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Overview for James Lee Barrett
James Lee Barrett

James Lee Barrett



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Also Known As: Died: October 15, 1989
Born: November 19, 1929 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Charlotte, North Carolina, USA Profession: Writer ... screenwriter librettist producer


This prolific film and TV writer's work often reflected his Southern roots and salt-of-the earth American values. Barrett received his greatest recognition for "Shenandoah," the story of a Virginian family trying to stay out of the fighting during the Civil War. First presented as a 1965 feature film starring James Stewart, the story provided the basis for a Broadway musical starring John Cullum in 1974. Barrett won a Tony Award for the book of the latter. He began writing after a stint in the Marine Corps, selling his first teleplay, "The Awakening Land," a story of an independent pioneer woman, to producer Stanley Kramer. His first produced screenplay, "The D.I.," starred Jack Webb and focused on Marine basic training. In 1965, besides "Shenendoah," Barrett received credit for scripting "The Greatest Story Ever Told" for director George Stevens in which John Wayne played a Roman centurion supervising the crucifixion of Christ. Wayne subsequently hired Barrett to write the 1968 feature "The Green Berets," a salute to the elite forces in Vietnam. James Stewart again performed Barrett's dialogue in light western "The Cheyenne Social Club" (1970) and Burt Reynolds did the same for the raucous hit "Smokey and the Bandit" (1977).

Although Barrett had some early TV credits, he did not begin working in the medium in earnest until the late 70s. He adapted the short story "Stubby Pringle's Christmas" for NBC in 1978. Also that year, Elizabeth Montgomery starred in the NBC miniseries version of "The Awakening Land," based on the Conrad Richter stories. Montgomery also starred in Barrett's teleplay of "Belle Starr" (CBS, 1980), about the western legend. He wrote the 1986 TV remake of "The Defiant Ones," as well as the story of the Lexington uprising that started the Revolutionary War in "April Morning," a 1988 Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation for CBS.

The 80s also marked Barrett's turning to TV series work. He created the NBC series "Our House," which starred Wilford Brimley as a crusty old man who takes in his widowed daughter-in-law and her three kids despite his cantankerous nature. The series ran from 1986-88 against "60 Minutes" on CBS. In 1988, Barrett wrote the TV-movie pilot for "In the Heat of the Night," adapted from the feature film, which became a long-running vehicle for Carroll O'Connor. But Barrett never got to see it succeed, as he passed away in 1989. Yet, in 1996, Showtime produced his script "Ruby Jean and Joe" starring Tom Selleck as a rodeo rider traveling with an young African American woman.

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