David Berry, a playwright and screenwriter best known for the play and film “The Whales of August,” died on Dec. 16 at his home in Brooklyn. He was 73.
The cause was a heart attack, his ex-wife, Robin Schmidt, said.
“The Whales of August,” about two elderly sisters summering off the coast of Maine, was inspired by Mr. Berry’s childhood memories of aunts who had a cottage there. It was presented at the WPA Theater in Lower Manhattan, starring Bettie Indrizzi and Elizabeth Council.
Mr. Berry wrote the screenplay for the 1987 movie version, directed by Lindsay Anderson and starring Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, Vincent Price and Ann Sothern. It was Ms. Gish’s last film.
Both the stage and movie versions were popular in Japan, with a national tour in 2013 and a movie-themed bar in Shibuya bearing the name. Ms. Schmidt recalled that even though Mr. Berry did not speak Japanese, he wept while watching the Japanese version of the play, saying it was the best production he had ever seen.
Though always interested in the theater, Mr. Berry did not set out to write plays. He was writing a novel inspired by his Army service in the Vietnam War when Ms. Schmidt urged him to turn it into a play. It became “G. R. Point,” which ran Off Broadway before moving to Broadway in 1979, starring Michael Moriarty, Michael Jeter and Howard Rollins Jr.
“What I’m trying to do,” Mr. Berry said in a 1979 interview, “is let people know what it was like. I really wanted people to understand that the men who got sent over there were people that we all knew well, and weren’t the monsters that they’ve been depicted as.”
The play earned Mr. Berry an Obie Award for distinguished playwriting.
David Adams Berry was born on July 8, 1943, in Denver and spent most of his childhood in Maine. A childhood friend, Betsy Huston, recalled, “We all leapt on the rugged rocks and ran through the pines by the sea enacting dramas while our parents drank rum and cokes in the cottage that was the setting for ‘The Whales of August.’”
Mr. Berry enlisted in the Army in 1968, shortly after graduating from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., where he had studied theater and European history. He was discharged in Vietnam when he had to return home to become guardian to his two siblings after his mother died.
After the success of his two plays, Mr. Berry continued writing while teaching at several institutions, including the National Theatre Institute in Waterford, Conn., and most recently, the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan.
He is survived by his sister, Barbara Hasson-Brown; his brother, Richard Hasson; and a stepdaughter, Julia Lee Barclay-Morton.
An obituary on Friday about the playwright and screenwriter David Berry misstated how he entered the Army. He enlisted; he was not drafted.