Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Screenwrier John Michael Hayes Passes On

Screenwriter John Michael Hayes, who worked with Hitchcock on Rear Window and The Trouble With Harry, passed on November 19 at the age of 89.

John Michael Hayes was born on May 11, 1919 in Worcester, Massachusetts. As a boy he contributed news articles on the local Boy Scouts to The Worcester Telegram and later Worcester's Evening Gazette. As still very young he work write articles for the Associated Press. He graduated from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst with a degree in business in 1941. He also for wrote for radio for the Crosley Corporation in Cincinnati, Ohio. During World War II he served in the United States Army.

After World War II Hayes took up residence in California. Initially he worked once more in radio, writing for such shows as Inner Sanctum Mysteries, My Favourite Husband, The Adventures of Sam Spade, Alias Jane Doe, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

With a successful career in radio, Hayes was signed to a contract by Universal-International Pictures. He received his first screen credit on Budd Boetticher's Red Ball Express. He would go on to write three more movies before his first collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock, on Rear Window, released in 1954. Considered one of Hitchcock's greatest films, Rear Window featured Jimmy Stewart as a photographer with a broken leg who comes to believe that a neighbour across the street has committed murder. The screenplay won an Edgar Award in 1955. Hayes was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing, Screenplay for the film. Hayes would go onto work with Hitchcock on three more films, including To Catch a Thief, the 1956 version of To Catch a Thief, and the comedy classic The Trouble with Harry. Hayes and Hitchcock parted ways after the director hired Angus MacPhail to help write the screenplay and insisted MacPhail also get screen credit. Hayes rejected this and even took the argument to Writer's Guild arbitration (who decided in his favour). Afterwards, he never worked with Hitchcock again.

Hayes would go onto write several notable films, including Peyton Place, The Children's Hour, The Carpetbaggers, and Nevada Smith. He also produced and wrote for the 1975 TV series Nevada Smith. In the Nineties, after many years away from screenwriting, he wrote his last film, Iron Will, released in 1994. Besides Rear Window, he was also nominated for Best Writing, Screenplay for Peyton Place, and nominated for WGA awards for Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, and Peyton Place.

Hayes was not particularly prolific, but he was one of the best screenwriters of his era. It was not simply Hitchcock's direction that made Rear Window and The Trouble with Harry such great movies. Hayes had a gift for slightly offbeat characters (such as Stewart's L. B. Jefferies from Rear Window and the entire population of the small town in Vermont in The Trouble with Harry) and extremely witty dialogue. And he was very versatile, ranging from thrillers such as Rear Window to soap operas such as Peyton Place to Westerns such as Nevada Smith. Other screenwriters may have surpassed Hayes in the number of the screenplays they wrote, but not many matched him when it came to the quality of his work.

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