Stewart Stern Dies: ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ Screenwriter Was 92
UPDATED with more details: Stewart Stern, who wrote the screenplay for the James Dean classic Rebel Without A Cause and the 1976 miniseries Sybil, died February 2 in Seattle after a battle with cancer. He was 92. Stern was a two-time Oscar nominee — in 1952 for co-writing Teresa, his first screenplay, and in 1969 for Rachel, Rachel — and he won the Emmy for penning Sybil.
According to his family, Stern was “surrounded by the next generation of filmmakers and screenwriters he had mentored and inspired, as well as friends and family who came from all parts of the country for a two-week vigil before his death.”
Born into Hollywood royalty in 1922 — his uncle was Paramount Pictures founder Adolph Zukor – Stern graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Iowa and joined in the U.S. Army and won a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star at the Battle of the Bulge. Over a writing career that spanned three decades, his many film credits include The Outsider, starring Tony Curtis as the Native American war hero Ira Hayes; The Last Movie, the counter-culture classic co-written and directed by Dennis Hopper; The Ugly American, starring Marlon Brando, and Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams, starring Joanne Woodward, who appeared in both Rachel, Rachel and Sybil.
His TV writing credits include Playhouse 90 and TV movies A Christmas To Remember and The Glass Menagerie based on the Tennessee Williams play.
“Stewart Stern lived so many lives,” said WGA West VP Howard Rodman, one of the town’s great eulogists. “He was a great screenwriter, a tireless mentor, a WWII hero, an interlocutor with the primates at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, and a man possessed of greater generosity of spirit than most anyone I’ve ever met. He had such access to his feelings, and in his presence you had the same. In so many conversations I can recall having with him I ended up near tears – not in sorrow, but in recognition of the truths he so wisely and gently shared. This is the saddest thing. He was 92 but should have been with us forever.”
Stern also wrote the Benjy, made with his Teresa director Fred Zinnemann, which one the Documentary Short-Subject Oscar in 1951.
Stern’s script for Teresa — and a chance encounter at a party at Gene Kelly’s house with director Nicholas Ray — helped him land what would be his next assignment, the one for which he will always be remembered: Rebel Without A Cause, starring Dean and Natalie Wood.
“At the time, I was living in New York, and I’d come out to L.A. for Christmas vacation and was taken to Gene’s party by my cousin Arthur Loew Jr.,” he said in a 1999 interview with Michigan Quarterly Review’s William Baer. “Marilyn Monroe was there, and Nick Ray, Stanley Donen, Adolph Green, and Betty Comden, and others; the usual Gene Kelly crowd. At one point that night, as they were planning to play charades, Nick Ray, whom I’d never met before, came over and said that he’d seen my first film, Fred Zinnemann’s Teresa, and that he liked it very much. Then he said, ‘Maybe you’d like to come out to the studio and talk some time?’
“What I didn’t know was that Lenny Rosenman, who’d done the score for East of Eden, and who was a friend and roommate of Jimmy Dean’s in New York, had talked to Nick about me because Nick was having script problems with Rebel — which Irving Shulman was writing at the time. I also didn’t know that Jimmy, whom I’d only met a few days before the Kelly party, had also talked to Nick about me. So Nick got interested, screened Teresa, and decided to approach me at the party. Eventually, I went to Warner Brothers, talked things over with Nick, and was given the job.”
Starn was the subject of an upcoming documentary written and directed by Oscar-winning screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie.