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John Sacret Young, the creative force behind “China Beach”, dies at age 75

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John Sacret Young, a writer and producer who was behind the television series “China Beach,” set in a Vietnam War military hospital, and whose work often explored the psychological wounds of war, has died on June 3 at his home in Brentwood, Calif. He was 75 years old.

The cause was brain cancer, said his wife, Claudia Sloan.

Mr. Young was the executive producer of “China Beach,” which recounted the experiences of several women in an evacuation hospital on ABC from 1988 to 1991. He created the show with William Broyles Jr., a former editor of Newsweek who had served in Vietnam and then wrote the screenplay for Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13” (1995).

Mr. Young went on to be writer and producer of the Aaron Sorkin series “The West Wing” (1999-2006) and co-executive producer and writer of the Netflix series “Firefly Lane”, which was released in February.

“China Beach” has made comparisons with “M * A * S * H”, especially regarding their parameters: one in a military hospital in Korea, the other in Vietnam. But where “M * A * S * H” was both comedy and half-hour drama for the most part, “China Beach” took a completely dramatic approach in one-hour episodes. He has garnered praise for his well-drawn characters, especially that of Colleen McMurphy, an army nurse played by Dana Delany.

With a cast (many of which are heading for stardom) that also included Tom Sizemore, Kathy Bates, Helen Hunt, Don Cheadle and Marg Helgenberger, “China Beach” won the 1990 Golden Globe Award for Best Drama, beating contenders like ” LA Law “and” The Murder She Wrote. ” It also launched the careers of Ms Delany and Ms Helgenberger, who went on to play a leading role in “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”.

Although the show was not a major audience success, “China Beach” was praised for its writing and appropriate score at the time, featuring a theme song by Diana Ross and the Supremes.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 2013, on the occasion of the show’s 25th anniversary, Mr. Young called the Vietnam War “the story of our generation” and said that choosing to focus on women seemed “crucial, interesting and relevant.” “

New York Times television critic John J. O’Connor wrote in 1991 that “the series has sensitively exploited national terrain that remains difficult.” The year before, he praised the show for eschewing prime-time television clichés in favor of something “inventive, imaginative, adventurous.”

Much of Mr. Young’s work – in books, television, and movies – explores the impact of war. In addition to “China Beach” he wrote the miniseries “A Rumor of War” (1980), which adapts Philip Caputo’s famous memoir on his time in the Marine Corps in Vietnam and the emotional devastation that followed. ; “Thanks of a Grateful Nation” (1998), a telefilm set in the aftermath of the Gulf War; and the theatrical release “Romero” (1989), with Raul Julia, which addressed the civil and religious upheavals that led to the assassination of Archbishop Óscar Romero in El Salvador.

Vietnam was also a dominant theme in Mr. Young’s memoir, “Remains: Non-Viewable” (2005), which focused on the death of his cousin Doug Young in combat in Vietnam and its emotional fallout.

The memoirs focused on a culture of New England Stoicism that he wrote that kept his family from dealing with his loss.

“There was a shoe to drop,” Mr. Young wrote in the book, “the reality, the coming of the coffin, and it would happen soon enough; but in the meantime there was a free fall of silence, a strange decorum, and the postponement of a free fall of emotion that could not be measured.

Mr Young told NPR in 2005 that while his family actually got to see his cousin’s remains, the headline, read in another way, suggested how they “viewed this war after it was over and said: “Remain invisible. ‘”

John Sacret Young was born May 24, 1946 in Montclair, NJ, to Bill and Peggy (Klotz) Young. Her mother was a housewife and her father worked for the Public Service Electric and Gas Company in Newark. John was the youngest of four siblings.

He attended Montclair College High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in religion from Princeton, from which he graduated in 1969. Ms Sloan said he chose to study religion primarily because the program allowed him to ” write a novel as a main thesis.

He married Jeannette Penick in 1973. After their divorce, he married Ms. Sloan in 2010. With his wife, Mr. Young is survived by two sons, John and Riley; two daughters, Jeannette and Julia; a brother, Mason; and three grandchildren.

His first big breakthrough came with “Police Story” (1973-1987), a crime drama for which he started as a researcher and eventually wrote three episodes. To add verisimilitude to his scripts, Mr. Young integrated himself into the Los Angeles Police Department, Ms. Sloan said.

Among his other credits was the film “Testament” (1983), starring Jane Alexander, about the struggles of a suburban family after a nuclear attack.

During his career, Mr. Young received seven Emmy Award nominations.

A great art collector, he also wrote “Pieces of Glass: An Artoire” (2016). The book works like a memoir, his life seen through the prism of art as it considers how artists, from Vermeer to Rothko, have affected him.

Mr. Young opened “Remains: Non-Viewable” with a reflection on storytelling, the art form that has defined much of his life and career.

“Call a story: a writer makes them up and puts them down,” he writes, “but that’s what we all do to shape our days.”


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