National Post (Latest Edition)
Screenwriter turned his blacklisting into a film
Project earned him an oscar nomination
walter bernstein, who has died aged 101, was a screenwriter blacklisted in the Mccarthyite 1950s because of his communist links, an experience he drew on in his script for Martin ritt’s film the Front (1977), for which he won an oscar nomination.
In the film, woody Allen plays Howard Prince, a smalltime cashier of little talent who agrees to be a “front”, giving his name to scripts written by blacklisted screenwriters — but ends up attracting the attention of the House Committee on un-american Activities himself.
Many of the “blacklistees” were not communists at all, though bernstein, who was born in brooklyn on Aug. 20, 1919, to Louis and Hannah bernstein, immigrants from eastern europe, was.
After school, he enrolled in a short language course at the university of Grenoble, where he mixed with young communist intellectuals. back in the u.s., he attended dartmouth College, reviewing films for the student newspaper and contributing to the new yorker.
during the second world war he served as a correspondent for the u.s. army journal yank, scoring a scoop in May 1944 when, having been smuggled into yugoslavia by anti-german partisans, he became the first western correspondent to interview the partisan leader Josep broz, known as tito.
bernstein had an aunt who worked for the Communist Party, and when he returned to the u.s. she asked him to talk to some fellow party members who wanted to know about tito. He joined the party after the war.
In 1947 bernstein landed a contract with Columbia Pictures, where he did uncredited scriptwriting on All the King’s Men. He earned his first credit on Kiss the blood off My Hands, a film noir starring burt Lancaster and Joan Fontaine, the next year.
by this time the House un-american Activities Committee was up and running, and after his name surfaced, the invitations dried up.
For the next few years, like other blacklisted writers, bernstein worked under an assumed name for filmmakers like sidney Lumet. once the “red scare” had abated he returned to screenwriting under his own name in that Kind of woman (1959), with sophia Loren. From then on he remained busy. His memoir Inside out, was published in 1996.
bernstein died Jan. 23.