Screening of The Front with blacklisted screenwriter Walter Bernstein

28 Mar

Wednesday, March 30th


Gaylord Auditorium

Screenwriter Walter Bernstein will be on the University of Oklahoma campus on Wednesday, March 30th to participate in a free, public event titled “The Hollywood Blacklist, the Movies, and the Making of The Front:  An Evening With Screenwriter Walter Bernstein.”  Bernstein, who wrote The Front based on his own experiences as a blacklisted screenwriter and the experiences of others he knew, will introduce the film and then participate in a question-and-answer session following the screening at 7:30pm on Wednesday, March 30 in Gaylord Auditorium.

The Front stars Woody Allen as a bookmaker who ends up “fronting” for some friends who are writers and who can no longer work under their own names because they have been accused of Communist affiliation.  It was one of the first features to deal with the Hollywood blacklist and to exploit for dramatic effect the fact that so many of the people involved in its making were themselves blacklisted.  Besides Bernstein, other well-known blacklisted names whose stories are a part of this film include the film’s director, Martin Ritt, and many of the film’s actors, such as Zero Mostel and Herschel Bernardi.  Bernstein was nominated for an Academy Award for the script.

Born in Brooklyn in the shadow of Ebbetts Field, Bernstein says he was consequently condemned to a hopeless passion for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1940, he began publishing fiction in The New Yorker. Drafted into the Army in 1941, he served first in the infantry and then as a correspondent for the G. I. weekly magazine Yank, in which capacity he was the first correspondent to interview Marshal Tito behind German lines in Yugoslavia.  During this time he also reported on the war for The New Yorker.  These essays were later collected in a book, Keep Your Head Down, published by Viking.

After the War, Bernstein wrote for television, the new industry competing with Hollywood, contributing teleplays to such pioneering shows as “Studio One,” “Philco Playhouse” and “Robert Montgomery Presents.” In 1947, he finally went to Hollywood and worked on two movies, All The Kings Men and the Burt Lancaster thriller, Kiss The Blood Off Your Hands (1948). According to Bernstein, when he returned to New York, it was just “in time to be blacklisted from 1950 to 1958 in films and to 1961 in television.”  It was during this period that he wrote numerous TV shows under pseudonyms and “fronts,” including material for Walter Cronkite’s “You Are There” with fellow blacklistees Abraham Polonsky and Arnold Manoff. It is the experience of these years that is the foundation for the screenplay of The Front.

The first film that Bernstein wrote under his own name after being cleared from the blacklist was That Kind Of Woman (1959), directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Sophia Loren.  Since then, his writing credits include another film directed by Lumet, Fail Safe (1964).   When it was remade as a live television presentation with George Clooney, Bernstein did the teleplay and was co-executive producer.  He was an uncredited contributer to The Magnificent Seven in 1960, but received credit for Heller In Pink Tights that year.  Some of Bernstein’s other films include Paris Blues (1961), The Money Trap (1965), The Molly Maguires (1970), Semi-Tough (1978), Yanks (1979), and The House on Carroll Street (1988). In 1980 he both wrote and directed Little Miss Marker with Walter Matthau and Julie Andrews.

Bernstein also continues to work in television.  During the 1990s he wrote “Doomsday Gun” and “Miss Evers’ Boys,” about the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, both for HBO.  “Miss Evers’ Boys” won an Emmy for best picture of l997.  In 1999, he did “Durango” for the Hallmark Hall of Fame and he has recently completed the “Simple” stories of Langston Hughes for Laurence Fishburne and HBO. Also for HBO and their series, “Women and Men,” he wrote and directed “Return to Kansas City” with Matt Dillon and Kyra Sedgwick.

Bernstein is the recipient of the Writers Guild of America-East Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Gotham Award for Writers from the Independent Film Project, the Hudson Valley Film Festival Screenwriting Award, and the Nantucket Film festival Award.

In addition to writing full-time, Walter Bernstein is also an adjunct professor of screenwriting at New York University and Columbia University and creative adviser at Robert Redford’s Sundance Screenwriting Lab and Great Britain’s Moonstone Screenwriting Workshop. In 1996, his memoir of war, movies, and the blacklist, Inside Out, was published by Knopf.

Bernstein’s visit is part of a Presidential Dream Course on the Hollywood blacklist taught by Professors Victoria Sturtevant of the Film & Video Studies Program and Joanna E. Rapf of the English Department.

For accommodations on the basis of disability or for more information on Bernstein’s presentation, call Film and Video Studies at  (405) 325-3020.



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