Jonathan Reynolds Dies: Playwright, My Stepmother Is An Alien Screenwriter Was 79

Jonathan Reynolds, a playwright and screenwriter whose string of film credits in the 1980s included the comedies Micki & Maude, Switching Channels, My Stepmother Is an Alien and the notorious flop Leonard Part 6, died Oct. 27 of organ failure at the Actors Fund Home in Englewood, N.J. He was 79.

His death was announced by family to The New York Times.

A prolific Off Broadway playwright, Reynolds stage works included the acclaimed 1982 Hollywood satire Geniuses, produced by Playwrights Horizons and based on the journals Reynolds wrote during his three months on location in the Philippines to observe the infamously difficult filming of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.

An intended book about the making of the film never made it to print, but his satirical play was a hit with both audiences and critics. And Reynolds would have an even more lasting connection to Apocalypse Now: He contributed, uncredited, a line of dialogue that is among the best-remembered of actor Robert Duvall. When Duvall’s gung-ho, wave-loving Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore is told he can’t surf near the battleground, he snaps, “What do you know about surfing, Captain, you’re from New Jersey.”

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Reynolds’ first credited film was Micki & Maude in 1984, a romantic comedy love-triangle film starring Dudley Moore, Ann Reinking and Amy Irving. A modest hit, the film was followed in 1987 by what would become a legendary flop: Leonard Part 6, a spy spoof that even its star Bill Cosby publicly disdained.

Reynolds fared better with his next screenplay, 1988’s Switching Channels, another love triangle comedy, this time inspired by His Girl Friday and starring Kathleen Turner, Burt Reynolds and Christopher Reeve.

Reynolds returned to the rom-com genre, now with a sci-fi spin, with 1988’s My Stepmother Is an Alien starring Kim Basinger and Dan Aykroyd. The film, poorly received, would mark his final screenplay, though he received a story credit for 1992’s The Distinguished Gentleman starring Eddie Murphy.

The writer would find a more welcoming and longer-lived place within the New York theater community, where his many stage productions over the decades included Stonewall Jackson’s House, a Pulitzer Drama Jury recommendation; Yanks 3 Detroit O Top of the 7th, Rubbers, Fighting International Fat, Tunnel Fever or The Sheep is Out, and Dinner With Demons.

Though he continued writing plays well into the 21st Century – he was the recipient of a Dramatists Guild award for sustained achievement – Reynolds branched out in 2000 when he began a six-year stint writing a weekly food column for The New York Times Sunday Magazine. His memoir Wrestling With Gravy: A Life, With Food was published in 2008.

A resident of New York City and Garrison, N.Y., Reynolds is survived by wife Heidi Ettinger, a Tony Award-winning Broadway set designer; sons Edward and Frank Reynolds; stepsons North, Nash and Dodge Landesman; and two grandchildren.


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