Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Screenwriter and Author Peter Viertel Passes On

Peter Viertel, who collaborated on the screenplay for Beat the Devil and wrote the novel White Hunter Black Heart died at the age of 86 on November 4 from lymphoma.

Peter Viertel was born in Dresden, Germany on November 16, 1920. His parents were writer Berthold Viertel (who wrote the screenplays for such films as Nora and Man Trouble and actress Salka Viertel (who appeared in the films Anna Karenina and Queen Christina). It was in 1928 that his parents moved the family to California. As a youngster Viertel was exposed to the rich and famous in Hollywood. During World War II Viertel served in the Marines in an office position and later worked with the O.S.S. in Europe.

Viertel broke into film as a screenwriter by co-writing the movie Saboteur, directed by Alfred Hitchcock himself. He went onto write or co-write the screenplays for The Hard Way, We Were Strangers, Decision Before Dawn, The African Queen, Beat the Devil, and The Old Man and the Sea.

Of course, Viertel also had a career as a writer of books. He sold his first book, The Canyon (a novel about youth in California) in 1940. He would go onto write such novels as Line of Departure, Love Lies Bleeding, Bicycle on the Beach, and American Skin. He drew upon his experiences on the movie The African Queen for his novel White Hunter Black Heart. The novel, like the 1990 movie based upon it, dealt with a director who becomes more obsessed with hunting than shooting the film upon which he was working. In all, Viertel wrote 9 novels.

Peter Viertel was a talented writer who produced classics in both the cinema and literature. His novel White Hunter Black Heart is a classic in 20th century literature. And there can be no argument that The African Queen and Beat the Devil are not classic films. He was a man who excelled in two different media, a feat only accomplished by a few. It is sad to know that he has passed.

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