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Ernest Lehman Biography: New!

Ernest who? That was his big complaint, that writers for the movies never get their due. And most people have seen at least ONE of Lehman’s movies, and probably more.

Ernest Lehman was a New York short story writer who went to Hollywood in the 1950s. He wrote lots of famous screenplays. Have you seen The King and I? Have you seen West Side Story? How about The Sound of Music? He wrote those.

Lehman’s great skill was adapting stories, musicals and plays for the big screen. The only original screenplay Lehman wrote was North by Northwest — probably the most popular Alfred Hitchcock movie there is. Critics won’t say it’s the best (Vertigo), and maybe it’s not even the most famous (Psycho), but in some ways, it’s the perfect Hitchcock movie. Certainly a crowd-pleaser, it has great cinematic sequences as well as a wealth of deeper meanings to be unearthed.

For my money, one of Ernest Lehman’s best scripts is Sweet Smell of Success, the 1957 movie with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. Such wicked dialogue! The movie was based on Lehman’s own novella, but he shares credit with playwright Clifford Odets, who rewrote the movie when Lehman became ill. It’s hard to say who did what on that script.

Here’s a good little scene from the movie, a movie you should see if you haven’t:

Even though Ernest Lehman is, appropriately, remembered as a Hollywood writer, the truth is he lived to be almost 90, and only spent about 25 years in the movie business. For the first 15 years of his professional career, he was chasing Manhattan gossip and writing short stories. For the last 30 years of his career, he was writing novels and doing what he could to get recognition for screenwriters. 

Oh, and he had a second romance, after his wife died in 1994. He remarried in 1997, and in 2002 — his 87th year — he fathered a son.

To read more, go to the Who2 biography of Ernest Lehman.

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