Thursday, July 14, 2005

Evan Hunter AKA Ed McBain

It seems that July 2005 has not been a particularly good month for Alfred Hitchcock's screenwriters. Ernest Lehman, who wrote North by Northwest died this month. Now another man who wrote one of Hitchcock's movies has died as well. Evan Hunter, also known by his pen name Ed McBain, died July 6, 2005, of larnyx cancer at the age of 78. Among other things, Hunter wrote the screenplay for the classic Hitchcock horror movie The Birds, although he is perhaps better known for his series of 87th Precinct novels, which he wrote under the pen name "Ed McBain."

Evan Hunter was born as Salvatore Albert Lombino in New York City. He served in the Navy during World War II, which was when he also took up writing. In 1952, feeling that publishers were biased against writers with foreign sounding names, he changed his name to "Evan Hunter." His breakthrough novel was The Blackboard Jungle, drawn on experiences from his own life. It would be made into the motion picture of the same name in 1955. His greatest success, however, would come with the series of 87th Precinct novels, which he wrote under the pen name "Ed McBain." The series centred on a police precinct in New York City, focusing on both police work and the personal lives of the police themselves. In some respects the series was a forerunner of the police procedurals so popular today. The first novel in the series was Cop Hater, published in 1956. The final 87th Precinct novel, Fiddlers, is set for release this September.

Although best known for his 87th Precinct novels, Hunter covered a number of different genres with his works. His novel Streets of Gold focused on an Italian American family. He even wrote a Western, The Chisholms. Hunter is perhaps unique as being one of the few writers to co-write a novel with himself. Candyland was credited to "Evan Hunter" and "Ed McBain." The first half, written by Hunter, was a character study. The second half, written by McBain, covered a murder investigation.

Hunter saw several of his works adapted as movies and for television, and he also wrote screenplays and teleplays. The Ed McBain short story "The Deadly Tatoo" was adapted for an episode of Climax in 1954. He also wrote two episodes for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Hunter would later write episodes of both Ironside and Columbo, as well as adapting The Chisholms as a miniseries. Hunter broke into screenwriting with an adaptation of his novel Strangers When We Met in 1960. He would write the screenplay for The Birds and also worked on Marnie before Hitchcock abruptly replaced him.

Evan Hunter has been one of my favourite writers for many years. Indeed, as "Ed McBain" he was probably my sister's favourite writer of all time (I swear she has read every single 87th Precinct novel). Whether writing as Hunter, McBain, or another one of his many pen names, Evan Hunter had a gift for realistic characters. This can be seen in the 87th Precinct series, in which the detectives of the precinct are not simple cardboard cutouts, but complex characters with their own beliefs and motivations. Hunter also had a gift for creating realistic settings. In the 87th Precinct novels, the city of Isola (which is pretty much New York) is as much a character as any of the precinct. The strength of Hunter's settings can also be seen in his other works, from The Blackboard Jungle to The Chisholms.

I must say that I am truly saddened by Evan Hunter's death. He was one of the best and most prolific writers of the late 20th Century. His work has had a lasting impact. The 87th Precinct series helped shape the police procedural genre. The Blackboard Jungle brought new levels of realism to the portrayal of youth in fiction. Evan Hunter has had a lasting influence that only a few of his contemporaries can boast.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Local Grocery Store

Yesterday I had to walk downtown and stop by the bank to get change to get a soda from the machine at the car wash (it was hot and I really didn't feel like running down to the convenience store). Unfortunately, we only have Pepsi machines downtown (odd, as Coke outsells Pepsi around here) and it was out of everything except Diet Pepsi. There was a time when I could have simply walked from my house to a grocery store, bought a soda there, and been home within ten minutes.

At one time Huntsville had no less than two grocery stores downtown. One was Summer's, where my parents often shopped. The other was Temple Stephens. Both stores were in many respects the same. They were both long and narrow, with a bin up front for the soda bottles one would return for the deposit in those days. Not being particularly large, they didn't carry the selections in food and other goods that a supermarket would, although they did carry the basics. At the two stores one could buy milk, eggs, meat, soda, and other neccessities.

Unfortunately, Summer's burned down. I seem to recall that was in the late Seventies, although it might have been the early Eighties. Temple Stephens simply shut down in the mid-Eighties. Like many small grocers, I suspect that they simply could not complete with the larger supermarkets. Supermarkets spread like wildfire throughout the United States in the mid-Twentieth Century. They carried a much wider array of goods than the small, local grocers did, often at competitve prices. It is little wonder that many of the small, neighbourhood grocers then closed in the mid to late Twentieth Century.

I must say that in some ways I find this sad. While I don't know about other places, it seems to me that in Randolph County, the supermarkets aren't always conveniently located. In Moberly most of the supermarkets were on Morley Street--Business 63 (also known as "the Magic Mile," it is the town's "strip"). The exceptions to this were Krogers, which was located on Reed Street (which is the main street of the town), Van's, which was located on Concannon Street (right amidst a residential neighbourhood), and Save More (formerly Safeway and Food Barn), which is located on South Morely (again, right amidst a residential neighbourhood). Krogers closed down when I was about five years old. Van's closed down many, many years ago, leaving Save More as the only neighbourhood supermarket. In fact, the only other place to buy groceries in Moberly now is the WalMart Supercenter. Here in Huntsville our local supermarket is out on the edge of town--it takes about five minutes to drive there from my house! It's too far to walk in anything less than forty minutes or more.

At any rate, it seems to me that in small, local grocers closing, it actually decreased the convenience with which one could buy groceries. In some respects, people in Huntsville and Moberly are lucky in that we really don't have that far to drive to a supermarket. I remember when my brother lived in Columbia. The nearest supermarket was a ten to fifteen minute drive away (okay, I know people in larger cities are laughing at this, but ten to fifteen minutes is a long drive in a smaller city....)! Unfortunately, I seriously doubt that we will ever see small, local grocery stores ever reopening, even in small towns. The sad fact is that they could not possibly compete with the supermarkets, and especially not with such places as WalMart Supercenters and other similar stores. As sad as it may be, it seems to me that the small, local grocery is always going to be a memory from a bygone era.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Elvan Queen

Today I don't have too much time to be online. Rather than writing a whole entry, then, I thought I would simply publish another one of my poems. I wrote this one last year.

Anyhow, I must apologise to those who don't care too much for my poetry. I never have professed to be a good poet....

It was in a wood so very dark
that I saw the elvan queen.
She was so beautiful she stole my heart,
the fairest maid I have seen.

I wondered if I should approach her
and delcare undying love,
but my legs would not take me to her.
I was paralysed with love.

Then she turned her green eyes to me
and spoke as if in song.
It seemed as if she was in love with me.
I hoped that I was not wrong.

I went up to her on undsteady feet
and slowly granted her a kiss.
It was then that my heart skipped a beat,
the heart that I would surely miss.

She took me away to her elvan home,
where I have since spent my days.
Happy together and never alone,
in love for the rest of our days.

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.