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Written by Donald Ogden Stewart
Remind Me

Donald Ogden Stewart Profile

Charming, witty and sophisticated, writer Donald Ogden Stewart lived a glamorous life straight out of one of his screenplays. Born in Ohio in 1894, he graduated from Yale, was a charter member of the famed Algonquin Round Table, partied with the group of American expatriates known as the Lost Generation in Paris in the 1920s (and was the model for a character in Hemingwayís novel The Sun Also Rises), acted in Broadway plays, wrote novels, plays and screenplays. In a biography of director and frequent Stewart collaborator George Cukor, Patrick McGilligan describes Stewart as ìone of the most beloved personalities of his era, universally admired, as thoroughly congenial and humorous in person as one of his scripts.î But Stewartís life of fame, wealth and privilege took a dark turn in the 1950s when his leftist politics left him blacklisted and unable to work.

At Yale Stewart met Philip Barry, who went on to write plays chronicling the lives of the rich. Barry wrote the part of Nick Potter, the carefree friend of the hero in Holiday with Stewart in mind, and Stewart played Nick in the original Broadway production in 1928, taking time off from writing satirical essays and novels to do so. Stewartís first screenplay was an adaptation of a novel and a play, Brown of Harvard (1926), and some of his most successful screenplays were adaptations, including two of Barryís plays, Holiday (1938) and The Philadelphia Story (1940), both directed by George Cukor, and both starring Katharine Hepburn. Stewart and Cukor met when both were working on films at Paramountís Astoria, New York studio, and Cukor asked Stewart to write a movie for stage actress Tallulah Bankhead. The film, Tarnished Lady (1931) was not a success, but the Stewart-Cukor combination was, and they made seven films together.

Stewart followed that original screenplay with a series of screen versions of plays that established him as Hollywoodís master of adaptation: Smiliní Thru (1932), a romantic fantasy based on Jane Cowlís play, for Norma Shearer; The White Sister (1933), starring Helen Hayes and Clark Gable; The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934), about the romance between poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, again for Shearer; No More Ladies (1935), a comedy of marital infidelity starring Joan Crawford; Holiday, and The Philadelphia Story. Stewart won an OscarÆ for the latter, and accepted it with his characteristic wit: ìThere has been so much niceness here tonight that I am happy to say I am entirely and solely responsible for the success of The Philadelphia Story.î The following year, he worked again with Cukor on A Womanís Face (1941), adapted from a French play which had been made into a Swedish film starring Ingrid Bergman. The film provided Joan Crawford with one of her best roles.

Throughout the 1930s, as fascism was rising in Europe, Stewart had become increasingly involved in politics. In 1936, he was one of the founders of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League. He also joined several left-wing organizations, including the American Communist Party and a group that supported the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. He was interested in a book to which MGM owned the film rights, Keeper of the Flame (1942), about a reporter who discovers that a recently-deceased war hero was actually a fascist, and persuaded Cukor to direct the film, starring Katharine Hepburn as the heroís widow, and Spencer Tracy as the reporter. MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer hated the film, but Stewart continued to work, penning another Hepburn-Tracy film, Without Love (1945), an adaptation of the stage hit Life with Father (1947), and his final film with George Cukor, Edward, My Son (1949), starring Tracy.

The latter film was made in England, and Stewart was grateful for the opportunity to escape Hollywood, where the House Un-American Activities Committeeís communist witch hunt was in full swing. Inevitably, in 1950, Stewartís name appeared on the blacklist of people in Hollywood who would not be allowed to work until cleared by the Committee. He and his second wife Ella Winter (the widow of activist writer Lincoln Steffens) refused to testify and moved to England permanently. Over the next decade, Stewart wrote for British television and used false names or took no credit when he wrote for films, including Roberto Rosselliniís Europa ë51 (1952), to which he contributed English dialogue; Escapade (1955), which he wrote under the name Gilbert Holland; Malaga (1960); and reportedly, Summertime (1955) and An Affair to Remember (1957), the remake of Love Affair (1939), which Stewart had co-written.

In 1974, Stewart published an autobiography, By a Stroke of Luck!. In the introduction, his friend Katharine Hepburn called him ìone of the great wits of the 20s, 30s and 40s,î and a man who is willing to pay the price of his own passionate beliefs.î Donald Ogden Stewart died in 1980, at the age of 85.

By Margarita Landazuri

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