Beth Henley

Playwright, Screenwriter, Actor
An acclaimed playwright and screenwriter, the Mississippi-raised Henley attended Southern Methodist University with the intention of pursuing an acting career. While still an undergraduate, she had her first one-act ... Read more »
Born: 05/07/1952 in Jackson, Mississippi, USA


Writer (9)

Nobody's Fool 1994 (Movie)


Miss Firecracker 1989 (Movie)

("The Miss Firecracker Contest") (Play as Source Material)

Miss Firecracker 1989 (Movie)


A Family Tree 1987 - 1988 (TV Show)


Crimes of the Heart 1986 (Movie)

("Crimes of the Heart") (Play as Source Material)

Crimes of the Heart 1986 (Movie)


Nobody's Fool 1986 (Movie)


Nobody's Fool 1986 (Movie)

(From Story)

It Must be Love (TV Show)

Actor (2)

Swing Shift 1984 (Movie)

Bible Pusher (Actor)


An acclaimed playwright and screenwriter, the Mississippi-raised Henley attended Southern Methodist University with the intention of pursuing an acting career. While still an undergraduate, she had her first one-act play "Am I Blue", produced. After a brief sojourn at the University of Illinois, Henley moved to L.A. to pursue an acting career. As roles were scarce, she turned to writing, producing two works, "The Moonwatcher" and "Crimes of the Heart". A friend submitted the latter to the 1979 Great American Play Contest at the Actors Theatre of Louisville where it received first prize and a production. After several regional theater mountings, "Crimes of the Heart" opened off-Broadway to critical praise and was eventually moved to Broadway. In 1981, Henley became the first woman in over twenty years to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. While her subsequent theater pieces ("The Wake of Jamey Foster" 1982; "The Debutante Ball" 1985; "The Lucky Spot" 1986-87; and "Abundance" 1989-90) were not as successful, the playwright has generally received favorable notices. Many critics have compared her writings with those of other eccentric Southern writers like Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty.

Henley's first screen credit was for her contributions to the screenplay of "True Stories" (1986), co-written with David Byrne and her companion Stephen Tobolowsky. That same year, her first solo screenplay, "Nobody's Fool" was produced. Directed by Evelyn Purcell, "Nobody's Fool" was a quirky romantic comedy which depicted the growing relationship between an outcast waitress (Roseanna Arquette) and a drifter (Eric Roberts) in a small Southern town. Also in 1986, Bruce Beresford helmed the feature version of "Crimes of the Heart", starring Sissy Spacek, Diane Keaton and Jessica Lange. Henley received an Oscar nod for her screenplay. She went on to adapt another of her plays as "Miss Firecracker" (1989), about a local beauty pageant. Starring in the latter was Holly Hunter who had a long association with the playwright, having appeared in stage productions of "Crimes of the Heart", "The Wake of Jamey Foster", "The Lucky Spot" and "The Miss Firecracker Contest".

Henley's one screen acting role was as a Bible pusher in Jonathan Demme's "Swing Shift" (1984).


Len Gilliam


Elizabeth Caldwell

involved in local theater divorced from Henley's father c. 1968 remarried

Charles Henley

involved in local politics divorced from Henley's mother c. 1968 died at age 52 in 1978

Patrick Henley

born c. 1995

Stephen Tobolowsky Actor

met as college undergraduates lived together until c. 1989


University of Illinois

Urbana , Illinois 1975 - 1976
studied one year for masters

Southern Methodist University

Dallas , Texas 1974
classmates included playwright James McClure and actress Patricia Richardson



Debuted new play "Family Week"


Wrote play "Impossible Marriage"; produced Off-Broadway with Holly Hunter in the lead


"Signatures" debuted at the New York Stage and Film Company


Play "Abundance" premiered at South Coast Repertory before transferring to Off-Broadway


Served as a writer for the Jonathan Demme PBS special, "A Family Tree"


Co-wrote first screenplay with David Byrne and Stephen Tobolowsky, "True Stories"


Solo screenwriting debut, from her story of the same title, "Nobody's Fool"


Feature acting debut, cameo as a bible pusher, "Swing Shift"


Wrote TV pilot for "Morgan's Daughter"


Moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career


Had first play produced while still a college sophomore, the one-act "Am I Blue"

Began writing "Crimes of the Heart"; first produced at the Actors Theatre of Louisville in 1979

Raised in Jackson, Mississippi

Wrote draft of screenplay for the film version of the novel "The Shipping News"

Bonus Trivia


"Life must be looked at with irony and humor. You may be beaten and defeated but your spirit cannot be conquered. You WILL overcome bad times; you WILL have strength of character; you'll be better for the negative things which you are experiencing." -- Henley quoted in press information from "Nobody's Fool"