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The Last Word on Film: TOH! Remembers the Writers the Film Community Lost in 2013

Thompson on Hollywood By TOH! | Thompson on Hollywood December 27, 2013 at 11:00AM

As the final installment in our "TOH! Remembers" series, our contributors look back at the writers the film community lost in 2013, from critic Roger Ebert, to novelists Elmore Leonard and Richard Matheson, and more.
Elmore Leonard

Who: Elmore Leonard

Born: 1925

Died: 2013

Known for: Terse and witty dialogue in exquisitely-crafted novels and screenplays.

Career Breakout: In Westerns, the story for "3:10 to Yuma" in 1957; in crime, "Get Shorty" in 1995.

High Points: Barry Sonnenfeld's comedy blockbuster "Get Shorty," starring Gene Hackman and John Travolta, and Steven Soderbergh's noir thriller "Out of Sight,"starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, as well as the well-reviewed hardboiled cable series "Justified," based on his stories.

Low Point: Continued to work as ad copywriter while churning out Western short stories

Yes, It's True: Born in Louisiana, he lived in Detroit from the age of 9 and never lived anywhere else, despite becoming rich and famous (hence known as "the Dickens of Detroit"); picked up lifelong nickname "Dutch" (after pitcher Dutch Leonard) when he served as a Seabee for 3 years in the South Pacific. --Meredith Brody

Richard Matheson

Who: Richard Matheson

Born: February 20, 1926

Died: June 23, 2013

Known For: His 1954 book “I Am Legend” about a pandemic which turns humans into something resembling zombies.  It has been made into movies four times – as “The Last Man on Earth” (1964), “The Omega Man” (1971), “I Am Legend” (2007) and “I Am Omega,” a straight-to-video production that same year.  In addition, George Romero gave Matheson’s novel credit as the inspiration for his 1968 movie, “Night of the Living Dead.”

Career Breakout: His 1956 novel “The Shrinking Man” allowed him to become a screenwriter when it was turned into the movie “The Incredible Shrinking Man” a year later..  “I figured it would be easier if I had something they wanted,” Matheson said in an interview.  I sold the novel with the stipulation that I write the script.”

High Point: Writing 16 episodes of the “Twilight Zone” television series between 1959 and 1964, including the 1963 episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” in which William Shatner as an airline passenger recovering from a nervous breakdown is taunted by a wing-walking gremlin who can be seen by no one else.  A part of popular culture, the episode has been parodied a dozen times including a The Simpsons episode, “Terror at 5 ½ Feet” that takes place on a school bus.

Low Point: His nomination for a Razzie Award for Worst Screenplay for “Jaws 3-D.”

Yes, it’s True: Both Stephen King and Steven Spielberg have something to thank Matheson for.  King has said “I Was Legend” was one of the things that inspired his choice of career.  Spielberg’s first television movie, “Duel,” (1971)  about a motorist’s desperate attempt to survive when he is pursued by the unseen driver of a huge truck, was written by Matheson.--Aljean Harmetz

Alan Sharp

Who:  Alan Sharp

Born: 1934

Died: 2013

Known for: Beautifully-crafted, witty, erudite screenplays, often of the muscular western noir variety. 

Career Breakout: Peter Fonda's 1971 follow-up to "Easy Rider," "The Hired Hand," co-starring Fonda and Warren Oates;  and Robert Aldrich western "Ulzana's Raid" (1972), starring Burt Lancaster.

High Points: Arthur Penn's iconic private eye thriller "Night Moves" (1975), starring Gene Hackman and Melanie Griffith, and Michael Caton-Jones' 1995 Highland outlaw epic "Rob Roy," starring Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange.

Low Points: After "Rob Roy," Sharp kept writing well into his mid-70's, mostly for television; he was one of the eldest working members of the Writers Guild. After penning Sam Peckinpah's last film, 1983 thriller "The Osterman Weekend," Sharp's final feature was "Dean Spanley," a New Zealand picture starring Peter O'Toole and Jeremy Northam that was never released theatrically stateside. 

Yes, It's True: Once married to Dame Beryl Bainbridge, the man some called "the quintessential American screenwriter" was born in Scotland and emigrated to LA in his thirties. --Meredith Brody


This article is related to: Features, Obit, Roger Ebert (1942-2013), Elmore Leonard

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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.