Edward Anhalt, 1914-2000
Academy Award winning screenwriter Edward Anhalt, who scripted over 40 films encompassing a broad range of themes, died September 3rd, 2000 in Los Angeles, California. Anhalt, whose 1964 film "Becket" earned Oscars for himself and the late Sir John Geilgud, was 86 years old.
Born March 28th, 1914 in New York City, Edward Anhalt attended the Columbia School of Journalism. A writer who reputedly loved the product of his craft but hated the process, Anhalt originally began his career as a producer in the experimental days of broadcast television. Following the success of his first screenplay for the motion picture "Strange Voyage", an adventure story released in 1945, Anhalt turned his efforts to writing for the Hollywood studio system.
Anhalt's 1950 film noir, "Panic in the Streets" starring Richard Widmark as a doctor trying to help police capture a plague-infected killer before he can pass on the disease to others gave Anhalt a box office hit with a big star, and a bigger reward: his first Oscar. Co-written with his first wife, Edna Anhalt, the film that also starred Jack Palance and Zero Mostel paved the way for the husband and wife team's "The Sniper", a grim study of a serial killer starring Richard Kiley and Adolphe Menjou. "The Sniper" was nominated for a 1952 Academy Award, and while it proved Edward and Edna Anhalt a wonderful writing team, the marriage ended in divorce. Anhalt went on undaunted to other loves (he was married a total of 5 times) and to write a total of more than 40 films.
The 1950s were a turbulent time in Hollywood, though Anhalt enjoyed more freedom in his writing after departing from the Studio System and becoming a free agent. Openly critical of the "blacklisting" practice rampant in Hollywood during the McCarthy trials, Anhalt watched many colleagues ousted from the business or forced to write without credits as "enemies of the industry" or were targeted for charges of Communist sympathies and promoting "Un-American" ideas in their work. Anhalt was one of the few high-profile writers of the era to emerge from the McCarthy proceedings unscathed, and while he may have been critical of the anti-communist censure, his body of work at the time revealed him to be critical, but cautious.
The 1960s proved Anhalt to be a master of the star-vehicle script, and he was responsible for tailoring material to actors like Angie Dickinson (The Sins of Rachel Cade) and Elvis Presley (Girls! Girls! Girls!). Anhalt was an exceptionally flexible writer, easily moving from period drama, like his Oscar-winner, "Becket", to 1960s farce with the Jerry Lewis-Tony Curtis comedy "Boeing, Boeing" and thrillers like the tense "The Boston Strangler", which starred Henry Fonda in a story based on the infamous Albert DeSalvo serial killings. In the 1970s, Anhalt was able to weave more personal and obvious themes into his work, as evidenced by "Jeremiah Johnson", in which a man pitted against nature ultimately learns more about his own nature.
Anhalt shifted between film and television projects throughout the 1980s and his last project, the TV movie "The Take" marked his retirement in 1990 after 45 years of film writing. Diagnosed with cancer in 1996, Edward Anhalt battled multiple myeloma for 4 years before passing away quietly at his Pacific Palisades home September 2nd, 2000. Edward Anhalt is survived by his daughter, Julie Anhalt Rice.