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W. R. Burnett

W. R. Burnett

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Also Known As: William Riley Burnett, John Monahan, James Updyke, William Riley Burnett Died: April 25, 1982
Born: November 25, 1899 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Springfield, Ohio, USA Profession: screenwriter, novelist, hotel desk clerk, statistician

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

A highly-prolific author whose novels and short stories provided the basis for numerous films ranging from the gangster classic "Little Caesar" (1930) to the Western "Dark Command" (1940), W R Burnett also adapted his own work for film (e.g., "High Sierra" 1941) and wrote original screenplays, both alone and in collaboration (e.g., "This Gun for Hire" 1942, "The Great Escape" 1963).A former government statistician, Burnett settled in Chicago at the height of Prohibition and penned his first novel "Little Caesar" in 1929. A veiled study of the rise and fall of a mobster who bore a passing resemblance to Al Capone, the novel was an success as was the screen version starring Edward G Robinson. Books and stories with Burnett's by-line were almost a guaranteed sale to Hollywood (not unlike John Grisham and Stephen King in the late 20th Century), and eventually the writer turned to penning his own scripts for Tinseltown. Not only were the villains in Burnett novels revealed in full human texture--something little seen in melodramas--but also the characters of the cops and other urban authority figures were often idiosyncratic and full-bodied, His storytelling practically created the Warner Bros. gangster...

A highly-prolific author whose novels and short stories provided the basis for numerous films ranging from the gangster classic "Little Caesar" (1930) to the Western "Dark Command" (1940), W R Burnett also adapted his own work for film (e.g., "High Sierra" 1941) and wrote original screenplays, both alone and in collaboration (e.g., "This Gun for Hire" 1942, "The Great Escape" 1963).

A former government statistician, Burnett settled in Chicago at the height of Prohibition and penned his first novel "Little Caesar" in 1929. A veiled study of the rise and fall of a mobster who bore a passing resemblance to Al Capone, the novel was an success as was the screen version starring Edward G Robinson. Books and stories with Burnett's by-line were almost a guaranteed sale to Hollywood (not unlike John Grisham and Stephen King in the late 20th Century), and eventually the writer turned to penning his own scripts for Tinseltown. Not only were the villains in Burnett novels revealed in full human texture--something little seen in melodramas--but also the characters of the cops and other urban authority figures were often idiosyncratic and full-bodied, His storytelling practically created the Warner Bros. gangster cycle of the 1930s, reaching a high point with his contributions to the dialogue of "Scarface" (1932). "High Sierra" (1941), adapted from his own novel, offered Humphrey Bogart one of his signature villains and "This Gun for Hire" (1942) brought Alan Ladd to the forefront as a hit man seeking revenge.

With the advent of World War II, gangster films lessened in popularity so Burnett turned to writing or co-writing dramas about men in combat situations. He and co-writer Frank Butler shared an Academy Award nomination for their original screenplay of "Wake Island" (1942), a gripping drama about American troops fighting to maintain control of the titular Pacific island at the outbreak of WWII. He went on to collaborate on "Crash Dive" and "Action in the North Atlantic" (both 1943), among others. Following the war, Burnett turned to Westerns (e.g., "San Antonio" 1946; "Belle Starr's Daughter" 1948) and then returned to form with the film noir "The Racket" (1951). He added a dose of humor to the action genre with "Sergeants Three" (1962), a loose remake of "Gunga Din" with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr before penning his final credited screenplay, 1963's tense "The Great Escape," based on the largest escape of Allied POWs in World War II and featuring a star-making turn by Steve McQueen.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

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Milestones close milestones

1927:
Moved to Chicago
1928:
Began writing crime fiction
1929:
Published first novel, "Little Caesar", loosely inspired by the life of Al Capone; filmed in 1930 with Edward G Robinson in title role
1932:
Credited with adaptation and dialogue for Howard Hawks' "Scarface"
1942:
First original screenplay (co-written with Frank Butler), "Wake Island"; received Oscar nomination
1945:
Penned the script for "San Antonio"
1951:
Wrote script for "The Racket"
1959:
TV debut as a writer, "The Untouchables"
1960:
Final TV credit as a writer, the ABC series "Naked City"
1963:
Final screenplay credit, "The Great Escape"
:
Reportedly did uncredited work on the scripts for "Ice Station Zebra" and "Stileto"
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Education

Ohio State University: Columbus , Ohio -
Miami Military Academy: Miami , Florida -

Notes

Burnett also wrote episodes of the TV series "The Untouchables" (set in 1920s Chicago) and "Naked City".

Bibliography close complete biography

"Little Caesar" Lincoln McVeagh/Dial
"The Silver Eagle" McVeagh/Dial
"Giant Swing" Harper & Brothers
"Iron Man" McVeagh/Dial
"'Saint' Johnson" McVeagh/Dial
"Dark Hazard" Harper & Brothers
"Goodbye to the Past: Scenes from the Life of William Meadows" Harper & Brothers
"The Goodhues of Sinking Creek" Harper & Brothers
"King Cole" Harper & Brothers
"The Dark Command: A Kansas Iliad" Alfred A. Knopf
"High Sierra" Alfred A. Knopf
"The Quick Brown Fox" Alfred A. Knopf
"Nobody Lives Forever" Alfred A. Knopf
"Tomorrow's Another Day" Alfred A. Knopf
"Romelle" Alfred A. Knopf
"The Asphalt Jungle" Alfred A. Knopf
"Stretch Dawson" Gold Medal
"Little Men, Big World" Alfred A. Knopf
"Vanity Row" Alfred A. Knopf
"Adobe Walls: A Novel of the Last Apache Rising" Alfred A. Knopf
"Big Stan" Gold Medal
"Captain Lightfoot" Alfred A. Knopf
"It's Always Four O'Clock" Random House
"Pale Moon" Alfred A. Knopf
"Underdog" Alfred A. Knopf
"Bitter Ground" Alfred A. Knopf
"Mi Amigo: A Novel of the Southwest" Alfred A. Knopf
"Conant" Popular Library
"Round the Clock at Volari's" Gold Medal
"The Goldseekers" Doubleday
"The Widow Barony" Macdonald
"The Abilene Samson" Pocket Books
"Sergeants 3" Pocket Books
"The Roar of the Crowd: Conversations With an Ex-Big Leaguer" C.N. Potter
"The Winning of Mickey Free" Bantam Books
"The Cool Man" Gold Medal
"Goodbye, Chicago, 1928, End of an Era" St. Martin's Press
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