Former Professor, Playwright Alfred Dies

"The Professor" has died.

William Alfred, a playwright and Lowell professor of the humanities emeritus, died last Thursday in his Cambridge home on Athens Street. He was 76.

Known for caring about students on a personal level, Alfred was nick-named "the Professor" during his tenure at Harvard by his beloved pupils.

"I think preeminently he brought generosity of spirit and time to undergraduates," said Professor of English Robert S. Brustein, who is also artistic director of the American Repertory Theatre. "He was simply a man who extended himself in ways that I have never seen University professors do.

"His devotion to students was without parallel," he added. Indeed, after his retirement, Alfred continued to mentor one undergraduate each year.


While at Harvard, Alfred's contributions to the drama world were just as large as his contributions within the Ivory Tower.

He wrote "Hogan's Goat," a play about turn-of-the-century Brooklyn-Irish politics, which served as an off-Broadway launching ground for Faye Dunaway in 1966.

He also influenced such actors as Stockard Channing '65, John A. Lithgow '67 and Tommy Lee Jones '69 during his tenure at Harvard.

Alfred served as a member and chair of theStanding Committee on Dramatics, the board thatoversees the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club andthe courses in theater offered for credit.

Alfred, a Brooklyn native, studied at BrooklynCollege before serving in the Army in World WarII. He earned master's and doctoral degrees inEnglish from Harvard.

Upon graduation, he joined the Harvard Facultyas a professor of English literature in 1954 andbecame a full professor in 1963. He received anamed chair in 1980, retiring 11 years later. Healso served as a tutor in Kirkland House.

According to Brustein, Alfred was a uniquebreed.

"He was a medievalist who taught playwriting,so he was in two worlds simultaneously," Brusteinsaid. "There was no one else in the world whocould do both."

Among the plays he wrote were "Agamemnon," "TheCurse of an Aching Heart" and "Nothing Doing."

Alfred, also a published poet, received the NewYork Drama Desk Award and served on the poetrypanels for the Pulitzer Prize and National BookAward committees.

The Paper Chase, a novel-turned-movieabout Harvard Law School (HLS), may have neverbeen written if it were not for Alfred.

Recommended Articles