Peter Masterson, whose long career spanned writing, acting and directing on Broadway and in film and television, has died. He passed Wednesday at his home in Kinderhook, N.Y. after a fall, according to his family. He was 84 and suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
Masterson appeared in such films as The Exorcist and The Stepford Wives, but the Houston native is best known for turning a regional story about a chicken ranch bordello in La Grange into the musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, a hit Broadway show that later became a feature film.
Born Carlos Bee Masterson Jr. in 1934 in Houston, Masterson studied history at Rice University and moved to New York City in the 1950s to study acting.
He landed several small roles in film and TV before making his big breakthough in 1967’s In the Heat of the Night. He went on to have a prominent role as the clinical director in The Exorcist, and had the lead role in The Stepford Wives as Cliff Eberhart. His daughter, actress Mary Stuart Masterson, made her first credited appearance in that film at age 9.
While working as an actor, Masterson was also writing a story based on the Chicken Ranch in La Grange, a brothel that operated for decades with tacit law enforcement and political approval before being exposed in 1973.
Masterson and Larry L. King wrote the book for the musical, and Masterson directed it with fellow Houstonian Tommy Tune. Masterson’s wife, Carlin Glynn, starred in the show and won a Tony Award for lead actress.
The musical became a hit, and Masterson and Tune won a Drama Desk award for direction, with Masterson sharing Tony nominations for best book with King and best direction with King for the show, which ran for more than 1,500 performances. It was later adapted for a 1982 film starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds.
In 1985, Masterson directed the film The Trip to Bountiful, which earned him a best director nomination from the Independent Spirit Awards. The film’s star, Geraldine Page, won an Oscar for her work.
Survivors include his wife of 58 years, Carlin Glynn Masterson; his children, Alexandra Masterson, Mary Stuart Masterson, and Peter Carlos Bee Masterson; and six grandchildren.
A private funeral will be held in New York next month.
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