Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Ninety Reasons to Keep Going

It's been a year for screenwriters turning ninety. Back in February, I was supposed to interview Stewart Stern, the writer of Rebel Without a Cause (and many other great movies), but he was busy teaching and traveling. Then he turned 90 years of age (DOB: March 22, 1922), and the whole thing got lost in traffic.

For those who don't know, Stewart Stern is descended from the two families (Zukor and Loewe) who, in the beginning, controlled the Paramount and MGM studios. As a child he made up part of the household audience for impromptu entertainments by dinner guests, such as Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks. At College he studied Play Writing with Marion Galloway, who had taught Tennessee Williams.

He went from College to the Army (notably fighting in the Battle of the Bulge), to being Missing In Action, to working as an actor in New York. Then he took up writing. 

Stewart Stern with Brian McDonald, the screenwriting teacher.
Most famously, he wrote the screenplays for Rebel Without A Cause and The Ugly American. He also wrote the screenplay for Teresa (Academy Award nomination), Rachel, Rachel (Academy Award nomination), The Ugly American, The Last Movie, and the Oscar-winning documentary Benjy. In addition to being twice nominated for an Academy Award, Stern has won a Writers Guild Award (nominated four times), an Emmy (A Christmas to Remember), and a Peabody (Sybil). 

The point is that the guy is ninety years old and still going strong. Take a look at the following home movie, shot by Roddy McDowell at Malibu in 1965. It shows Stewart Stern with Christopher Plummer, Sal Mineo, Natalie Wood, Juliet Mills, Tuesday Weld, Jack Warden, and others.

Stewart Stern first appears 13 seconds into the film. He is the guy on the right, with the black T-shirt, receding hair line and dark hair, who laughs at the sight of the camera. (Don't turn up the volume, there is no sound.

Our second ninety-year-old is William Froug. I was working on a review of his book, Screenwriting Tricks of the Trade, when I realised that he, too, had turned 90 years of age this year (DOB: May 26, 1922).

William Froug was born in Brooklyn, New York, adopted by a family in Little Rock, Arkansas, graduated from the University of Missouri, before enlisting in the U.S. Navy in 1943.

He is an Emmy award-winning American television writer and producer. Shows he worked on include: The Twilight Zone, Gilligan's Island, Bewitched, The Dick Powell Show, Charlie's Angels, and The New Twilight Zone.

Froug has also written numerous books on screenwriting, including Screenwriting Tricks of the Trade, Zen and the Art of Screenwriting (I and II), The Screenwriter Looks at the Screenwriter and How I Escaped from Gilligan's Island.

Froug founded the writing program at UCLA film school, and finished his teaching career with screenwriting workshops from 1994-1995 at Florida State University's film conservatory.
Norman Lear
Norman Lear also turned 90 years of age this year (DOB: July 27, 1922). 

Lear is an American television writer and producer, who created TV shows such as All in the Family and The Jeffersons, and produced movies like Stand By Me and The Princess Bride

He was born in New Haven, Connecticut, studied at Emerson College in Boston, but dropped out in 1942 to join the United States Army Air Forces as a radio operator/gunner on B-17 Flying Fortress bombers. He flew 52 combat missions before being discharged in 1945. 

Lear moved to California, where he pretended to be a reporter interviewing Danny Thomas, got Thomas’ phone number, and pitched him a routine about Yiddish words that had no English counterparts. Thomas wound up using the sketch, giving Lear his big break. He wrote for shows such as The Colgate Comedy Hour, The Martha Raye Show, The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, The Andy Williams Show, and All in the Family, before moving on to producing movies. 

Here's a clip of Norman Lear talking about how he got started as a writer.

Our fourth ninety-year-old is Carl Reiner (DOB: March 20, 1922). He was born in the Bronx, New York, and served with an entertainment unit during World War II, where he was often on the same bill as Glenn Miller

In 1949 he entered television, working on what would become Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows, where he acted and wrote comedy with Mel Brooks. In 1961, he developed the sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show  
Carl Reiner
Among his many movie roles, he played Glenn Ford's annoying neighbor in The Gazebo, the girl's father in Gidget Goes Hawaiian, the only un-panicked person in The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, and the oldest con man in Ocean's Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen with George Clooney and Brad Pitt    

He had a long and successful run as a screenwriter and director, writing and directing The Comic, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, and The Man with Two Brains. He directed Where's Poppa?, Oh God!, The One and Only, The Jerk, and All of Me   

Reiner has won five Emmys; two for Caesar's Hour, two for The Dick Van Dyke Show, and one for a guest appearance on Mad About You  

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Your blog is fantastic, Henry, you tie things together and identify links nobody had seen before.