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Robert Sterne

Robert Sterne

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This screenwriter does not have many credits on his resume, but Stewart Stern makes up for quantity with quality. His work shows a particular gift for intimate character studies of alienated people whose quiet suffering suddenly erupts. The native New Yorker worked as a stage actor before serving in the infantry in WWII. Upon return to civilian life, Stern switched his concentration to writing. His first film credit was as dialogue director on Anthony Mann's fine, low-budget film noir "Railroaded" (1947). Soon thereafter, Stern began writing for CBS's "Playhouse 90" before earning his first screenwriting credit on Fred Zinnemann's worthy 1951 drama "Teresa" (adapted from his story and co-written with Alfred Hayes).Stern's next film is perhaps his best-remembered, the quintessential teen "problem" flick, "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955), which rocketed James Dean to his brief stardom and set the look and angst quotient for teens of the era. A respectable Paul Newman drama, "The Rack" (1956, from a Rod Serling teleplay) and then the documentary "The James Dean Story" (1957) followed. Stern helped adapt the 1959 Russell Rouse script for "Thunder in the Sun," before writing one of Tony Curtis' most...

This screenwriter does not have many credits on his resume, but Stewart Stern makes up for quantity with quality. His work shows a particular gift for intimate character studies of alienated people whose quiet suffering suddenly erupts. The native New Yorker worked as a stage actor before serving in the infantry in WWII. Upon return to civilian life, Stern switched his concentration to writing. His first film credit was as dialogue director on Anthony Mann's fine, low-budget film noir "Railroaded" (1947). Soon thereafter, Stern began writing for CBS's "Playhouse 90" before earning his first screenwriting credit on Fred Zinnemann's worthy 1951 drama "Teresa" (adapted from his story and co-written with Alfred Hayes).

Stern's next film is perhaps his best-remembered, the quintessential teen "problem" flick, "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955), which rocketed James Dean to his brief stardom and set the look and angst quotient for teens of the era. A respectable Paul Newman drama, "The Rack" (1956, from a Rod Serling teleplay) and then the documentary "The James Dean Story" (1957) followed. Stern helped adapt the 1959 Russell Rouse script for "Thunder in the Sun," before writing one of Tony Curtis' most interesting star vehicles, "The Outsider" (1962), a biopic of a Native American soldier who helped raise the US flag at Iwo Jima during WWII. But his next real hit did not come until 1963 with "The Ugly American," a political drama he adapted from the novel by Eugene Burdick and William J. Lederer.

Five years passed before Stern's next film, Paul Newman's "Rachel, Rachel" (1968), featuring Joanne Woodward's tour-de-force performance as a repressed schoolteacher. His subsequent ventures, however, were not as well appreciated in their day, even though "Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams" (1973), which continued his collaboration with Woodward, was a focused, intelligent drama. Stern's other effort from the period, Dennis Hopper's incredibly bizarre, indulgent and endlessly self-reflexive Western, "The Last Movie" (1971), was not just ignored--it was critically savaged at the time. More recently, its endless barrage of provocative, experimentally presented, if sometimes half-baked, ideas have led to a newfound respect for the film.

Stern's career in features was undoubtedly hurt by the failure of "The Last Movie," but he was able to continue his work in TV. The highly successful NBC miniseries "Sybil" (1976), with Woodward as a psychiatrist treating the sixteen faces of schizophrenic Sally Field, won him an Emmy, and "A Christmas to Remember" (CBS, 1978), though somewhat cloying, was certainly heartfelt. Although Stern has been inactive as a screenwriter since the 1980s, he has proved a lively, intelligent and articulate interview subject in the documentaries "Stelle Emigrante" (1983) and "The Celluloid Closet" (1996).

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