Friday, July 08, 2005
J.J. Hunsecker: You're dead, son. Get yourself buried.
From The Hollywood Reporter...
July 06, 2005
Famed screenwriter Ernest Lehman dies
By Duane Byrge and Gregg Kilday
Ernest Lehman, the screenwriter whose adaptations of such high-profile Broadway plays and musicals as "West Side Story," "The Sound of Music" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" dominated movie screens during the 1960s, died Saturday at UCLA Medical Center after a lengthy illness. He was 89.
Lehman received six Academy Award nominations -- four for his screenplays and two in the category of best picture -- and also earned nine WGA Award nominations, winning the guild's top honor five times. In 2001, Lehman was recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when he became the first screenwriter awarded an honorary Oscar, for his "varied and enduring work."
"I accept this rarest of honors on behalf of screenwriters everywhere, but especially those in the Writers Guild of America," he said onstage. "We have suffered anonymity far too often. I appeal to all movie critics and feature writers to please always bear in mind that a film production begins and ends with a screenplay.
"A creative giant among writers and within the industry, Ernest possessed one of the most distinctive voices of the last half-century," WGAW president Daniel Petrie Jr. said Tuesday. "Adept at tackling a wide range of genres, his unforgettable contributions to the craft of screenwriting helped define what we've come to know as American film."
One of Hollywood's most critically and commercially successful screenwriters, Lehman served as president of the WGAW, elected in 1983 and serving until 1985. He also served several terms on the WGAW board -- in 1954-56, 1961-70, as vp of the screen branch in 1965-67, and in 1980-88. He also sat on many WGAW committees, as well as the Writers Guild Foundation board of directors.
He took home WGA Awards for "Sabrina," "The King and I," "West Side Story," "The Sound of Music," and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
In 1972, the WGA presented Lehman with its Screen Laurel Award.
The Academy nominated Lehman for his original screenplays for Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" and "Sabrina," which he cowrote with Billy Wilder and Samuel A. Taylor. He received adapted screenplay noms for "West Side Story" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" which he also produced. In addition to his producing nom for "Woolf," he also picked up a nom in the best picture category for "Hello, Dolly!"
Lehman was brought to Hollywood in the early 1950s by Paramount Pictures and John Houseman just as the industry was beginning to fear the impact of TV. "It was like taking the last train from Berlin," Lehman said. "I was one of the last contract writers signed."His writing credits also include "Executive Suite," "Somebody Up There Likes Me," "From the Terrace," and "The Prize," "Black Sunday" and "Family Plot."Lehman was born Dec. 8, 1915 on Long Island, N.Y. His family was affluent until hit by the Depression. He graduated from the College of the City of New York with a degree that combined chemical engineering and English. He became a freelance writer, and his first sale was a profile of entertainer Ted Lewis to Colliers magazine. Freelancing was, he claimed, a "very nervous way to make a living," so Lehman went to work writing copy for a publicity firm specializing in theatrical productions and celebrities.
That experience later informed 1957's "The Sweet Smell of Success," which he scripted with Clifford Odets based on one of Lehman's novellas, "Tell Me About It Tomorrow." Starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, the movie focused on the relationship between a powerful gossip columnist and an unscrupulous press agent and has come to be considered a classic dissection of the underside of show business. In 2002, it served as the basis for a Broadway musical.
Enthralled by Broadway and its environs, the young Lehman wrote short stories and novellas. More than 50 of them were published by such publications as Esquire, Cosmopolitan, Colliers, Redbook and others.
Those credits prompted Paramount to offer Lehman a writing contract. His first movie credit was "Executive Suite," an insider's look at Wall Street. It was a success and Paramount called him to collaborate with Wilder on one of the studio's major productions, "Sabrina," the romantic comedy, starring Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn.
Although he became highly regarded as a adapter of stage plays, Lehman was in the distinct minority in Hollywood in his belief in the cinematic potential of Edward Albee's profane stage play "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" While most considered the play too dark, Lehman found a supporter in Warner Bros. executive Jack Warner. With Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor starring as the hardrinking professor and his foul-mouthed materialistic wife and Mike Nichols making his theatrical directorial debut, the movie, shot in black-and-white, went on to receive 13 Academy Award nominations, more than any other film that year, including two for Lehman as producer and writer.
Lehman stumbled, though, with his next effort, "Hello, Dolly!," where he again functioned as producer-writer. One of the most lavish musicals ever produced by 20th Century Fox, it received seven Academy Award nominations, but was regarded as an elphantine boxoffice disappointment.
Lehman directed one film, "Portnoy's Complaint," based on Philip Roth's best-selling novel. For that production, starring Richard Benjamin, he adapted the screenplay, directed and produced under his Chenault Prods. banner for Warner Bros.
Lehman essentially retired from his scriptwriting in 1979, His last project was a TV miniseries adaptation of the novel "The French Atlantic Affair." "Sabrina" was remade in 1995.
Throughout his retirement, Lehman has been active with AMPAS activities.
Lehman is survived by his wife, Laurie, and their son, Jonathan, as well as his sons Roger and Alan from his marriage to his late first wife, Jackie; his daughter-in-law, Julie; and two grandchildren, Adele and Jack.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be sent to the Writers Guild Foundation or the Motion Picture and Television Fund. A private memorial service will be held this Friday in Los Angeles.
This man was responsible for some of the best films to come out of the fifties and sixties. The first adaptation for radio (and the only one I ever finished and produced) I ever did was an adaptation of "Sweet Smell Of Success". For weeks I watched the movie, read the reprinted collection of stories that Lehman had written that the film was based on, and just revelled in that world. I have "North By Northwest" on dvd with his commentary and he sounds so nice when talking baout his experiences working on the film.
If you saw his acceptance speech for his Oscar a few years ago, you saw this niceness, too. It's ironic that the guy who came up with "I'd hate to take a bite of you, Sidney. You're a cookie full of arsenic." was such a mensch.