Frank Joseph Galati, Jr. was born on November 29, 1943 in Highland Park, Illinois to Frank Galati, Sr. and Virginia Galati. Beginning in 1962, Galati attended Northwestern University as an undergraduate, where he was an active member of the University's dramatic performances. Galati eventually earned a Master's and Ph.D. in Speech from NU; he joined the University's faculty in 1972. In addition to academics, Galati became an ensemble member of Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble in 1985 and Associate Director of the Goodman Theatre in 1986.
Galati attended Glenbrook High School in Northbrook, Illinois and graduated in 1961. While at Glenbrook, Galati participated in many school productions, including The Mikado.
After graduating from high school, Galati enrolled at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois. In his one year at Western Illinois, Galati performed in plays including Waiting for Godot and Death of a Salesman. For his work, he won the university's “Best Actor” award for the 1961-62 school year. He was also one of 199 students on Western Illinois' honor roll for the 1962 spring quarter, his last quarter at the university (Box 1, Folder 3).
Galati transferred to Northwestern University in the fall of 1962. In his undergraduate years, Galati would win the Special Award from the Interpretation Department and the Drama Club of Evanston's First Playwright Award, and he was president of the School of Speech Student Senate. On stage, he was a principal cast member in the Waa-Mu Show for four years. Besides performing in the show, he also wrote a number of sketches and songs and even had a hand in the set design. He also played roles in almost 20 University Theatre productions, including Candide and Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts. Of his performance as Jean in the 1964 production of Rhinoceros, journalism professor Peter Jacobi said, “Galati is a scene stealer in the Mostel mold…he builds the proper caricature of what is silly in most of us: self-deceptive pomposity, snide superiority, the propensity to front our flaws.”
He also performed nine plays at the Eagles Mere Playhouse during the 1962-63 season under the direction of Northwestern theatre professor Alvina Krause. One of his roles was Falstaff in Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor, a play he would stage for the Chicago Opera Theater in 1978 (Box 27, Folders 9-10). In his role of Falstaff, Krause said Galati “is a master of planting lines…part of the marvel of the performance was that he could repeat each night with the same telling effect, the same sureness of timing, of building, of topping the laughter at exactly the right moment and so keeping it building.”
Galati received his B.S. degree in Speech, with a concentration in Interpretation, in 1965. He began his teaching career as an Assistant Professor of Speech at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida. He continued taking some courses at Northwestern and earned his Masters' Degree in Speech in June, 1966. At South Florida, Galati directed 10 major productions for the Department of Speech, along with over 30 “Coffee House” productions, which were mostly small-cast readings of literary works. In his last year at South Florida, 1967, the student body voted Galati the “Teacher of the Year.”
After his stint in Florida, Galati decided to pursue a Ph. D. in Interpretation from Northwestern. While working towards his doctorate, Galati was an instructor of Interpretation at Northwestern. He received his Ph. D. in 1971. Galati's dissertation was titled, “A Study of Mirror Analogues in Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire” (Box 3, Folder 6). After completing his doctorate, he became an instructor at Roosevelt University and the Goodman Theatre School. He joined the Northwestern faculty full-time in 1972.
It was around this time that Galati began to make a name for himself in Chicago theatre. In 1972, he was nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award, Chicago theatre's version of the Tonys, for his performance as a sadistic orderly in the British play The National Health at the Forum Theatre (Box 28, Folders 3-4). That year, he also adapted and directed Nathaniel West's novel Miss Lonelyhearts for the Actors' Cooperative in Chicago. Galati used a form of theatre pioneered by instructor and colleague Robert Breen for his staging of Miss Lonelyhearts. Called “Chamber Theatre,” this technique involves close, intimate settings without ornate sets or costumes, so more emphasis is placed on the actors' performances. Chicago Tribune critic Linda Winer said that “the production owes most of its lingering impact to its director, Frank Galati.”
The next year, Galati won the first of his nine Joseph Jefferson Awards. Boss, a musical satire about the life of Chicago mayor Richard Daley for which he wrote the script and lyrics based on newspaper columnist Mike Royko's book of the same title, won “Best New Play of 1973.” The play was well-loved by critics and showed a talent for musical theatre that Galati had honed as an undergraduate at Northwestern in the Waa-Mu Show (Box 16, Folders 10-11).
In 1974, Galati won a $1,000 award in a playwriting contest for his original work Winnebago. The play, first performed at midnight in the Goodman Theatre lobby, followed a family as it made its way to California's Disneyland in the family car. It featured a giant canary puppet, a grandmother who lived in a rollout drawer and a Big Brother-like patriarch whose disembodied head presided over the rest of the family from a video screen. Even though WTTW, the TV station that sponsored the contest, chose not to air Winnebago, the show enjoyed a successful run on the stage (Box 37, Folders 1-2).
Galati returned to musical theatre, staging The Mother of Us All at the Chicago Opera Theater in 1976. The opera, with music by Virgil Thomson and words by Gertrude Stein, was based on the life of Susan B. Anthony. Over the next four years, Galati would put on a number of works for the Chicago Opera Theater, including Tennessee Williams' Summer and Smoke (Box 33, Folders 10-14).
The Mother of Us All was Galati's first artistic foray into the work of Gertrude Stein, but it would not be his last. In 1987, Galati conceived and directed a play called She Always Said, Pablo, which sought to explore the relationship between Stein and Pablo Picasso through Stein's words and active representations of Picasso's works and music by Virgil Thomson and Igor Stravinsky. The show premiered on March 9th at the Goodman Theatre. Chicago Sun-Times critic Hedy Weiss called it “a dream on wheels, a 90-minute pastel-tinted carousel ride – a ride in which the people and enchanted objects that floated through Pablo Picasso's life and imagination can be viewed in a new way.” Galati won “Best New Work” and “Best Direction” Joseph Jefferson Awards for the play. The work even enjoyed a five-week stint at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. in 1990 (Box 32, Folders 7-8 and Box 33, Folders 1-6). Other Galati shows influenced heavily by Gertrude Stein's work include Four Saints in Three Acts (1993), Each One as She May (1995), and A Long Gay Book (2003).
Soon, Galati's talents were in high demand. In 1985, the Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble, the prestigious creation of actors like Gary Sinise and John Malkovich, made Galati an ensemble member. This was followed in 1986 by being named Associate Director of the Goodman Theatre.
The end of the 1980s was an unprecedented time of public exposure for Galati. At the end of 1988, Galati's adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre. Starring Gary Sinise, Terry Kinney and Lois Smith, the play garnered great critical success not only because of the caliber of its performances but because of Galati's inventive treatment of the work and his staging decisions, like placing a trough of water in the front portion of the stage for river scenes. After its successful Chicago run, The Grapes of Wrath had extended engagements in San Diego, London and New York, and spawned overseas productions in cities from Denmark to Australia. The play's success secured the place of Chicago theatre on the international stage. Besides winning Galati two more Joseph Jefferson Awards, for “Best Direction” and “Best New Play,” the play's Broadway run earned Galati two Tony Awards in 1990, for “Best Direction of a Play” and “Best Play.” Galati also won the Outer Critics Circle Award and the Drama Desk Award for his work on The Grapes of Wrath (Box 22, Folder 11, Boxes 23-24, and Box 25, Folders 1-4).
Also, in 1989, Galati's screenplay for the movie The Accidental Tourist, which he co-wrote with director Jake Kasdan, received widespread praise. The film, starring William Hurt, Kathleen Turner and Geena Davis, was based on the Anne Tyler novel of the same name. Galati's work earned him an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay, as well as a nomination from the British Academy Awards in the same category. Though he was not selected for either nomination, he did win a Scripter Award from the University of Southern California and was selected to speak at Northwestern's commencement in 1990. Galati also received an honorary doctorate from DePaul University in 1991 and won the Northwestern chapter of Phi Beta Kappa's Distinguished Service Award in that same year. Galati adapted two more Anne Tyler works for the stage: Breathing Lessons (1989) and Earthly Possessions (1991).
Galati has also won Joseph Jefferson Awards for “Best Actor in a Principal Role” (Travesties, 1980) and three more for “Best Direction” (Passion Play, 1988, The Good Person of Setzuan, 1992, and You Can't Take It With You, 1985). He was also nominated for another Tony Award in 1998 for directing the musical Ragtime.
Other plays he directed include Tony Kushner's Homebody/Kabul (2004), William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying (1995, which he also adapted), and Wallace Shawn's Aunt Dan and Lemon (1987) at the Steppenwolf Theatre, Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale (1990) at the Goodman Theatre and Dominick Argento's The Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe (1990) at the Chicago Lyric Opera.
Galati died at Sarasota, Florida, on January 2, 2023. He left behind a husband, Peter Amster.
Found in 1 Collection or Record:
The Frank Galati Papers fill 38 boxes and span the years 1948-2006; the bulk of the papers date between 1965 and 2005. The papers consist mostly of scripts and other notes from the plays he wrote, directed or in which he acted. Biographical files include personal information about Galati and his family. They also include resumes (Box 1, Folder 1), drafts of speeches he made (Box 1, Folder 6) and materials from awards he received and workshops he attended (Box 1, Folder 7).