Ernest Lehman, a six-time Oscar nominee whose screenwriting and production credits include such classics as “North by Northwest,” “West Side Story” and “The Sound of Music,” has died. He was 89.
Lehman died Saturday at University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center from an undisclosed illness, according to a statement posted Tuesday on the Web site of the Writers Guild of America, West.
Guild president Daniel Petrie Jr. lauded Lehman as “a creative giant among writers and within the industry” for his work on a host of famous movie and musical scripts.
“Adept at tackling a wide range of genres, his unforgettable contributions to the craft of screenwriting helped define what we’ve come to know as American film,” Petrie said.
Lehman’s career began in 1954 with “Executive Suite,” and went on to span a variety of genres. He received four Academy Award nominations for screenwriting — for “North by Northwest,” “West Side Story,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “Sabrina” — and two Oscar nominations as a producer, for “Hello, Dolly!” and “Virginia Woolf.”
Among Lehman’s other screenwriting credits are “Sweet Smell of Success,” “The King and I,” “From the Terrace,” “The Prize,” “Hello, Dolly!,” “Portnoy’s Complaint” and “Black Sunday.”
Lehman, who received five Writers Guild of America awards and nine WGA nominations, received the guild’s prestigious Screen Laurel Award in 1972.
In 2001, he became the first screenwriter to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Upon accepting his honorary Oscar in 2001, Lehman told the audience:
“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.”
Born in New York, Lehman studied creative writing at City College of New York before working as a copywriter for a Broadway theater publicist, an experience he tapped in writing his novella and the screenplay for “Sweet Smell of Success.”
He sold his first story, “Double-Cross,” to Liberty magazine in 1943 and spent the next 10 years writing stories, novellas and radio comedy, and editing a financial magazine. After his short story “The Comedian” appeared in Collier’s in 1953, he was brought to Hollywood by Paramount.
Lehman is survived by his wife, Laurie; their son, Jonathan; and his sons Roger and Alan, from his late first wife, Jackie; and two grandchildren.