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Waldo Salt, 72, Dies; Honored for Film Scripts

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, 2936 West 8th St., for screenwriter Waldo Salt, who survived the blacklisting of the 1950s to win Academy Awards for his scripts of “Midnight Cowboy” and “Coming Home.”

The former drama and music instructor at Menlo College in Palo Alto died Saturday at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles of lung cancer. He was 72.

Salt began writing movie scripts in 1938 with a remake of the romantic drama “Shopworn Angel.” Over the years he wrote or adapted more than 20 films, including “Rachel and the Stranger,” “Taras Bulba” and “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.”

Resists Political Probe

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But in 1951, said his wife, playwright Eve Merriam, he was blacklisted for refusing on principle to answer questions about his political affiliations. He had been summoned to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was seeking to uncover Communists in government and other areas of American society, but the committee was abolished before he testified.

He was able to resume his work in the 1960s and in 1969 the Chicago native won an Academy Award for best screenplay adapted from another medium for “Midnight Cowboy,” the tale of a slightly dim-witted Texan who turns to prostitution to survive in New York City. The film also won awards for best picture and best director for John Schlesinger.

Salt’s other Oscar came in 1978 for “Coming Home,” which he co-wrote with Robert C. Jones. Jon Voight, who portrayed the Texan in “Midnight Cowboy,” was named best actor for his role in “Coming Home,” in which he played a crippled Vietnam War veteran. Jane Fonda was named best actress for her portrayal of Voight’s married lover.

Award From Guild

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The film also earned Salt and Jones an award from the Writers Guild of America.

His other pictures included “Tonight We Raid Calais,” “Serpico” and “The Day of the Locust.”

Last year, Salt received the Writers Guild Laurel Award for screen writing achievement for lifetime contributions “to the literature of the screen.” In accepting it, he reflected on his sometimes controversial career and told his colleagues:

“If we’re good, we will always be in trouble. Let’s just be sure we deserve it.”

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