.
The cause was complications of a fall, his daughter Nell Hanley said.
“Remember the name William Hanley,” Howard Taubman wrote in The New York Times in 1962, declaring Mr. Hanley “an uncommonly gifted writer.”
Mr. Taubman was reviewing two Off Broadway one-act plays by the playwright: “Whisper Into My Good Ear,” a portrait of two old men who share their loneliness living in a fleabag hotel and plan to commit suicide together; and “Mrs. Dally Has a Lover,” about a married woman and her romance with a teenager.
“His style is lean and laconic, shading almost shyly and unexpectedly into tenderness and poetry,” Mr. Taubman wrote. “His perception of character is fresh and individual.”
Those plays would earn a Drama Desk Award for Mr. Hanley in 1963. A year later his “Slow Dance on the Killing Ground” opened on Broadway. Set in a shabby luncheonette in a desolate factory district in Brooklyn, “Slow Dance” tells of three strangers who bare their wounds over several hours: the storekeeper, who is a non-Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany; a schizophrenic black youth, who has an I.Q. of 187; and a teenage girl, who is searching for an abortionist.
“Slow Dance on the Killing Ground,” The New York Journal-American wrote in a profile of Mr. Hanley, “has been received by critics with the enthusiasm usually reserved for a Mary Martin musical.” But the accolades, and a Tony nomination, did not provide commercial success. “Slow Dance” ran for 88 performances; the Off Broadway plays had closed within a month.
Mr. Hanley turned to television — or, more precisely, it turned to him. He had written “Flesh and Blood,” about the travails of a disintegrating family, for the stage. In 1966, NBC paid him $ 112,500 for the play, at the time the most that television had paid an author for a single work.
Mixed reviews for “Flesh and Blood” notwithstanding, Mr. Hanley went on to write more than two dozen television scripts over the next 30 years, including one for “Something About Amelia,.” a 1984 ABC movie about incest, starring Ted Danson. It earned Mr. Hanley an Emmy. Nominated several times for Emmys, he received another in 1988 for the mini-series “The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank,” starring Paul Scofield, Mary Steenburgen and, as Anne, Lisa Jacobs.
Writing was in Mr. Hanley’s family: his uncles James and Gerald Hanley were novelists in Britain.
William Gerald Hanley was born on Oct. 22, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio, one of three children of William and Annie Rodgers Hanley, who soon moved the family to Queens. Mr. Hanley attended Cornell for a year, then served in the Army before enrolling at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He worked in banks, in factories and as an encyclopedia salesman while writing his early scripts.
His sister Ellen Hanley, who died in 2007, was an actress best known for playing Fiorello H. La Guardia’s first wife in the 1959 Broadway musical “Fiorello!” Another actress in the production was Pat Stanley, whom he married in 1962; they later divorced.
Besides his daughter Nell, Mr. Hanley is survived by another daughter, Kate Hover; a sister, Patricia Hanley; and three grandchildren.
His writing was concerned less with social commentary than with social dynamics, Mr. Hanley told The Journal-American in 1964. He preferred, he said, to capture “what happens when you put such-and-such a person in a room with another sort of person? Then what happens when you put in a third person — how might they react to each other?”