Silliphant, Stirling (Dale) 1918-1996
SILLIPHANT, Stirling (Dale) 1918-1996
PERSONAL: Born January 16, 1918, in Detroit, MI; died of prostate cancer, April 26, 1996, in Bangkok, Thailand; son of Leigh Lemuel (a sales director) and Ethel May (Noaker) Silliphant; married Tiana du Long (an actress under name Tiana Alexandra), July 4, 1974; children: Stirling, Dayle, Loren (deceased). Education: University of Southern California, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1938.
CAREER: Screenwriter, producer, and novelist. Walt Disney Studios, Burbank, CA, publicist, 1938-41; Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., New York, NY, publicist, 1942, publicity director, 1946-53; screen-writer and independent producer, Hollywood, CA, 1953-96. President of Pingree Productions. Producer of film Joe Louis Story, United Artists, 1953; executive producer of films Shaft, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1971, and Shaft's Big Score, Metro-Goldwyn Mayer, 1972. Military service: U.S. Navy, 1942-46.
MEMBER: California Yacht Club, Writers Guild of America West, Mystery Writers of America, Authors League, Foreign Correspondents' Club (Thailand), Phi Beta Kappa.
AWARDS, HONORS: Academy Award, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 1967, Edgar Award, Mystery Writers of America, and Golden Globe Award, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, both 1968, all for screenplay In the Heat of the Night; Golden Globe Award, Foreign Press Association, 1969, for screenplay Charly; Image Award, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1972, for production of Shaft; Box Office Writer of the Year Award, National Association of Theater Owners, 1972, for The Poseidon Adventure, and 1974, for The Towering Inferno.
Maracaibo, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1955, reprinted, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1985.
The Slender Thread, Signet (Greenock, Scotland), 1966.
(With Neil D. Isaacs and Rachel Maddux) Fiction into Film: A Walk in the Spring Rain (includes the screenplay for A Walk in the Spring Rain), University of Tennessee Press (Knoxville, TN), 1970.
Pearl, Dell (New York, NY), 1978, reprinted, Mutual Publishing (New York, NY), 1991.
Steel Tiger, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1983.
Bronze Bell, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1985.
Silver Star, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1986.
(With William Bowers and John Barnwell; and coproducer) Five against the House (adapted from a story by Jack Finney), Columbia, 1955.
Huk! (adapted from a novel by Silliphant), United Artists, 1956.
Nightfall (adapted from the novel The Dark Chase by David Goodis), Columbia, 1957.
Damn Citizen, Universal, 1958.
The Lineup (adapted from the television series of the same title), Columbia, 1958.
(With Wolf Rilla, Ronald Kinnoch, and George Barclay) Village of the Damned (adapted from the novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1960.
And executive producer) The Slender Thread (adapted from the novel by Silliphant), Paramount, 1965.
In the Heat of the Night (adapted from the novel by John Ball), United Artists, 1967.
Charly (adapted from the short story "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes), Cinerama, 1968.
And producer) Marlowe (adapted from the novel The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1969.
(With Jesse Hill Ford) The Liberation of Lord Byron Jones (adapted from the novel by Ford), Columbia, 1970.
(And producer) A Walk in the Spring Rain (adapted from the novel by Rachel Maddux), Columbia, 1970.
Murphy's War (adapted from the novel by Max Catto), Paramount, 1971.
The New Centurions (adapted from the novel by Joseph Wambaugh; also known as Precinct 45: Los Angeles Police), Columbia, 1972.
(With Wendell Mayes) The Poseidon Adventure (adapted from the novel by Paul Gallico), Twentieth Century-Fox, 1972.
(And executive producer) Shaft in Africa, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1973.
The Towering Inferno (based on the novels The Tower, by Richard Martin Stern, and The Glass Inferno, by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson), Twentieth Century-Fox, 1974.
Killer Elite (adapted from the novel by Robert Rostand), United Artists, 1974.
(With Dean Reisner) The Enforcer, Warner Bros., 1976.
(With Peter Hyams) Telefon, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists, 1977.
The Swarm (adapted from a novel by Arthur Herzog), Warner Bros., 1978.
(With Stanley Mann) Circle of Iron (also released as The Silent Flute; adapted from a story by Silliphant, Bruce Lee, and James Coburn), Avco Embassy, 1979.
(With Carl Foreman) When Time Ran Out (adapted from the novel The Day the World Ended by Gordon Thomas; also known as Earth's Final Fury), Warner Bros., 1980.
(With Sylvester Stallone) Over the Top (also known as Meet Me Half Way), Cannon, 1987.
(And executive producer) Catch the Heat (also released as Feel the Heat), TransWorld, 1987.
(With others) Mickey Mouse Club (series), American Broadcasting Co. (ABC), 1955-59.
Brock Callahan (also broadcast as The Silent Kill), Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. (CBS), August 11, 1959.
(With others) Tightrope (series; also known as The Unnamed Agent and The Undercover Agent), CBS, 1959-60.
(Contributor of scripts and cocreator) Naked City (series), ABC, 1958-63.
(Contributor of scripts and cocreator) Route 66 (series), CBS, 1960-64.
(And producer) New Healers, ABC, March 27, 1972.
(And creator) Movin' On, National Broadcasting Co., Inc. (NBC), July 24, 1972.
(Contributor of scripts, creator, and executive producer) Longstreet (series), ABC, 1972-74.
(And executive producer) A Time for Love, NBC, 1973.
Death Scream (also known as Streetkill and The Woman Who Cried Murder), ABC, 1975.
(And executive producer) The First Thirty-six Hours of Dr. Durant, ABC, 1975.
(And executive producer) Pearl (mini-series; adapted from the novel by Silliphant), ABC, 1978.
(And executive producer) Salem's Lot (also known as Blood Thirst), CBS, 1979.
(And executive producer) Fly Away Home (pilot), ABC, 1981.
Golden Gate (pilot), ABC, 1981.
Hardcase, NBC, 1981.
Travis McGee (pilot; based upon the stories by John D. MacDonald; also known as Travis McGee: The Empty Copper Sea), ABC, 1982.
(And executive producer) Welcome to Paradise, CBS, 1984.
(And producer) Mussolini: The Untold Story (mini-series), NBC, 1985.
(With Dick Berg) Space (mini-series; adapted from the novel by James A. Michener), CBS, 1985.
(And producer with Mel Damski) The Three Kings (mini-series), ABC, 1987.
A Stranger in the Mirror, (teleplay; adapted from the novel by Sidney Sheldon), 1993.
Also author of scripts for the television shows The Sands of Time (mini-series), Maya (miniseries; 1967), Suspicion, Mr. Novak, Rawhide, Mr. Lucky, Markham (crime series), Tightrope (crime series), Wings of Fire (also known as The Cloudburst), 1967, and two episodes of Perry Mason. Also wrote television scripts for Schlitz Playhouse; G. E. Theatre, ABC, 1953-62; Alfred Hitchcock Presents, NBC, 1955-65; Alcoa-Goodyear Theater, 1957-60; Chrysler Theatre, NBC, 1963-67; and CBS Playhouse.
Also author of the screenplays The Grass Harp (1995; also coproduced) and Day of Reckoning (1994).
Silliphant's novel Pearl was translated into Spanish.
ADAPTATIONS: Maracaibo was adapted for film by Ted Sherdeman and released by Paramount in 1958.
SIDELIGHTS: Stirling Silliphant was working as the Eastern publicity manager for Twentieth Century-Fox in 1950 when he heard that a rival studio was looking for a script for actress Joan Crawford. Hoping to supply that script, he wrote Maracaibo. Set in the Venezuelan town of the same name, Maracaibo's hero is Vic Scott. In the story, Scott saves the town from fiery consumption when an oil well sets ablaze and captures the love of writer Laura Kingsley. Maracaibo was flatly rejected by the studio, but Silliphant reworked it into a novel, and, when published in 1955, his first book received excellent reviews. "Characterized by both taut and poignant writing, Maracaibo is off-beat adventure handled in a gripping off-beat way," wrote Rex Lardner in the New York Times. Ironically, film rights to the book were later purchased by Paramount, but when Silliphant applied for the job of screenwriter for that project, he was turned down. Instead, writer Ted Sherderman adapted the novel, and Paramount released it in 1958. Cornell Wilde directed, produced, and starred in the movie as Vic Scott. His wife, Jean Wallace, was cast as Laura Kingsley.
In 1953, Silliphant produced The Joe Louis Story, a biographical tale of the boxer who overcame several obstacles, including racial prejudice, to become a 1930s heavyweight champion. Unhappy with the script, Silliphant rewrote several sections of it. He told Catherine A. Peters in the Chicago Tribune: "When I saw the film, the only scenes I liked in it were the ones I had written. I said, 'Hey, maybe I'm a scriptwriter.'" Despite his extensive work on the script, Silliphant received credit only for producing the film, which he did on a very small budget. Though writer Robert Sylvester was credited as the sole author of the screenplay, the project proved important for Silliphant as it reinforced his desire for a career in screenwriting.
Encouraged by his work on The Joe Louis Story, Silliphant bought the rights to a story by Jack Finney, Five against the House. Silliphant wrote an adapted screenplay of the story and coproduced the film. Five against the House presents five college students who find themselves performing an unintentional heist on a big-time Nevada casino. The movie was praised by A.H. Weiler in the New York Times as a "suspenseful diversion" with "crisp, idiomatic and truly comic dialogue and a story line that suffers only from surface characterizations." The following year, Silliphant adapted his own novel Huk, about a plantation owner fighting to protect his property from violent advocates of social revolt. Silliphant then wrote and produced what Peters terms a trio of film-noir classics: Nightfall, Damn Citizen, and The Lineup.
Nightfall's plot is based on David Goodis's novel The Dark Chase. In the film, friends James Vanning (played by Aldo Ray) and Dr. Edward Gurston (played by Frank Albertson) are hunting in the woods when they are attacked by bank robbers and left for dead. Vanning survives, finds the bank robbers' money, and hides it. Realizing that he has been charged with his friend's murder, Vanning spends the rest of the movie running from both the police and the bank robbers, making the acquaintance of model Marie Gardner (played by Anne Bancroft) along the way. Damn Citizen, Silliphant's next film noir is based on the true story of a WWII army colonel who tries to rid Louisiana—and its government—of crime and corruption. The Lineup was based on a televisions series about policemen; however, Silliphant chose to base the movie on two criminals, Dancer (Eli Wallach) and Julian (Robert Keith), who are trying to smuggle heroin across the Mexican border. The movie was directed by Don Siegel.
In 1958, Silliphant turned to television, creating and writing scripts for two classic series: Naked City and Route 66. Naked City was a documentary-style police show, set and filmed in New York City at a time when most filming was done on Hollywood sets. Its two main characters were Lieutenant Dan Muldoon (John McIntire) and Detective Jim Halloran (James Franciscus). The series was inspired by Jules Dassin's 1948 feature film of the same title. Producer Herbert Leonard hired Silliphant to write the pilot script, which saw its ABC debut on September 30, 1958. Silliphant wrote thirty-one of the first season's thirty-nine half-hour episodes. The Naked City quickly became a favorite of American television viewers in the 1960s.
Route 66 also conceived and produced by Leonard, chronicled the adventures of two American drifters driving a Corvette. Like The Naked City, Route 66 was filmed on location, but as the series followed its two main characters around the country, the concept of filming "on location" took on a new meaning as the cast and crew took to the road as well. Dedicated viewers tuned into CBS weekly to become lost in the personal dramas of the series' two main characters, Buz Murdock (George Maharis) and Tod Stiles (Martin Milner), as they traveled the 1960s American landscape. "Those were probably the most exciting, absorbing four years of my life," Silliphant told Peters. "I lived on the road, traveled all over the U.S. looking for ideas. Then I'd go to New York to work on Naked City. That's how I learned to meet deadlines. We'd have crews waiting for pages from my typewriter. Never missed a deadline." Silliphant wrote seventy-one scripts for Route 66. The high productivity demanded by television gave Silliphant an increased feeling of autonomy as a writer. He told Jay Stuller in Writer's Digest: "There's not as much time or money to waste [as there is in films] and so the writer's vision comes through stronger. I'm a defender of television and what can be done on it."
In between the filming of these two series, Silliphant wrote The Village of the Damned, a script based on John Wyndham's science-fiction novel The Midwich Cuckoos about an English town visited by aliens that cause the townspeople to sleep. When they awaken, many of the women are unjustifiably pregnant. These women then give birth to look-alike children with unsettling telekinetic powers. The script was revised by Wolf Rilla (director), Ronald Kinnoch (producer), and George Barclay before production, and upon release in the United States and Canada, it made over 1.5 million dollars.
When The Naked City and Route 66 were canceled, Silliphant devoted more time to screenwriting. His next movie was The Slender Thread, a Seattle-based drama starring Anne Bancroft and Sidney Poitier. Based on a true event, and originally a novel written by Silliphant, the film's main characters are a suicide-prevention clinic volunteer (Poitier) and a woman who calls the clinic after taking an overdose of sleeping pills (Bancroft). The Slender Thread, which was directed by Sydney Pollack and produced by Silliphant, attracted a lot of attention because of its interracial costars, an unconventional practice at the time. Silliphant's next film, In the Heat of the Night, won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar, all for best screenplay. This murder mystery, based on the novel by John Ball, also starred Poitier, again introducing the controversial topic of race relations.
Charly, Silliphant's next big movie, also earned him a Golden Globe for best screenplay. Based on Daniel Keyes's short story Flowers for Algernon, the film stars Cliff Robertson as a retarded man who undergoes experimental surgery, becomes a genius, then loses his newfound intelligence. After Charly, Silliphant wrote screenplays for a number of different films: Marlowe (adapted from the novel The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler), The Liberation of L. B. Jones (adapted from the novel by Jesse Hill Ford), A Walk in the Spring Rain (adapted from the novel by Rachel Maddux), and Murphy's War (a WWII adventure adapted from the novel by Max Catto).
Silliphant's 1971 movie Shaft, for which he served as executive producer, earned him an Image Award from the NAACP. Silliphant produced the sequel to this movie, Shaft's Big Score and wrote the third Shaft movie, Shaft in Africa, in 1973. Silliphant's later work included a string of disaster films for producer Irwin Allen: The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, The Swarm, and When Time Ran Out. In The Poseidon Adventure, an earthquake causes a tidal wave to overtake a cruise ship and its passengers. The Towering Inferno involves a fire engulfing the world's largest skyscraper. In The Swarm, a town in Texas is attacked by a massive swarm of killer bees. When Time Ran Out takes place on an island resort. Disaster strikes this time when a volcano erupts and threatens to consume the island. Though generally dismissed by critics, these disaster films were successes at the box office, and Silliphant was much in demand. "When producers call and want you to write a script from an idea, or write a screenplay from a novel, then you tend to feel satisfied, successful, wanted, and admired. More than money, writing films was an ego thing. I could have been secure, at the top of my field, and gone on writing movies until the day I died. But I was not growing and developing," Silliphant told Stuller.
After his series of disaster films, Silliphant returned to fiction with the 1983 publication of Steel Tiger, the first in a planned series of twelve novels detailing the adventures of John Locke, soldier of fortune. "The characters in this novel are lively and eccentric, … and the plot's complex action is fast paced," a Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote.
"Once you leave [Hollywood], the studios often won't let you back in," Silliphant once told Stuller. Despite this and the fact that writing the novels "represented a major financial change," it is something the author said he "had to do … I have some freedom and am finally released from committee-and group-thinking…. Most writing is pretty automatic for me. I like the emotional preparation of research; that's perhaps the best part. But in all 85,000 to 90,000 words of Steel Tiger, there are only about 5,000 words that are to me a mystery. Where I read back and feel a kind of magic, that third wind where you're in another place…. Those passages are what make you wantto keep writing." Silliphant followed Steel Tiger with two other novels, Bronze Bell and Silver Star.
In 1987 Silliphant and his family moved to Bangkok, where he began to research a long novel about American exports in Thailand, concentrate on original screenplays, and study Buddhism with his wife. While in Bangkok, Silliphant became ill, and it was revealed that he had prostate cancer. He died in 1996 at the age of seventy-eight.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 16, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 26: American Screenwriters, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.
Pickard, Roy, A Companion to the Movies: From 1903 to the Present Day, Hippocrene Books (New York, NY), 1972.
Von Gunden, Kenneth, and Stuart H. Stock, Twenty All-Time Great Science Fiction Films, Arlington House (New York, NY), 1982, pp. 150-158.
American Film, March, 1988, pp. 13-15.
Chicago Tribune, April 3, 1980; August 23, 1983; February 15, 1987.
Christian Science Monitor, July 9, 1969.
Los Angeles Times, February 13, 1987.
Newsweek, January 31, 1972.
New Yorker, December 20, 1974.
New York Post, January 6, 1975.
New York Times, March 13, 1955; June 22, 1955; January 24, 1957; September 24, 1968; October 23, 1969; January 18, 1970; July 2, 1971; August 4, 1972; December 13, 1972; January 14, 1973; June 21, 1973; December 20, 1974; December 18, 1975; April 12, 1976; December 23, 1976; December 17, 1977; July 23, 1978; January 19, 1979; March 29, 1980; February 12, 1987.
Publishers Weekly, April 29, 1983.
Time, January 6, 1975.
Women's Wear Daily, December 18, 1974.
Writer's Digest, March, 1984.
American Movie Classics Web site, http://www.amctv.com/ (October 27, 2003), "Stirling Silliphant."
Hollywood.com, http://www.hollywood.com/ (October 27, 2003), "Stirling Silliphant."
Museum of Broadcast Communications Web site, http://www.museum.tv/ (October 29, 2003) "Silliphant, Stirling: U.S. Writer."
Entertainment Weekly, May 10, 1996, p. 20.
Los Angeles Times, April 27, 1996, p. A22.
New York Times, April 27, 1996, p. 30.
Time, May 6, 1996, p. 27.
Times (London, England), April 27, 1996, p. 21.*