Sam Smiley's Life

Dr. Sam Smiley, well-known playwriting and screenwriting professor, author, actor, dramatist, theatre and film director, painter, poet, and communications consultant, passed away peacefully at age 87 on August 15, 2018 at home in Tucson, AZ. He is survived by Ann, his loving wife of almost 66 years (married September 7, 1952); sons, Mark (Cathy) of Ashburn, VA, Steve (Sally) of St. Louis, MO, and Sean of Tucson, AZ. He has seven grandchildren: Justin (Jackie) Smiley, Sarah (Anthony) Harrison, Austin Smiley, Shavana Smiley, Cody Smiley, Clark Smiley, and Jenny Smiley. Five great-grandchildren are :Laila, Hazel, and Eden Smiley; Aaron and Liam Harrison. 


Sam possessed a warm, vivacious personality making friends with everyone. He leaves a great influence on students all over the country; many of those students  are now professional actors, playwrights , screen writers, or teachers. A dog lover, lifelong athlete, swimmer and diver, and marathon runner, he set the record for age 60 and over in the Tucson Marathon. One year he ran the Boston Marathon. In 1948, at age 17, he was chosen as a USA Olympic Team alternate in platform diving.

The only child of Raymond Smiley and Ada Holland Smiley, Sam was born in Columbus, IN, on February 15, 1931. He received his B.F.A. at Illinois Wesleyan University (1952), M.F.A. from University of Iowa (1954) and his Ph.D. from Indiana University (1967).

At the University of Arizona, Dr. Smiley served as Head of the Department of Theatre Arts (1987-88) and Director of Dramatic Writing (1987-93). He was Head of Dramatic Writing at Indiana University (1973-87), a Professor at the University of Missouri (1969-73), Director of Theatre and Dean of Fine Arts at the University of Evansville (1957-69), and he began his teaching career at Georgia College. 


He became a member of The College of Fellows of the American Theatre in 1983. He worked with theatres in Paris, Dublin, Madrid, and Barcelona, one of his favorite cities.  Sam created the theatre program at the University of Evansville, which remains a top theatre program today. He designed the innovative Shanklin Theatre, which opened in 1967, at the University of Evansville.  

Dr. Smiley wrote and published four books, six plays, numerous poems and non-fiction articles and essays. In his famous book,  Playwriting: The Structure of Action by Yale University Press, he shared the theory he developed of the principles essential to effective dramatic writing for stage and screen. He was a popular corporate communications consultant and a story consultant on feature films and television shows. He wrote 32 produced plays, seven major films and many TV dramas for PBS, ABC, NBC and TBS. He also published a book of poetry, Snowflakes

As a lifelong actor, he appeared in 123 amateur and professional theatre roles. As a theatre director he turned out 152 productions. He also appeared in off Broadway theatre productions and in more than 20 films, including “Hoosiers” with Gene Hackman, "Terminal Velocity" with Charlie Sheen, and “The Untouchables” with Kevin Costner and Sean Connery. 

He spoke five languages and frequently lived in Spain where he wrote and studied painting. His home is full of his many beautiful paintings, some of which won awards.

Offices, awards, fellowships, and honors:

College of American Theatre Fellows, 1983, Board of Governors 2000

National Partners of American Theatre - Honorary Award

Amoco Gold Medallion for Excellence in Creativity,

National ACTF Award at Kennedy Center

Indiana University Grant for Creative Activity in Spain

Commissioner, Indiana Arts Commission, 1980-84

Shell Oil Grant for research

Lilly Doctoral Fellowship, Eli Lilly Foundation

European theatre residencies:

Abbey Theatre in Dublin

Royal Shakespeare Company in London

Theatre d'Orsay in Paris

Tábano in Madrid

La Claca in Barcelona

A Memorial Service celebrating Dr. Smiley's remarkable life will occur on September 15, 2018, at 2 PM in St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, 1431 W. Magee Rd., Tucson, AZ. 

In lieu of flowers, please donate in Sam’s name to The American Cancer Society or The Humane Society.

Burial at East Lawn Palms Mortuary and Cemetery.