David E. Kelley ’79, the award-winning writer and producer of television hits like The Practice, Boston Legal, and Ally McBeal, spoke at Princeton Nov. 17 as part of the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Performance Central series.
In an on-stage interview conducted by Broadway producer Jordan Roth ’97, Kelley described an early foray into script writing at Princeton. Facing a deadline for a freshman course on Homeric literature, he decided to put his own spin on a class paper, writing a play that imagined Plato, Socrates, and Homer meeting in heaven and debating their views on literature. “I wrote a dialogue, turned it in, and then really ducked for cover,” he said.
The weekend after turning in the paper, Kelley traveled with the men’s hockey team to play Harvard and stayed behind in Boston, his hometown, missing class on Monday. He knew that skipping a lecture could cost him a letter grade – the professor, Lois Hinckley, had a rule against absences – but he decided to take his chances.
“It was a big class – a hundred-plus people – so I thought, ‘Who’s gonna know?’” Kelley recalled. “In Monday’s lecture, Miss Hinckley and several of the preceptors performed the play that I had turned in. She called for the author to stand up and take a bow, and my grade went down.”
In Kelley’s senior year, Hinckley vouched for Kelley’s writing skills and served as his co-adviser on a politics thesis about the Bill of Rights that took the form of a play – each character represented an amendment. After graduation, Kelley briefly played pro hockey in Switzerland, came back to attend law school at Boston University, and worked as a lawyer for a few years before heading to Hollywood to write for L.A. Law.
Look for more about Kelley’s visit in the Dec. 8 issue of PAW.
For the record Kelley played professional hockey in Switzerland, not Sweden, as was stated in the original version of this post.