Paul Zindel (1936-2003), who drew on memories of his troubled childhood on Staten Island for a prize-winning play with a tongue-twisting title, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, was born on May 15, 1936, in Tottenville, Staten Island. His father was a police officer who abandoned the family. Mr. Zindel’s mother, a nurse who also worked as a shipyard laborer, hat-check attendant and dog breeder, took in dying patients as boarders. Mr. Zindel did not read much as a child and said he he wrote for people who did not like to read.
He wrote plays and sketches in high school, including one about a pianist who recovers from a serious illness and is acclaimed for playing “The Warsaw Concerto” at Carnegie Hall. He also took a creative writing course with the playwright Edward Albee while he was an undergraduate. But his bachelor’s and master’s degrees were in chemistry, both from Wagner College, which later awarded him an honorary doctorate.
The Effect of Gamma Rays opened Off Broadway in 1970. The following year, it moved to Broadway, where it ran for 819 performances. It won Mr. Zindel an Obie Award in 1970 for Best American Play and a Pulitzer Prize in 1971, and he wrote the screenplay for the film version, which was directed by Paul Newman and starred Joanne Woodward.
Mr. Zindel wrote several other plays in the 1970s and 1980s, though none was the success that The Effect of Gamma Rays was. He also wrote novel after novel for teenagers. His first, The Pigman (1968), focused on two alienated teenagers who take advantage of an old man – another situation that was autobiographical, he said. He followed The Pigman with a string of works that included My Darling, My Hamburger (1969), I Never Loved Your Mind (1970), Pardon Me, You’re Stepping on My Eyeballs (1976), Confessions of a Teenage Baboon (1977) and The Undertaker’s Gone Bananas (1978).