Screen­writer co-wrote ‘Hud’ with wife

Los Angeles Times - - Obituaries - Den­nis McLel­lan den­nis.mclel­lan@latimes.com

Irv­ing Ravetch, a two-time Academy Award­nom­i­nated screen­writer — for “Hud” and “Norma Rae,” writ­ten with his wife and col­lab­o­ra­tor, Harriet Frank Jr. — has died. He was 89.

Ravetch died Sun­day of pneu­mo­nia at Cedars-Si­nai Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Los An­ge­les, said his nephew Michael Frank.

In a screen­writ­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion that be­gan with the 1958 film “The Long, Hot Sum­mer,” Ravetch and Frank wrote the scripts for more than a dozen other films, in­clud­ing “The Sound and the Fury,” “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs,” “Hom­bre,” “The Reivers,” “The Cow­boys,” “Con­rack,” “Mur­phy’s Ro­mance” and “Stan­ley & Iris.”

They shared Os­car nom­i­na­tions in 1964 for their screen­plays for “Hud,” a drama set in mod­ern Texas and star­ring Paul New­man as the ruth­less son of an el­derly rancher, and in 1980 for “Norma Rae,” a drama star­ring Sally Field in her Os­car­win­ning role as an im­pas­sioned South­ern union or­ga­nizer.

“Irv­ing Ravetch was an ex­quis­ite writer,” Field said in a state­ment to The Times. “He was a gen­tle man with a quick wit, a won­der­ful sense of hu­mor and a pro­found sense of honor. I re­gret that I did not get to hug him one more time. He was a gem.”

Eight of the Ravetch-Frank Jr. screen­plays, in­clud­ing “Hud” and “Norma Rae,” were di­rected by the late Martin Ritt.

“I don’t know of any bet­ter screen­writ­ers than Irv­ing Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr.,” Ritt said in the fore­word to the 1988 book “Hud, Norma Rae and the Long, Hot Sum­mer: Three Screen­plays by Irv­ing Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr.”

‘You can’t get more skilled or in­sight­ful or com­pas­sion­ate than they are.’

Mark Ry­dell, ‘Reivers’ di­rec­tor

“They are ab­so­lutely the best, on ev­ery level,” said Ritt. “I’ve en­joyed col­lab­o­rat­ing with them, and I know that we’ve done work as good as any that has been done in Hollywood.”

Mark Ry­dell, who di­rected “The Reivers” and “The Cow­boys,” told The Times on Tues­day that he had “the great­est rev­er­ence” for Ravetch, who “was not only a screen­writer but a teacher and taught me many things I needed to know.”

“The first thing I did for them was their adap­ta­tion of Wil­liam Faulkner’s ‘The Reivers,’ ” re­called Ry­dell. “I didn’t change a word; that’s how bril­liant their screen­play was.

“It was so thrilling to be ex­posed to Irv­ing and Harriet, who are, in a sense, the deans of Amer­i­can screen­writ­ing. You can’t get more skilled or in­sight­ful or com­pas­sion­ate than they are.”

In 1988, Ravetch and Frank Jr. re­ceived the Screen Lau­rel Award for life­time achieve­ment from the Writ­ers Guild of Amer­ica, West.

Ravetch was born in Ne­wark, N.J., on Nov. 14, 1920. His fa­ther, a phar­ma­cist who be­came a rabbi, was an im­mi­grant from Rus­sia; and his mother, a teacher of He­brew, was born in what is now Is­rael.

Suf­fer­ing from se­vere asthma as a child and prone to get­ting pneu­mo­nia ev­ery win­ter, Ravetch was sent to live with an aunt in Los An­ge­les in 1930. His fam­ily did not join him un­til sev­eral years later.

He at­tended Long Beach City Col­lege and grad­u­ated from UCLA, where he ma­jored in English lit­er­a­ture. Be­cause of his asthma, he served only briefly in the Army dur­ing World War II.

Ravetch was writ­ing short sub­jects at MGM in 1945 when he met Frank in the ju­nior writ­ing pro­gram at the stu­dio, where her mother was a story edi­tor. Im­me­di­ately taken with Frank, Ravetch paid the man in the of­fice next to hers $50 to give Ravetch his of­fice.

They were mar­ried in 1946 and main­tained sep­a­rate writ­ing ca­reers dur­ing the early years of their mar­riage. Dur­ing that time, Ravetch also wrote plays in an at­tempt to launch a ca­reer on Broad­way that, he later said, “bombed fe­ro­ciously.”

Ravetch and Frank be­gan their col­lab­o­ra­tion by co-writ­ing the story for the 1955 Ran­dolph Scott western “Ten Wanted Men.”

In a 1979 in­ter­view with The Times, Frank said she and her hus­band had “a line-for-line col­lab­o­ra­tion,” one that be­gan with weeks of talk­ing ev­ery­thing out, tak­ing notes and speak­ing ev­ery line.

“I know writ­ers who work sep­a­rately and then get to­gether later on — in fact, that’s the usual way — but that de­stroys the point of col­lab­o­ra­tion,” Ravetch said. “When we come to a tan­gle, we can stop un­til it’s worked out.”

Added Frank: “We have two en­er­gies work­ing. But you can’t col­lab­o­rate un­less the re­sult is seam­less. Of course, we have dis­agree­ments, but they be­come a pro­fes­sional, not a per­sonal, thing.”

They en­joyed their work­ing re­la­tion­ship.

“A mar­riage that serves a col­lab­o­ra­tion has got to be good and vice versa,” said Frank.

“It was a very good de­ci­sion to work to­gether,” said Ravetch. “Have I told you that, dear?”

“Yes, ev­ery day,” said Frank.

In ad­di­tion to his wife of 63 years, Ravetch is sur­vived by his sis­ter, Merona Ravetch Frank; and his brother, Her­bert Ravetch.

Ser­vices will be pri­vate.

GREAT TEAM

Irv­ing Ravetch with his wife of 63 years and screen­writ­ing part­ner Harriet Frank Jr. Their col­lab­o­ra­tion

be­gan in 1958 and in­cluded Os­car nom­i­na­tions for the scripts for “Hud” and “Norma Rae.”

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