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  • Edward Lewis RIP

    Edward Lewis, film producer who by hiring blacklisted writers such as Dalton Trumbo changed attitudes in McCarthy-era Hollywood – obituary



    Kirk Douglas, Edward Lewis and (writer and producer) Martin Rackin on the set of Seven Days in May Year in 1964
    CREDIT: ALAMY
    26 AUGUST 2019 • 6:10PM

    Edward Lewis, who has died aged 99, was a film producer whose exceptional run of credits from the 1960s onwards may be less significant than the place he inhabits in Hollywood history.

    For his third feature-length production, Spartacus (1960), Lewis hired the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who had been blacklisted by the entertainment industry for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Affairs Committee 13 years before. Lewis agreed to serve as Trumbo’s “front” – the creative whose name would grace the script pages turned in to the project’s backers, Universal.

    Sharper eyes may have spotted evidence of subversion in the film’s rousing climax, in which the hero’s fellow slaves defy their Roman interrogators, each in turn claiming the identity of the fugitive Spartacus. Yet the behind-the-scenes masquerade continued for much of the shoot’s duration.


    Edward Lewis and Kirk Douglas receiving the Freedom of Expression Medal in Westwood, California, 2004
    CREDIT: MIKE FANOUS/GAMMA-RAPHO VIA GETTY IMAGES

    In his 2012 memoir I Am Spartacus: Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist, the star Kirk Douglas suggested that Lewis found it tricky to maintain the pretence: “Every time Eddie Lewis told someone he was writing Spartacus, it embarrassed him.”

    But only when the film was well into production – making it hard for the heavily invested studio to pull the plug – did Lewis reveal his screenwriter’s identity, insisting that Trumbo be given full credit and salary.

    Universal’s acquiescence led to protests, yet on its 1960 release, Spartacus was hailed as a triumph, going on to win four Oscars, a Golden Globe, offhand approval from the newly inaugurated John F Kennedy (“it was fine”) and a lasting place in the cinematic canon.

    More importantly, however, the film’s success changed the way the industry perceived those who had been blacklisted. After writing Otto Preminger’s Exodus (1960), Trumbo was rehired by Lewis – this time without the need for subterfuge – to write the Universal-released The Last Sunset (1961) and Lonely Are the Brave (1962).

    In return, Trumbo presented his former front with a copy of his novel Johnny Got His Gun bearing the inscription “To Eddie Lewis – who risked his name to help a man who’d lost his name.”

    Edward Lewis was born in Camden, New Jersey, on December 16 1919 to furniture maker Max Lewis and his wife Florence (née Kline). He was a restless youth but eventually served as a US Army captain in England during the Second World War.

    After the war, he moved to Los Angeles, and met, and in 1946 married, Mildred Gerchik. According to their children, it was Mildred, whose mother was an activist and whose brother had fought in the Spanish Civil War, who nudged Edward’s politics Leftwards.

    After trying unsuccessfully to set up an organisation to house returning veterans, the pair were inspired by friends to write a screenplay: the resulting adaptation of Balzac’s The Lovable Cheat (1949) was not especially well received, but it succeeded in carrying them into the entertainment sector.

    Edward served an apprenticeship in television before joining Douglas’s Bryna Productions in 1956, claiming: “I couldn’t make a living as a writer, so I became a producer".


    Kirk Douglas as Spartacus: the film contained gently subversive messages
    CREDIT: MOVIESTORE COLLECTION/REX

    After Spartacus, he worked consistently for two decades, producing many of the director John Frankenheimer’s strongest films, among them the Cold War thriller Seven Days in May (1964), the cult science fiction Seconds (1966) and a four-hour adaptation of The Iceman Cometh (1973) starring Lee Marvin.

    Politics remained central to Lewis’s work. He resumed his writing career with Brothers (1977), about the relationship between the black activist Angela Davis and the jailed Black Panther Geoffrey Jackson.

    Then he produced Costa-Gavras’s Palme d’Or-winning Missing (1982), on the 1973 Chilean coup. After overseeing the wildly successful miniseries The Thorn Birds (1983), Lewis’s final production was the Oscar-nominated farmland drama, The River (1984).

    In retirement, Lewis wrote fiction and several plays. In a 1987 Los Angeles Times piece promoting his musical The Good Life, he mused on its protagonist: “[He’s] a man who’s principled, believes in things — and at 70, remains a militant, optimistic person… And, you know, that’s been the theme of my own life. I’m bothered by the cynicism and negativity everywhere today. I’m an optimist; I believe there can be a good life.”

    Edward Lewis’s wife Mildred died in April and he is survived by two daughters.

    Edward Lewis, born December 16 1919, died July 27 2019
    Last edited by Maurice; 27th August 2019, 05:42 AM.

  • #2
    R.I.P.

    An excellent producer, particularly his work with director John Frankenheimer.

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