Karen C. Blansfield
Scott McPherson, described by one writer as “a soft-spoken, sweet-tempered young man” (Coburn 78), was born in 1959 in Columbus, Ohio, the youngest of three sons. When he was only two, McPherson’s father, a former racecar driver who had become a Volkswagen salesman, was killed in an automobile accident. To ease financial burdens, the family moved in with McPherson’s maternal grandparents; his cancer-ridden grandmother lived in an upstairs bedroom, a scenario that is closely replicated in Marvin’s Room. When McPherson was seven, his mother Peggy remarried, to John Sansbury, a lawyer with five children, expanding the family to include three stepsisters and two stepbrothers.
McPherson attended Ohio University in Athens, where he initially majored in theater and then switched to dance. During his senior year, he contracted mono-nucleosis and was unable to attend classes, so theater professor George Sherman agreed to take him on for independent study if he would write comedy sketches. McPherson first produced a sketch about a receiving line at a funeral, drawing on a personal tragedy, the death of his older brother in a motorcycle accident the preceding year. His other pieces eventually coalesced into his first full-length play, ’Til the Fat Lady Sings, a comedy “about a dead grandmother, her grandson’s efforts to bury her in the backyard, and a fight between the boy and his mother over facing death,” a work that invariably reflects his own home life with his ailing grandmother (Coburn 81). Much different than the gentle Marvin’s Room, “Fat Lady is big and sprawling, at times including 12 people on the stage as well as a mud-wrestling match and a food fight” (Coburn 81). After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in general studies, McPherson moved into Sherman’s house for the summer, working odd jobs and developing a close friendship with Sherman’s son Peter.