Walter Newman; Radio and Film Writer
Walter Brown Newman, who wrote one of the best-known screenplays never produced and several film scenarios that were, died Thursday at his Sherman Oaks home. He was 77.
Leon Roth, a longtime friend and colleague, said Newman had been battling cancer.
Newman, who came to film from radio, was twice nominated for an Academy Award--in 1965 for “Cat Ballou,” which he co-wrote with Frank R. Pierson, and in 1978 for “Bloodbrothers.”
But in Hollywood circles he became known equally for “Harrow Alley,” a disturbing yet brilliant tale of the Great Plague in 17th-Century England.
The 172-page screenplay was purchased years ago by George C. Scott but has yet to be produced, primarily because of its gruesome subject matter, with death clinging to every page and madmen such as Man With a Hot Poker terrorizing its characters.
Newman had written it in the early 1970s and from its inception it was considered one of the most impelling dramas put on paper. But because of its subject matter it became a tough sell. At first, director John Huston had wanted to produce it but could not find financing and it went to Scott, who at one time envisioned it as a starring role for himself.
The story centers on a character named Ratsy who is spared from the gallows because he and other “volunteers” are needed to gather bodies from the streets of London. The script remains grim throughout, although many of the characters show wry humor.
“Harrow Alley” remains a favorite among film students if not audiences.
Gripping topics and offbeat humor were at the center of the Newman genre.
“Cat Ballou” was a Western spoof involving a drunken gunslinger who couldn’t stay on his horse. “Man With the Golden Arm,” which he co-wrote with Lewis Meltzer, was one of Hollywood’s earliest examinations of heroin addiction. “Ace in the Hole,” which he wrote with Billy Wilder, dealt with an opportunistic and ruthless journalist willing to sensationalize the rescue of someone to boost newspaper sales.
Newman’s other scripts included the 1979 version of “The Champ,” “Underwater,” “Crime and Punishment USA"and “The True Story of Jesse James.”
Newman began his career in radio with such shows as “The Halls of Ivy” with Ronald Colman as a kindly college administrator.
Newman is survived by his wife, Connie, a son and daughter. Contributions can be made to the Visiting Nurses Assn. in North Hollywood, Hospice Division.