Michael Kanin; Oscar-Winning Writer


Michael Kanin, an artist who found his metier as an Oscar-winning screenwriter and Broadway playwright, has died. He was 83.

Kanin, also a director and producer and the younger brother of writer Garson Kanin, died Friday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced.

In 1942, only three years after he tackled Hollywood, Michael Kanin shared an Academy Award with Ring Lardner Jr. for best original screenplay for "Woman of the Year." The star vehicle for Katharine Hepburn began her legendary pairing with Spencer Tracy.

Kanin went on to write many successful films and Broadway plays, most frequently with his wife, Fay Mitchell Kanin. Their film credits included "Sunday Punch," "The Opposite Sex," and "Rhapsody," starring Elizabeth Taylor. They also wrote "Teacher's Pet," starring Clark Gable and Doris Day, which was nominated for an Academy Award for best original screenplay.

Their Broadway hits included "Rashomon" and the musical "The High Life."

Kanin's career was intertwined with his brother's. Michael Kanin produced "A Double Life," starring Ronald Colman and written by Garson Kanin and his writer-actress wife, Ruth Gordon. The 1947 film won four Academy Award nominations and garnered two Oscars.

Born in Rochester, N.Y., on Feb. 1, 1910, Michael Kanin soon moved to New York City with his family. Determined from childhood to become an artist, he studied at the Arts Students League and the New York School of Design.

During the summer, he worked with his brother on the "borscht circuit," writing, producing, acting and singing in shows for tourists at Catskill Mountain hotels. The brothers also played musical instruments for dancing.

At the outset of the Depression in 1929, young Michael Kanin pragmatically bent his artistic talents to commercial art and painted stage scenery for burlesque shows. An eye injury caused him to put art on a back burner and switch to writing.

After selling some radio sketches and a play, "We the Willoughbys," produced in summer stock, Kanin moved with the rest of the family, including Garson and sister Ruth, a costumer, to Hollywood.

"Actually, I was still painting pictures--moving pictures on a huge canvas," he later said of his early writing under contract to RKO for B-movie scripts.

Kanin returned to art in his later years, sculpting bronzes of many of his favorite entertainers, including Louis Armstrong, Charlie Chaplin, Groucho Marx, Marcel Marceau, Carol Burnett and the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. His work was exhibited at Los Angeles' Heritage Gallery.

"Now, whenever I look at my works, the joy of all the marvelous hours I've spent watching these people work, going to their movies and seeing them on stage floods back," Kanin wrote of his sculpture for the Los Angeles Times in 1986. "Part of the great satisfaction in making these little sculptures is knowing that, because they're bronze and will last, they'll be around to commemorate these great performers for 5,000 years."

Kanin founded what are now called the Michael Kanin Original Playwriting Awards for the American College Theater Festival, in which college writers' works are produced each spring at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

He was a charter member of the Writers Guild of America West, and served on its board and as its treasurer in 1944. He was also active on committees of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Besides his wife, he is survived by a son, Josh, and two granddaughters, Laurel and Jessica.

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