February 13, 2006 12:00 PM

In December the news that Wendy Wasserstein had cancer rocked the theater world. On Jan. 30, when the 55-year-old playwright, whose female characters wittily explored the face-off between career and carpools, died of lymphoma, it was hard for many to believe she was gone. “I wanted to send word to her at the hospital, but you couldn’t even send flowers,” says Swoosie Kurtz, who costarred in her 1977 Off-Broadway play Uncommon Women and Others. “She was an acutely private person.”

She was—and she wasn’t. In her plays (more than a dozen), books (her first novel is due in April) and a screenplay (The Object of My Affection), the Brooklyn born Yale School of Drama grad “was this amazingly original, contemporary voice for so many women, who would never have been heard if it wasn’t for Wendy,” says Kurtz. Never married, she gave birth to daughter Lucy Jane in 1999—and while she wouldn’t reveal Lucy’s father’s identity, she wrote with striking candor about her years of fertility treatments and Lucy’s premature birth. “Lucy,” says her pal actress Jill Eikenberry, “was the center of her life.”

Friends and family were a close second. Wasserstein’s brother Bruce, a Manhattan financier, will raise Lucy, and there will be no shortage of people to remind her what kind of woman her mother was. “I’ve never known somebody with such a network of close friends who adored her,” says Kurtz. “There was only one Wendy.”

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