The Lehman legacy
"Silly, only grown-up men are scared of women!"
That’s my favorite quote from one of my favorite movies. Duane Chase (playing a boy named Kurt) said it, but Ernest Lehman wrote it.
The movie? The Sound of Music.
Not a big fan of the schmaltzy Julie Andrews movie about nuns and Nazis?
The King and I…or…
West Side Story?
Not a fan of musicals?
How about Sabrina?
Not a fan of fluffy movies?
North By Northwest?
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Ernest Lehman wrote the screenplays for all of them.* He died on Saturday at the age of 89.
I suspect that most people won’t know that unless they’re film buffs or otherwise pay attention to the writing credits for movies. I considered myself a film fan and I’d seen three of those movies, but the name "Ernest Lehman" didn’t stick in my brain until a number of years ago, when I read Charmian Carr’s autobiography (as any The Sound of Music fan knows, she played Liesl in the film). Lehman appeared often in her book, which I recommend to anyone interested in films/film history — especially, of course, SOM fans. Around that time, I also listened to Lehman’s interesting audio interview included among the special Sound of Music DVD supplements. And last year, I listened to his running commentary on the DVD for North By Northwest (which had an original screenplay), and felt like I’d spent a lovely afternoon with him while listening to his insights and asides. From those accounts, and from the films he wrote or adapted, he seemed like an amazingly talented, funny and friendly guy. I have no doubt that he was witty — his writing demonstrates that well.
Lehman left behind a diverse and prestigious mark in film and cultural history. (He even has a connection to tech history, thanks to Photo Matt and his first — and now default — WordPress plugin, Hello Dolly.) I can’t think of any current screenwriters who are responsible for such a range of revered and successful movies. I’ll have to check out the rest of the films he worked on. A few of his own print stories were adapted by other writers and produced for the screen.
In 2001, he received an Oscar "in appreciation of a body of varied and enduring work." It was the first honorary Oscar bestowed to a screenwriter. During his speech at the awards ceremony, Lehman said:
I accept this rarest of honors on behalf of screenwriters everywhere, but especially those in the Writers Guild of America. We have suffered anonymity far too often. I appeal to all movie critics and feature writers to please always bear in mind that a film production begins and ends with a screenplay.
However, this glorious night is demonstrating that film belongs to many — to the creators of original works, to superbly talented actors, directors, producers and to gifted collaborators. Had it not been for all of them, I certainly would not be up here having one of the most exciting nights in a long lifetime.
You have my admiration, Mr. Lehman.
[*He shared the writing credit for Sabrina with Billy Wilder and Samuel A. Taylor.]