film meme » four screenwriters [3/4]: Ernest Lehman
Ernest Lehman who was the first noted writer consciously to pursue screenwriting as his main vocation may have been Hollywood´s most successful practitioner ever.
His four best known films represent a remarkable range: the 1959 Alfred Hitchcock espionage thriller North By Northwest, an original screenplay; the saccharine musical and box-office record breaker, The Sound Of Music (1965); the pitiless study of a ruthless New York columnist, Sweet Smell Of Success (1957), from his own novella; and the acerbic marital catfight, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1966), based on Edward Albee’s play and starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
Throughout his screen work, Lehman maintained a finely crafted fidelity to a good story, and that became his hallmark. Yet despite four best screenplay Oscar nominations and the record for awards from the Writers’ Guild, he only received an Oscar in his 85th year - for lifetime achievement (the Academy’s consolation prize).
He also worked on a major MGM release, Executive Suite, which came out in 1954 with an all-star cast including William Holden, June Allyson, Barbara Stanwyck, Frederic March, Walter Pidgeon and Shelley Winters. It was directed by Robert Wise and its success sealed Lehman’s own for his first screenwriting effort. Sabrina, with Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn, and directed by the great Billy Wilder, quickly followed. Over the next 20 years Lehman worked for almost every studio, and four times for Wise. Their partnership in The Sound Of Music actually rescued Fox from impending bankruptcy when it became a global hit in 1965.
From the mid-1950s Lehman wrote screenplays for the Siam musical, The King And I (1956), an enormous success that made a lifetime’s career for Yul Brynner; the New York gang musical West Side Story (1961), based on Romeo and Juliet; the Barbra Streisand musical, Hello Dolly! (1969); the screen autobiography of New York boxer Rocky Graziano, Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), which launched Paul Newman’s career; an adaptation of John O’Hara’s novel, From The Terrace (1960), also with Paul Newman; and in 1972, an adaptation of Philip Roth’s then scandalous novel, Portnoy’s Complaint. [x]dn