Pierre Boulle; Wrote ‘River Kwai,’ ‘Planet of the Apes’


Pierre Boulle, the French author of the best-selling novels “Bridge on the River Kwai” and “Planet of the Apes,” which were turned into popular films, has died in Paris. He was 81.

Boulle, an engineer with no literary training who began writing in middle age, died Sunday night.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Feb. 4, 1994 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday February 4, 1994 Home Edition Part A Page 24 Column 2 Metro Desk 3 inches; 76 words Type of Material: Correction
Boulle obituary--An obituary in Thursday’s Times on Pierre Boulle, the French author of the best-selling novel “Bridge on the River Kwai,” incorrectly stated that the screenplay for the film of the same title was written only by Carl Foreman using the name Michael Wilson. The screenplay was credited to the non-English-speaking Boulle as stated, but was actually written by both Foreman and Wilson, two blacklisted screenwriters who posthumously received the Academy Award for the script in 1985. Boulle died Sunday in Paris at the age of 81.

The highly successful 1957 film “Bridge on the River Kwai,” starring William Holden and Sir Alec Guinness, won the Academy Award for best picture in 1958 and five other Oscars, including best screenplay.


Boulle accepted the writer’s Oscar at the 1958 ceremony, but it was an open secret that he had not written the screenplay based on his 1952 novel.

“Everyone knew Boulle couldn’t speak English, let alone write it,” Hollywood historian Larry Ceplair told The Times years later.

The screen version was actually written by a “Michael Wilson,” a false name for the blacklisted writer Carl Foreman. In 1985, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences posthumously awarded Foreman an Oscar for the screenplay.

Boulle, a native of Avignon, France, studied science and engineering at the Ecole Superieur d’Electricite, worked briefly as an engineer in France and moved to Malaya as a rubber planter.

His heroism during World War II provided ample material when he turned to writing in 1949. It also won him the French Legion of Honor, the Croix de Guerre and the Medal of the Resistance.

Boulle joined the French Resistance in Malaya and the French Army in what was then Indochina, becoming a secret agent known as Peter John Rule, Mauritius-born Englishman.

He fought in Burma, China and Indochina before he was taken prisoner by the Japanese. He escaped in 1944 and returned to France until the end of the war.

“Le Pont de la riviere Kwai,” his third novel, involved Allied prisoners of the Japanese building a bridge in Burma for their captors.

Boulle wrote in French, but his work was translated into English and distributed around the world.