Monday, July 11, 2005

North by Northwest Screenwriter Passes On

The man who wrote the screenplays for Sabrina, North by Northwest, and other classic films has passed on. Ernest Lehman died at the age of 89 on Saturday, July 2.

Lehman was born to a wealthy family in New York City on December 8, 1915. He attended the College of the City of New York. Following college he launched his career as a freelance writer, writing for both radio and a theatrical publicist. Eventually, he would have novellas and short stories published in such magazines as Colliers, Cosmopolitan, and Redbook. One of his novelettes, The Comedian, would be adapted for an episode of Playhouse 90 in 1956. Lehman broke into screenwriting when he adapted the novel Executive Suite for the movie of the same name, released in 1948. It would be his next screenplay that would establish Lehman as one of the top screenwriters of his generation. He co-wrote the screenplay for Sabrina, the classic 1954 film directed by Billy Wilder. Over the years Lehman would write the screenplays for several more classic films, among them North by Northwest, The King and I, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Lehman directed Portnoy's Complaint in 1972, as well as wrote the screenplay. He also co-wrote three Academy Awards ceremonies. He also produced films, starting with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1966.

Lehman was nominated for an Oscar for his screenwriting four times, for Sabrina, North by Northwest, West Side Story, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. He lost all four times, but was given an honourary Oscar in 2001 for Lifetime Achievement.

I have to say that Ernest Lehman was one of my favourite screenwriters, having written three of my all time favourite films: Sabrina, North by Northwest, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. In fact, he seems to have had a gift for dialogue. The exchanges between Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina and Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest are priceless. Lehman was also versatile. He worked in romantic comedy (Sabrina), suspense (North by Northwest), drama (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf), and musicals (The King and I). Very few screenwriters can lay claim to having worked in as many genres as he did. He was certainly one of the greats.

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