Foner, Naomi 1950 (?)-

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FONER, Naomi 1950 (?)-

PERSONAL: Born c. 1950 in New York, NY; married Stephen Gyllenhaal (a film director); children: Maggie, Jake. Education: Barnard College, B.A. in English; Columbia University, M.A. in Developmental Psychology.

ADDRESSES: Home—Los Angeles, CA. Agent—c/o Stephen Gyllenhaal, 32 Ocean View Farm Rd., Chilmark, MA 02535.

CAREER: Served as media director of Eugene McCarthy's campaign for president, 1968; Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), production assistant and researcher on staff of Sesame Street, beginning 1968; creator and coproducer of television series The Best of Families; screenwriter and film producer, 1986—.

AWARDS, HONORS: Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay, Golden Globe Award for best screenplay, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, PEN West Screenplay Award, all 1989, all for Running on Empty.



Violets Are Blue, Columbia, 1986.

Running on Empty, Warner Bros., 1988.

A Dangerous Woman (based on a novel by Mary Mc-Garry Morris), Universal, 1993.

Losing Isaiah (based on a novel by Seth Margolis), Paramount, 1995.

Also the author of teleplay "Blackout," for PBS series Visions; wrote the screenplay for Paris Underground (based on the novel by Etta Shiber) and the screenplay for Bee Season (based on the novel by Myla Goldberg), both to be released.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Working on a film, tentatively titled "Pilgrim's Progress," for Paramount.

SIDELIGHTS: Naomi Foner has held several interesting positions in the media. She began her career as the media director of Senator Eugene McCarthy's campaign for the presidency in 1968, then later that year she went to work for the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). While at PBS, Foner served with the acclaimed children's series Sesame Street, and played a role in developing other children's programming, including The Electric Company. Foner's first screenplay to become a film, Violets Are Blue, reached movie audiences in 1986. She followed this with other successful scripts, including the screenplay for the 1988 film Running on Empty, which garnered her an Academy Award nomination, a Golden Globe Award, and a PEN West Screenplay Award for her writing. Foner served as producer for her two later screenplays, 1993's A Dangerous Woman and 1995's Losing Isaiah. Both of these films were directed by her husband, Stephen Gyllenhaal.

Violets Are Blue brings to the screen the story of two former lovers who meet again. The man is locked into his family's newspaper business, and has a wife and children. The woman has had an adventurous life as a photojournalist, and when the two rekindle their affair, she attempts to persuade him to abandon his responsibilities for a more exotic existence at her side. Sissy Spacek and Kevin Klein play the lead characters. Richard Schickel in Time observed the feminist aspects of the film, but felt Violets Are Blue needed more of a sense of "fun and frolic" to be successful.

Running on Empty, which was more widely reviewed than her previous films, focuses on a couple, the Popes, who have been in hiding from the FBI since they bombed a napalm plant in protest during the 1960s. The Popes thought that the building was empty, but a janitor had been present and was blinded. Flash forward twenty years, and the couple have two adolescent boys; their sons' lives have been considerably disrupted by having to move every time the FBI got too close to their parents. The oldest boy, Danny, has a talent for piano and a chance to go to the famous Juilliard School, but his parents fear they will again have to run while he is there studying and they will never see him again. The adult Popes are played by Christine Lahti and Judd Hirsch, while Danny is portrayed by the late River Phoenix.

Though David Denby, reviewing Running on Empty for New York magazine, felt the film was "insincere," he also conceded that it "has more than a little charm." Stuart Klawans, discussing Running on Empty in the Nation, cited two of his favorite scenes—one of Annie Pope's birthday party in which the whole family dances around the living room, the other of Annie and Danny performing a piano duet—and proclaimed: "At a time when filmmaking seems to be dominated by theme-park pictures such as Die Hard, or well-meaning but relentlessly programmed ones such as Eight Men Out, it is a blessed relief to come upon scenes such as these two." He explained that the scenes "respect the audience enough to let them understand and feel on their own." In the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas remarked that "Running on Empty is remarkably successful in playing its taut portrayal of 1960s radicals still on the run against a warm evocation of family life and first love."

Foner adapted A Dangerous Woman from a novel by Mary McGarry Morris. In the film, a somewhat odd and naive woman, Martha, is living under the care of her aunt, Frances, who is the mistress of a state politician. The title character is dangerous because she doesn't know how to lie. Though Martha is portrayed as a social, and possibly even mental, misfit, a handyman who comes to work at Frances's house sexually awakens her. Debra Winger acts the part of Martha, while Barbara Hershey performs the role of her relatively young aunt. Like much of Foner's work, A Dangerous Woman met with mixed reviews. Anthony Lane in the New Yorker believed the film to be "nicely set up and . . . ready to go, but somehow, apart from one great scene involving a kitchen knife, it fails to take off." Ty Burr in Entertainment Weekly found the relationship between Martha and the handyman "intriguing," but disliked what he saw as "a precious vagueness" in the script. Jonathan Romney in the New Statesman and Society, however, gave A Dangerous Woman a glowing write-up, pronouncing it "a small, smart miracle of a film" and especially praising "a beautifully ambivalent ending that's one in the eye for the very concept of the 'feel-good' movie."

Losing Isaiah, which stars Jessica Lange and Halle Berry, is the story of a white social worker, Margaret Lewin, who adopts a black baby found in the garbage. When his biological mother conquers her drug addiction, she wants him back, but Margaret refuses. A legal struggle over custody of the child, Isaiah, ensues. Denby, in yet another New York review, described Losing Isaiah as "a decent, upright piece of work" in which "the two women fight for the child with logic and emotion, and the movie holds both forces in balance."

Next, Foner adapted Paris Underground, a novel by Etta Shiber, as a screenplay. According to Charles Lyons in Variety, the story "centers on two women, one American, one French, who team up during World War II to save . . . Allied soldiers . . . behind enemy lines." The film stars actresses Julianne Moore and Winona Ryder, and was directed by Hunt Lowry and Casey La Scala. Foner also told Screenwriters Online that she is working on the script for yet another film, Pilgrim's Progress, but that it has no relation to John Bunyan's spiritual classic of the same name. She is slated to be the picture's director as well.



Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television Volume 21, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.


Cosmopolitan, November, 1990, pp. 294-97.

Entertainment Weekly, December 3, 1993, pp. 47, 50.

Los Angeles Times, September 9, 1988.

Nation, October 31, 1988, p. 434.

New Republic, October 10, 1988, pp. 26-27.

New Statesman and Society, May 20, 1994, pp. 32, 34.

New York, September 26, 1988, pp. 110, 114, 116; April 3, 1995, p. 59.

New Yorker, December 13, 1993, p. 125.

Time, April 14, 1986, p. 104.

Variety, August 26, 1988; October 30, 2000, Charles Lyons, "Foner Making 'Paris' Journey," p. 61.


Internet Movie Database, (February 4, 2004).

Screenwriters Online, (May 3, 2003).*