Lederer, Charles

views updated

LEDERER, Charles

Writer. Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 31 December 1910; raised by his aunt, the actress Marion Davies. Education: Attended the University of California, Berkeley, graduated. Family: Married 1) Virginia Bell, 1940 (divorced); 2) the actress Anne Shirley, 1949. Career: Journalist; 1929—began association with Ben Hecht, and collaborated with him over the years; 1931—first film as writer, The Front Page; then writer for Paramount, and MGM; freelance writer after 1944; 1953—wrote and produced the musical Kismet. Died: 5 March 1976.

Films as Writer:


The Front Page (Milestone)


Cock of the Air (Buckingham)


Double or Nothing (Reed); Mountain Music (Florey)


Broadway Serenade (Leonard); Within the Law (Machary)


His Girl Friday (Hawks); Comrade X (K. Vidor); I Love You Again (Van Dyke)


Love Crazy (Conway)


Slightly Dangerous (Ruggles); The Youngest Profession (Buzzel)


Kiss of Death (Hathaway); Ride the Pink Horse (Montgomery); Her Husband's Affairs (Simon)


I Was a Male War Bride (Hawks); Red, Hot and Blue (Farrow)


Wabash Avenue (Koster)


The Thing (Nyby)


Fearless Fagan (Donen); Monkey Business (Hawks)


Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Hawks)


Kismet (Minnelli)


Gaby (Bernhardt)


The Spirit of St. Louis (Wilder); Tip on a Dead Jockey (Thorpe)


Never Steal Anything Small (+ d); It Started with a Kiss (Marshall)


Can-Can (W. Lang); Ocean's 11 (Milestone)


Follow That Dream (Douglas); Mutiny on the Bounty (Milestone)


A Global Affair (Arnold)

Films as Director:


Fingers at the Window


On the Loose


By LEDERER: book—

With Luther Davis, Kismet (play), New York, 1954.

On LEDERER: articles—

Film Comment (New York), Winter 1970–71.

Cinéma 72 (Paris), May 1976.

Films and Filming (London), June 1983.

Levine, Scott, in American Screenwriters, edited by Robert E. Morsberger, Stephen O. Lesser, and Randall Clark, Detroit, Michigan, 1984.

Film Dope (Nottingham), March 1986.

"On the Loose," in Reid's Film Index (Wyong), no. 9, 1992.

"Never Steal Anything Small," in Reid's Film Index (Wyong), no. 12, 1993.

* * *

Charles Lederer is probably best known for his adaptations, especially of comic material, in collaboration with such notable Hollywood writers as Ben Hecht, I.A.L. Diamond, George Oppenheimer, and Albert Hackett. It was Ben Hecht who first introduced Lederer to screenwriting when he hired him as a young man to contribute uncredited material for the original screen version of the Hecht-Charles MacArthur play The Front Page. It was an experience Lederer would find valuable later when he worked on His Girl Friday for Howard Hawks, in which he recast the central characters of the play as ex-marrieds, husband and wife, thereby turning the earlier drama into a screwball comedy.

Although Lederer's career spanned some 30 years in Hollywood, his employment was often sporadic. He went for periods without writing for the screen, and when he was working, his scripts were often uneven. His best efforts were done in collaboration with Hecht or under the tutelage of Hawks, who hired Lederer on a number of occasions. The Hecht-Lederer scripts include two films noirs, Kiss of Death directed by Henry Hathaway and Ride the Pink Horse directed by Robert Montgomery, and Howard Hawks's Monkey Business, written with I.A.L. Diamond. These films possess a wit and style worthy of the best Hollywood writing. On his own, however, with the exception of the work with Hawks, Lederer's scripts often only achieved the level of the work-a-day quality of studio assembly-line products. And after The Spirit of St. Louis, on which he labored unsuccessfully with Billy Wilder, Lederer did little more than turn out star vehicles for such celebrities as Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Bob Hope. Even the screen version of Lederer's highly popular musical Kismet, which he coauthored with Luther Davis, failed to achieve much success as a film.

Lederer's long-term association with Hawks produced notably different results and may well have provided the screenwriter with the best projects of his career. Certainly Lederer's solo work on His Girl Friday, The Thing, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes produced the best-remembered of his scripts and did much to establish his reputation after his early years in the business. The screenplays for these films reflect Lederer's genuine talent for adapting non-film materials to the requirements of the screen. Given the right material and the right director, Lederer obviously was able to produce first-rate writing. That he did not do so more often speaks more to the requirements and limitations of the studio system than to any inherent deficiency on Lederer's part.

—Charles L.P. Silet