REMEMBERING STEWART STERN (1922-2015)

Stewart Stern

Over the years, when asked about his script for REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, Stewart Stern often stated that his favorite moment in the film occurs just before the famed “Chickie Run.”  Jim, the film’s hero, shares a cigarette with Buzz, his challenger in the run.  Buzz’s interaction with Jim up to this point has included everything from vicious taunts to a knife fight, yet he suddenly turns to Jim and says “I like you, you know?”  Jim, understandably confused, refers to the dangerous game about to take place and asks “What are we doing this for?”  Buzz’s reply is simple perfection: “You got to do something.”

“One of the things I wanted to show in REBEL is that underneath all the bullshit macho defense, there was that pure drive for affection, and it didn’t matter who the recipient might be,” Stern later said, when interviewed for Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE.  While films such as BLACKBOARD JUNGLE and THE WILD ONE had started the cinematic trend toward focusing on youth and juvenile delinquency, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE was the first film to treat the subject as more than a social problem, to try to get inside the skin of its characters.  It’s a misleading title, because Stern is all about understanding these teens and the familial situations that drive them to act out.  Rather than letting REBEL’s juvenile delinquents be defined by violence, the script carefully balances scenes of knife fights and chickie runs with sensitive, revealing exchanges like the one mentioned above.

Stewart Stern’s scripts are full of such moments.  He favored confused, vulnerable, inarticulate characters and he knew how to depict their struggles compassionately.  His work in both film and television included RACHEL, RACHEL, THE UGLY AMERICAN, SYBIL, and THE OUTSIDER.  Stern passed away on February 2 at the age of 92.  To celebrate his life and his work, we’re posting an interview with him from November 21, 2012, which was conducted as part of our oral history series, THE WRITER SPEAKS:

Screenwriting was just part of Stewart Stern’s long, rich life.  You can learn more about Stern’s incredible legacy from the Writer’s Guild of America, West’s tribute found here.

Writing About Writers: The First Ever History of the Guild

Congratulations to Miranda Banks, assistant professor of visual and media arts at Emerson College, on the release of her book The Writers: A History of American Screenwriters and Their Guild. This marks the first published history of the Writers Guild of America and is based on painstaking research conducted in the Writers Guild Foundation archive and library over the last six years. If you’re curious about “the thorny tale of the union that has represented [writers] for more than eighty years,” we’re proudly displaying our copy in the library for your perusal. Congratulations, Miranda!

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Remembering Ann Marcus (1921-2014)

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On December 3, Ann Marcus, award winning co-creator and head writer of MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN, passed away. A Writer’s Guild member since 1961, Marcus wrote for everything from LASSIE to PEYTON PLACE. You can learn more about Ann Marcus’ astoundingly prolific career from the Writer’s Guild of America, West’s wonderful tribute found here.

As a way to remember Ann Marcus’ singular contribution to the world of television, we leave you with this passage from the pilot episode of MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN. Enjoy.

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There are eight million stories in the Naked City. We have 59 of them.

Stark location shooting on the streets of New York City. Ripped from the headlines scenarios written so well that the show attracts a staggering list of prestigious actors as guest stars. Emmy nominations in nearly every category for setting a standard of excellence in police procedurals. Can you name that show?

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Before you guess LAW & ORDER and get “The Clang” stuck in your head, let’s jump back several decades to find the real answer. From 1958 to 1963, ABC aired a groundbreaking crime drama that would serve as a template for every police show to follow, LAW & ORDER included. Shot on location in New York City, NAKED CITY brought gritty realism and moral ambiguity to television. The show was also known for its outstanding writing, due in no small part to Howard Rodman, veteran television writer and future Laurel Award winner, who was brought in as story editor when the series evolved into an hour-long show.

Thanks to a generous donation from the Rodman family, our archive now contains a beautifully bound 10 volume collection of 59 scripts from NAKED CITY’s run.  In addition to serving as story editor, Rodman had a hand in writing 26 episodes, including the highly regarded “Sweet Prince of Delancey Street” included in this collection.  The Howard Rodman collection is on display and available to view in our library, so stop by for a look at the police procedural that started it all.

I Love Lucy: A Brief History with Bob Carroll Jr. and Madelyn Pugh Davis

For over 50 years, Bob Carroll Jr. and Madelyn Pugh Davis were a writing team, collaborating on roughly 400 television episodes and 500 radio episodes. Though they wrote for such stars as Steve Allen, Paul Lynde, Eve Arden, and Kaye Ballard, the two are best known for their work on the groundbreaking sitcom I LOVE LUCY. Carroll and Davis developed what would become the LUCY pilot after writing for Lucille Ball on her radio show, MY FAVORITE HUSBAND. Together they wrote over 120 LUCY episodes. They’re responsible for many of the show’s iconic episodes, from “Job Switching, in which Lucy and Ethel have a disastrous day of work at a candy factory, to “Lucy Goes to the Hospital,” in which Little Ricky is born. The pair were not only writers on the show, they’re credited with the development of Lucy as a character, and the two went on to write for Ball on THE LUCY SHOW, HERE’S LUCY, THE LUCY-DESI COMEDY HOUR, and LIFE WITH LUCY.

Here are Carroll and Davis discussing their long career together as part of THE WRITER SPEAKS, our oral history series documenting the life stories of film and television writers in the 20th century.

Bonus: Below are three pages from a draft of the Season 4 episode “Hollywood at Last,” one of many episodes written by Carroll and Pugh set during the characters’ trip to California. In this scene, Lucy, Ethel and Fred go to The Brown Derby, ostensibly to eat lunch but really to spot celebrities. This famous episode culminates in an encounter between Lucy, William Holden and a melting putty nose.

 

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Screenplay 101: COOL HAND LUKE

 Francesca Baird is the UCLA MIAS intern in the WGF Archive.

The titular character of COOL HAND LUKE is a man of few words. As written in the screenplay by Donn Pearce and Frank Pierson (based on Pearce’s novel of the same name) Luke stoically goes about his business, inspiring his fellow prisoners through his actions more than his words. In the early scenes of the film, Luke remains a mystery: an intelligent, charismatic war hero who one day decided to get drunk and destroy municipal property, leading to his arrest. There’s little indication as to why Luke is the way he is until his invalid mother, Arletta, rolls up in the back of a truck for Visiting Day at the prison.

ARLETTA
You think life is some kind of ocean voyage and you start
out with buntin’ and hollerin’ and high hopes, but the
damn ship goes down before you ever reach the other side.

This bit of dialogue, taken from a draft dated 9/29/66, doesn’t exist in the film. It doesn’t need to, lovely as it is, because Arletta manages to communicate the same sentiment to Luke in much simpler terms. This graceful brevity is one of many reasons that COOL HAND LUKE is number 82 on WGA’s List of 101 Greatest Screenplays. It’s amazing how much back-story Pearce and Pierson manage to fit into this brief scene between Luke and his mother. The viewer learns about Luke’s childhood, the absence of his father, and his mother’s ambivalent feelings toward Luke and his brother, John. What could have been overwrought is instead written in a way that’s both moving and understated, revealing all the viewer needs to know about the man seen cutting the heads off of parking meters at the start of the film. These 5 pages of the draft expose the conflict in Luke, a man who simultaneously feels the need to follow his mother’s way of life-“free and aboveboard”- but also the burden of expectation that comes with that mother’s love.

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Here’s the deal: Throughout 2014, we’re posting pages from every script on the WGA’s list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays, as chosen by Guild membership, because we have every one in our library. Sure, we have other scripts that didn’t make it onto the list, either because they didn’t make the cut or because they were produced after the list was generated (presumably SHARKNADO, which we totally have a copy of, is only in the latter category).