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Charles Thomas "Tom" Cole (c. 1933 – February 23, 2009) was a playwright and screenwriter. He wrote the screenplay for Smooth Talk.[1][2]



Cole was born in 1933 in Paterson, New Jersey. His father was a labor arbitrator. He graduated in 1954 from Harvard University, following which he enlisted in the United States Army, where he was assigned to study Russian language at the Army language school in Monterey, California. He was assigned to Moscow in the Summer of 1959 as an interpreter at the American National Exhibition, which exhibited American art, culture, science and technology and culture to residents of the Soviet Union, with Cole responsible for describing American farm machinery to visitors. There, he was an observer at the impromptu Kitchen Debate, between then-Vice President of the United States Richard Nixon and Premier of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev.[1]

He returned to Harvard, where he was awarded a master's degree in Russian. He was on the faculty of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, teaching Russian and English literature.[1]



His 1965 debut work An End to Chivalry, included stories based on his experiences in Russia.[1]

The story of Dwight H. Johnson, a black Vietnam War veteran who had won the Medal of Honor for valor in combat and was shot and killed by police in 1971 while holding up a Detroit convenience store, became the impetus for Medal of Honor Rag, a two-character play that fictionalized the story as a confrontation set at an Army Hospital in 1971 between Dale Jackson, a troubled black war hero and a white psychiatrist who specializes in "impacted grief". The role of Dale Jackson was performed in 1976 by Howard Rollins.[1][3] A television version of the play was broadcast in April 1982 on PBS's American Playhouse, produced by Joyce Chopra, with Damien Leake in the role of a "shrewd and confused, tortured and threatening, vulnerable and stubborn" Dale Jackson and Hector Elizondo as the psychiatrist.[4]

Fighting Bob, a play about progressive Wisconsin Senator Robert M. La Follette, Sr., was first produced in Milwaukee in 1979 with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.[5] The play was performed Off Broadway at the Astor Place Theatre in 1981. In his review in The New York Times, Mel Gussow called the play "stubbornly undramatic", with "facts, figures, excerpts from press reports" normally printed in the program of a historical play spoken in the performance.[6]

About Time debuted in 1990 at the John Houseman Theater, a two-character play about an elderly couple, identified only as Old Man and Old Woman, chatting and arguing about matters around the subject of death. Directed by Tony Giordano, the play original production starred James Whitmore and Audra Lindley, described in a Mel Gussow review as an "endearing couple" who "act their way through and around the slight play that Tom Cole has created for them".[7] Lindley and Whitmore had been married to each other and divorced in 1979, yet continued to perform with each other on stage.[8]

He wrote the screenplay for the 1985 film Smooth Talk, based on the 1966 short story Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? by Joyce Carol Oates. The film told the story of a teenage girl exploring her sexual identity, whose portrayal by Laura Dern helped bring her to fame in what was the surprise hit of that year's Sundance Film Festival. The film, directed by Joyce Chopra, won acclaim for its portrayal of Dern's character and her awkward transition to adulthood.[1]


Cole died at age 75 on February 23, 2009 of multiple myeloma at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut. He was survived by his wife, Joyce Chopra, as well as a daughter, a brother and a sister. He had divorced his first wife, Ellen Nurnberg.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Grimes, William (5 March 2009). "Tom Cole, Writer for Film and Stage, Dies at 75". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 March 2009.  
  2. ^ Nelson, Valerie J. (3 March 2009). "Tom Cole dies at 75; playwright and screenwriter". The Los Angeles Times.,0,3195283.story. Retrieved 5 March 2009.  
  3. ^ Barnes, Clive (29 February 1976). "Theater: Death of a Hero; 'Medal of Honor Rag' Is Drama in Capital". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 March 2009.  
  4. ^ O'Connor, John J. (6 April 1982). "TV: 'MEDAL OF HONOR RAG' A VETERAN'S PROBLEMS". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 March 2009.  
  5. ^ Eder, Richard (19 February 1979). "Theater: 'Fighting Bob' By Milwaukee Troupe; Wisconsin Populist". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 March 2009.  
  6. ^ Gussow, Mel (12 November 1981). "THEATER: 'FIGHTING BOB,' LA FOLLETTE AND ROOSEVELT". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 March 2009.  
  7. ^ Gussow, Mel (11 October 1990). "Review/Theater;'About Time,' A Couple With a Past". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 March 2009.  
  8. ^ Berkvist, Robert (7 February 2009). "James Whitmore, Character Actor Skilled in One-Man Shows, Dies at 87". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 March 2009.  

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