Ernest Lehman

Ernest Lehman

That year began his association with Robert Wise on the screenplay for "Executive Suite," and their collaboration continued with "Somebody Up There Likes Me" (1956) through the acclaimed musicals "West Side Story" (1961) and "The Sound of Music" (1965). Nominated four times for Academy Awards for Best Screenplay, he received his first nod for his work with Billy Wilder on "Sabrina" (1954). Though he would never win an Oscar, Lehman was honored with five Writers Guild of America awards for his screenplays, and he served as that organization's president from 1983-85. Lehman wrote perhaps his finest screenplay, "North by Northwest" (1959), for Alfred Hitchcock. A sublime mix of farce, chase and layered character, its final scenes on Mount Rushmore make it one of Hitchcock's most memorable movies. When the two of them tried to repeat the success of that classic comic thriller in Hitchcock's final movie "Family Plot" (1976), they fell a bit short, though it did give the Old Master a chance to coast along tongue-in-cheek and display his formidable directing skills one last time. Lehman's other multiple collaborations were with Mark Robson ("From the Terrace" 1960 and "The Prize" 1963) and with John Frankenheimer, who directed a Rod Serling adaptation of a Lehman novelette, "The Comedian" (1957), for "Playhouse 90" and shared screenwriting credit on "Black Sunday" (1976). The astonishing success of "The Sound of Music" enabled Lehman to land the job of writer-producer for Mike Nichols' "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966) which resulted in one last Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay and a Writers Guild of America Award. He wrote and produced the overblown, critically disparaged "Hello, Dolly!" (1969) and added director to that list for "Portnoy's Complaint" (1972), a resounding failure which nipped his directing career in the bud. He published two novels, "The French Atlantic Affair" (1977) and "Farewell Performance" (1983), "Screening Sickness" (1981), a collection of writings on the cinema, and worked as a writer on the 1987, 1988 and 1990 Academy Award shows.Regrettably, Ernest Lehman stopped writing scripts before turning 60, at least none have reached the screen. His reputation does not rest solely on the smart, funny and beautifully constructed screenplays that hold up to this day like "Sabrina," "Sweet Smell of Success," "North by Northwest" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? ." He also displayed a remarkable talent for bringing the stage musical to the screen. Lehman learned to leave the sound stage, taking full advantage of the streets, and his movie musicals, particularly "The King and I" (1956), "West Side Story" and "The Sound of Music" are a big part of his legacy.