Family & Companions
Despite charges of cheap emotional manipulation by critics, at his peak, writer-producer Ronald Bass was indisputably one of the most prolific, influential and highest-paid screenwriters in Hollywood history. A former entertainment attorney, Bass began his career as a screenplay writer after landing a deal to pen "Code Name: Emerald" (1985), an adaptation of an earlier novel he had written. This led to more work, including the script for Francis Ford Coppola's "Gardens of Stone" (1987). Bass' career turning point came with his screenplay for the Tom Cruise/Dustin Hoffman box office smash "Rain Man" (1988), for which he won an Oscar. Projects such as "The Joy Luck Club" (1993) and "Waiting to Exhale" (1995) not only established Bass as one of film's leading writers of strong female characters, but also marked his entry into the role of producer, allowing for more creative control and a larger share of the profits. After the success of the Julia Roberts films "My Best Friend's Wedding" (1997) and "Stepmom" (1998), Bass' track record faltered somewhat, however, he remained very much in demand as an un-credited "script doctor" on dozens of films, including "Memoirs of a Geisha" (2005) and "Soul Surfer" (2011). Contrary to the old axiom that unappreciated writers are at the bottom of the Hollywood ladder, trampled by the studio system, Bass embraced the established power structure and excelled to such a degree that it placed him at the very pinnacle in terms of longevity, financial remuneration and power.
Born Ronald Jay Bass on March 26, 1942 in Los Angeles, he first entertained the idea of becoming a writer at the age of six when he began crafting short stories while bedridden for several years, due to an unexplained illness. By the age of 17, he had written his first novel, but after being told by his English teacher that the material was too personal and would never be published, a distraught Bass burned the manuscript. He would not attempt to write again for another 15 years. In the meantime, he attended Stanford University, Yale, and later, Harvard Law School where he earned his law degree in 1967. As a means of living vicariously through his clients, Bass enter the field of entertainment law, where he did very well for himself, eventually rising to the level of partner. The writing bug, however, had not gone away, and he eventually returned to his abandoned novel, recreating it from memory and working in the pre-dawn hours before going to his office. Originally titled Voleur the book, now rechristened The Perfect Thief, was at last published in 1974. When well-known producer Jonathan Sanger optioned his third novel The Emerald Illusion, Bass used his legal savvy to ensure that he was part of the package, and co-scripted the film adaptation "Code Name: Emerald" (1985), a thoroughly routine WWII thriller starring Max von Sydow and Ed Harris. Although the film was never released theatrically, his original script was good enough to attract the interest of several film studios that began to hire his scripting services.
By this time, Bass had already abandoned his legal career to write two screenplays for Fox at $125,000 each. Though neither would make it to the screen, his scripts for Arthur Penn's father and son spy adventure, "Target" (1985), Bob Rafelson's femme fatale thriller "Black Widow" (1987), and Francis Ford Coppola's tribute to fallen soldiers, "Gardens of Stone" (1987), did. In collaboration with co-writer Barry Morrow, Bass enjoyed a career breakthrough in the form of critical and box office success with Barry Levinson's "Rain Man" (1988), for which he shared with Morrow the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. He landed another hit with the Julia Roberts battered-wife thriller "Sleeping With the Enemy" (1991) and collaborated with Amy Tan on the adaptation of her novel "The Joy Luck Club" (1993). Well received by audiences, the film also gave Bass his first producing credit. His commercial streak faltered somewhat with the comedy-drama "When a Man Loves a Woman" (1994), co-scripted with Al Franken and starring Meg Ryan as an alcoholic mother. However, Bass managed to right himself with the Michelle Pfeiffer social issue picture "Dangerous Minds" (1995), about a teacher struggling to reach her problem students. Bass finished out that year as executive producer on the eagerly awaited "Waiting to Exhale" (1995), which he adapted with novelist and fellow executive producer Terry McMillan. Like "The Joy Luck Club," the film told a culturally specific story of African-American women and the problems with their men. By now, many Hollywood pundits were crediting him with single-handedly inventing the "woman's picture" cycle of the 1990s.
After a sojourn in television, where he served as co-executive producer and creator of both the series version of "Dangerous Minds" (ABC, 1996-97) and the psychological crime drama "Moloney" (CBS, 1996-97), Bass returned to features with the comedy "My Best Friend's Wedding" (1997), a brittle and witty story about a restaurant critic (Julia Roberts) who schemes to break up the impending nuptials of her college beau (Dermot Mulroney). Test audiences persuaded Bass to make two important changes - Roberts had to properly atone for trying to steal Cameron Diaz's fiancé, and her gay friend George (Rupert Everett) had to return at movie's end because the surveys had indicated it was their relationship that mattered. The film was a box office hit, restoring luster to Roberts' star and earning critical raves for its somewhat subversive take on screwball comedies. He reteamed with McMillan for "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" (1998), though its box office success fell far short of "Waiting to Exhale," it was an enjoyable and positive portrayal of an African-American woman of a certain age (Angela Bassett) looking for love. After five previous writers had lent their talents to the project, Bass found himself once again scripting a picture for Julia Roberts with the family melodrama "Stepmom" (1998). For the powerhouse screenwriter, it was a match made in heaven, as his three most successful films at the time had all been Roberts vehicles. Next, Bass demonstrated his facility with nearly any genre by ably tackling Jon Amiel's "Entrapment" (1999), a slick crime caper starring Sean Connery and a lithe Catherine Zeta-Jones. Exhibiting impressive bandwidth, he kept his hand in television as co-writer of three TV movies that same year: "Swing Vote" (ABC, 1999), "Border Line" (NBC, 1999) and "Invisible Child" (Lifetime, 1999).
With the period mystery drama "Snow Falling on Cedars" (1999), Bass' string of surefire hits began to falter once again. After the critical drubbing and box office failure of "Passion of Mind" (2000), a tedious psychodrama starring Demi Moore, Bass spent the next few years as one of the busiest, highest paid, uncredited "script doctors" in Hollywood. His next project as writer and producer was on the barely-seen family tear-jerker "The Lazarus Child" (2005), for which he was reportedly paid $2 million to script and co-produce. The same year, Bass followed with the quirky romantic drama "Mozart and the Whale" (2005), starring Josh Harnett and Radha Mitchell as a young couple who both suffer from Asperger's syndrome. After a number of years without being officially attached to a major film, Bass resurfaced with "Amelia" (2009), a facile biopic tracing the years leading up to the fateful final flight of America's first lady of the skies, played by Hilary Swank. He followed with the historical drama "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" (2011), a tale about the bond between two girls in the male-dominated environment of 19th-century China, starring Hugh Jackman.
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Returned to the novel he wrote as a teen and began to rewrite the novel from memory
First novel published, "The Perfect Thief"
Quit practicing law when FOX signed him to write two scripts at $125,000 each; neither was ever produced
Feature debut as a screenwriter, "Code Name: Emerald"; adapted from his third novel, <i>The Emerald Illusion</i>
Wrote the screenplays for "Gardens of Stone" and "Black Widow"
Breakthrough screenplay, "Rain Man"; co-written with Barry Morrow
First picture starring Julia Roberts, "Sleeping with the Enemy"
Feature debut as a producer, "The Joy Luck Club"; also co-wrote script with Amy Tan
TV screenwriting debut, "The Enemy Within," an HBO remake of the 1964 feature "Seven Days in May"
Feature debut as executive producer, "When A Man Loves a Woman"; also co-scripted with Al Franken
First association with novelist-screenwriter Terry McMillan, "Waiting to Exhale"; executive produced and co-wrote script with McMillan
TV producing debut, "The Conversation" (NBC), also wrote the pilot based on the 1974 feature (aired only on Mountain Stations)
Received sole screenwriting credit on "Dangerous Minds," even though Elaine May was brought on by star Michelle Pfeiffer to essentially rewrite it
Served as co-executive producer and creator of the ABC series adaptation of "Dangerous Minds"
Served as creator and co-executive producer (with Stephen Cronish) of the CBS drama series "Moloney"
Signed three-year exclusive deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment
Scripted the comedy "My Best Friend's Wedding", starring Julia Roberts
Re-teamed with McMillan for "How Stella Got Her Groove Back"
Executive produced and scripted, "Entrapment," starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sean Connery
Co-scripted (with Jane Rusconi) the ABC-TV movie, "Swing Vote"
Produced and wrote the original screenplay adaptation of "Snow Falling on Cedars"; reportedly director Scott Hicks and original novelist David Guterson rewrote entire script
Scripted and produced "Passion of Mind," starring Demi Moore
Scripted the drama film, "The Lazarus Child"
Wrote and produced "Mozart and the Whale," starring Josh Hartnett and Radha Mitchell
Wrote and executive produced the film "Amelia," directed by Mira Nair and starring Hilary Swank in the title role