Ernest Lehman, Screenwriter of "The Sound of Music" and "West Side Story," Dead at 89

Obituaries   Ernest Lehman, Screenwriter of "The Sound of Music" and "West Side Story," Dead at 89
Ernest Lehman, the screenwriter to helped expand The Sound of Music and West Side Story to the big screen, died July 2 in Los Angeles at the age of 89, according to The New York Times.
Ernest  Lehman
Ernest Lehman

His wife Laurie said the apparent cause of death was a heart attack.

Among Mr. Lehman's screenplay credits were "North by Northwest" and (with Clifford Odets) "Sweet Smell of Success." The latter was drawn from a novella ("Tell Me About It Tomorrow," 1950) he had written based on his experience working for famed press agent Irving Hoffman in Depression-era Manhattan. When the story was published in Cosmopolitan, people wildly assumed the tale of vengeful columnist J.J. Hunsecker and his toadying sidekick, press agent Sidney Falco, was about Walter Winchell. Lehman told Neal Gabler, author of a biography of Winchell, that his fellow press agents avoided him after that, for fear of Winchell's retribution. Hoffman, meanwhile, thought Falco was meant to be an unflattering portrait of him. Asked by the offended Hoffman why he had written the story, Lehman replied, "You made me write all those goddamned paragraphs for the Hollywood Reporter when all I had was time and what was left of my brain to write short stories."

The movie and novella also inspired a 2002 Broadway musical of the same name. He was one of the producers of the stage show.

Mr. Lehman was respected for his ability to adapt plays and musicals for the screen. Fans seem to agree that "The Sound of Music" is a more shapely piece of storytelling than its stage version, although the changes from stage to screen were surely also due to the fact that Richard Rodgers was still alive for its making and that director Robert Wise worked on the project.

Wise also directed Mr. Lehman's screenplay of "West Side Story," the storytelling of which is also slightly different than on stage (the order of musical numbers is changed, and one ballet was excised). Mr. Lehman also wrote screenplays of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The King and I" and Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (which he also produced).

For director Billy Wilder, he wrote the screenplay of "Sabrina." He also produced the films "Hello, Dolly!" and "Portnoy's Complaint" (which he directed).

In 2001, Mr. Lehman was the first screenwriter to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

As a screenwriter, Mr. Lehman was nominated for four Academy Awards — for "Sabrina," "North by Northwest," "West Side Story" and "Who's Afraid Virginia Woolf?" He was Oscar nominated as a producer for "Virginia Woolf" and "Hello, Dolly!"

Mr. Lehman was a Manhattan native raised in Woodmere, NY. After earning a bachelor's degree from City College, he was a freelance fiction writer.

According to The Times, Mr. Lehman's first wife, the former Jacqueline Shapiro, died in 1994. He is survived by his second wife, the former Laurie Sherman; two children from his first marriage: Roger, of Ho Chi Minh City, and Alan, of Manhattan; a son from his second marriage, Jonathan, of Los Angeles; and two grandchildren.

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