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A neglected scribe gets some buzz

Hollywood has been notoriously unkind to screenwriters. Their contributions to a film are often overshadowed by those of the director or actors.

During the heyday of the major studios in the 1930s, ‘40s and early ‘50s, screenwriters were under contract and underpaid, often doing rewrites on troubled scripts without getting credit.

Save for a handful of writers of that era (most of whom became directors, such as Billy Wilder, Nunnally Johnson, Richard Brooks and Philip Dunne) these scribes have faded from memory.

“Buzz,” a new documentary opening Friday, profiles one such screenwriter: A.I. “Buzz” Bezzerides. Born in 1908 in Samsun, Turkey, on the Black Sea, to Greek and Armenian parents and raised in Fresno, he became one of the major writers of film noir in the 1940s and ‘50s, penning such movies as “Thieves’ Highway” (which he adapted from his own novel), “On Dangerous Ground” and “Kiss Me Deadly.” His first novel, “The Long Haul,” was adapted into the 1940 film “They Drive by Night,” starring George Raft and Ann Sheridan.

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In the late 1950s and early ‘60s, he moved into television, with his last credit being an episode of the ABC western “The Big Valley” more than 40 years ago.

The 98-year-old Bezzerides is scheduled to appear at a Writers Guild screening of the movie Tuesday evening.

Filmmaker Spiro N. Taraviras spent four years making “Buzz,” interviewing the colorful, outspoken writer numerous times from 1999 through 2002.

Writing didn’t make Bezzerides a wealthy man -- his San Fernando Valley house is in shambles, his clothes are threadbare and he lacks a few teeth.

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“He is really overlooked,” Taraviras says. “He feels really very bitter about Hollywood, and the reason is that he never had the feeling that his work and his contribution to filmmaking was really acknowledged. He really didn’t make any money out of it.”

Though Bezzerides worked with such directors as Nicholas Ray and Jules Dassin, Taraviras says, “he was always in the shadow of the studio. He was an employee of the studio and many times was not given a credit. I think he was not a good businessman. He was believing in the good of the people. But he didn’t realize you have to take care of yourself.”

Though “Buzz” is a tribute to Bezzerides, Taraviras says it really “honors all of these neglected writers. They are forgotten.... Hollywood needs from time to time to remember.”

-- Susan King

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