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Warren Skaaren; Reworked ‘Batman,’ ‘Top Gun’ Scripts

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Warren Skaaren, who rewrote troubled screenplays into such box office blockbusters as “Top Gun” and “Batman,” has died at his home in Austin, Tex. He was 44.

Skaaren, who also worked on the scripts of “Beetlejuice” and “Beverly Hills Cop II,” was writing “Beetlejuice II” when he died last Friday of bone cancer.

Born March 9, 1946, in Rochester, Minn., Skaaren moved to Houston to study chemical engineering at Rice University. In a series of twists and turns on his ever-upward career spiral, he became student body president and greatly impressed Texas Gov. Preston Smith.

When he graduated--with a degree in art rather than engineering--Smith hired him. The governor also accepted Skaaren’s proposal to create the Texas Film Commission, an organization designed to lure film production to Texas. As its first commissioner, Skaaren assisted visiting producers and directors, learning the film business in the process.

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In 1974, he helped form a film production company that was hired to work on a television series nobody expected to last very long--"Dallas.”

Author of several documentaries, Skaaren wrote his first feature script at the behest of a Texas businessman who asked him to depict Gurkhas, the Nepalese soldiers who serve in the British Army. The result was “Of East and West,” which still has not been made into a film, but nevertheless served as Skaaren’s entree to Hollywood.

Impressed with his writing, Paramount hired him to rewrite “Fire With Fire.” Soon after, he was put to work redrafting “Top Gun,” starring Tom Cruise.

Next came “Beverly Hills Cop II,” 'Beetlejuice” and then his second film with Cruise, “Days of Thunder.” Skaaren gracefully bowed out of that project to work on “Batman.”

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In establishing himself as a heavyweight script doctor, Skaaren used his experience in politics and business as well as in the creative arts.

“There are long, solitary periods of writing, broken by intense collaborative fights,” he said of the process. “You need to know how to fight for an idea and do so with dignity and leave other people still standing with their points of view intact. You’ve got to be a person who can be able to compromise, even though it hurts a lot.”

Skaaren continued to live in Austin, believing Hollywood residency would blur his vision of human conflicts and the people he wanted to write about.

He is survived by his wife, Helen, with whom he cared for seven foster children and helped found the Travis County Foster Parent Assn. He is also survived by his parents, Morris and Pearl Skaaren, of Rochester.

A memorial service is scheduled in Austin on Jan. 12. Any memorial contributions can be made to The Pebble Project, an Austin clinic for abused children.


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