In 1971, Warner Bros. released a
dark, edgy movie about a small-town detective who gets involved with a
prostitute over the course of his investigation in the big city. This film, Klute, was Alan J. Pakula’s second feature working as
director. It also featured strong
performances by Jane Fonda (who won a Best Actress Oscar) and Donald
Sutherland, received excellent reviews, and was both an artistic and commercial
success. But who were the writers Andy
Lewis and David Lewis, who seemed to be relatively unknown at the time? Sure, they each have their share of credits
on IMDb, but where are these brothers now?
Where did these Academy Award-Nominated writers end up? After some digging, we learned that David
Lewis had passed away but that Andy Lewis was now living in New England. With some help from our friends at No Film-Film
Festival in Vermont, we connected with Andy.
We sent him questions and he emailed us back. Here’s how it went:
The Next Reel: First off, thanks for agreeing to chat with
us about Klute and your life as a
writer. We’d like to know more about how
the film came to be, how you and your brother, Dave Lewis, worked together, how
you got your start – everything.
Andy Lewis: We’re a little odd, aren’t we, to rummage in
material like this from more than forty years back? But you guys are scholars and teachers of
this stuff and it was part of my life, so why the hell not?
TNR: How did you get your start? When and
where were you born and how did you end up in the film business?
AL: Born 1925.
Massachusetts. A Yankee. I wanted to be a writer from early on (along
with other things like quarterback and President). In those times, a “writer” did
short stories and novels. If he
was real hot, he’d get published in the New Yorker. Show business was somewhere way – way – far off. Fred Astaire?
Esther Williams? Off my radar.
Shortly after WW2, I got married,
started a family and had to start making a living. I could only write part
time. But I got a story into the
Saturday Evening Post. And at about the
same time, Bob Saudek was setting up the Ford Foundation TV-Radio Workshop. [He was creator of the weekly public
television precursor “Omnibus.”] I
applied to Bob and got hired. (Actually,
Bob was an old family friend. Nepotism,
maybe. But I gave him some years of good
service.) I wrote all kinds of stuff for
“Omnibus”: documentaries, originals,
whatever. One light piece, “Hilde
and the Turnpike,” got some attention and turned me toward commercial
TNR: Your brother, David, was also a screenwriter
and TV writer. Did you two often work
AL: Dave was my older brother by ten years. He was a wonderful older brother and
man. Late in WW2, he commanded a
rocket artillery battalion on Okinawa.
He came home with a virus – encephalitis – that put him in a wheelchair
for the rest of his life. It was after
that that we started writing together.
It wasn’t his natural talent, but Dave had a keen and skillful
mind. We’d swap story ideas and
pieces. We both listened and
adopted. We didn’t fight.
TNR: TV writing is very much a team job, at least
it is today. What was it like then?
AL: You’re talking about “writing
teams?” Not in my experience. I wrote with Dave or alone. Mostly alone.
Except, of course, for producers, editors, directors, business
managers of stars, cleaning ladies, podiatrists and whoever the hell
else happened by and had the enthusiasm or authority to offer
TNR: What were some of your favorite moments as a
AL: I didn’t get many. Look, TV is – or anyway it was back then – a
species of mass production. I was an
assembly worker, turning out entertainments in quick time on short notice, to
be carried out – usually without rehearsal – by actors who could be trusted at
minimum to get on and off camera without missing their marks or blowing their
Or – let me go at it this
way. A writer in show business is a
worditute. Like his sisters in sin, he
may sometimes experience a fleeting pleasure.
But these occasions are rare and always, inescapably, there’s someone
else in the act.
But, well – OK – not to be
grudging, I have to admit to tweaks of pleasure or pride now and then. For example, I recall a couple of “Profiles
in Courage” scripts as reputable work. I
recall a “Dr. Kildare” episode with Dick Chamberlain and Gail Kobe (real
professionals). Or here’s another. I wrote a comedy for CBC’s show “Encore” called “The
Last of the Hot Pilots.” This was
very, very early in what would come to be called the “Space Age” at a
time when rockets were mostly just falling over and exploding. The story was about a scoundrel of a guy who
gets chosen, much to his frantic dismay, to be the very first human
launch. As I say, this was very early – it
was almost the first space story [on TV] ever – and it gave me a wonderful
chance to take a few shots at “space travel.”
TNR: You won a Spur award from the Western Writers
of America for an episode called “Zee” that you wrote for
“Lancer.” Can you say anything about that episode?
AL: Westerns, yuh. When I started writing, that’s
what they were making. Let me say something about the script you mention, “Zee,”
and then, quite separately from that, speaking of those old Western scripts,
let me tell you about the best line of dialog I ever wrote and what happened to
Zee, the woman character of Zee in
the “Lancer” episode – what should we call her? – the “gamine” – was
a contributory element actually to the character Bree in Klute. Intelligence. Strength. Quirkiness. Wit – especially
wit. You, as students of these matters,
surely take note of the conventional role of women in “dramatic
works,” both then and even now.
What the woman, the heroine, does is to react appropriately to whatever
the man does or has going on. Her life or characteristics may get a
little passing attention, but mostly not – they’re not the main male story.
Count it up for yourself – how many movies, even now, center around the
individual temperaments of their women?
I can remember only one forerunner to Klute (surely there must be others, but beyond my ken), and that
was a movie called Petulia [1968 with
Julie Christie]. Remember it? Anyhow – what I’m getting at – I like to
write smart, individualistic women, and I like to think I was good at it.
Now for – as I promised – my best
dialog line ever. My pinnacle moment as
script artist. I brought this forth in
another of those many westerns. I can’t
remember the name of the series or the producer, but here’s the start situation
as he, the producer, set it forth to me:
“There’s this town, see, that
has this sort of harmless, crazy guy living on the outskirts. Kind of a whacked-out, flower child
type. But this town, these people, they’re scared of
him. So what happens? This kid up and shoots him. And everybody’s good with that; he becomes
the local hero. But what these people
don’t know, see, is that this really tough Indian tribe that lives nearby,
they really grooved with the crazy guy.
He was, like, kind of sacred to them.
So what do they do? They come and
surround the town and they say, ‘Give us the kid that shot him and we will
maybe burn him or bury him in sand or, anyhow, do something real naughty to
him, or— or— we will come in and kill every one of you deader than oatmeal.’”
So there you have it as conveyed
to me as writer. The moral issue. So here, now, I approach the scene wherein
resides my all-time best line.
The town’s board of selectmen have called a meeting to consider
this crisis – turn the shooter kid over to the Indians or not. The shooter kid himself is there attending and
he sees where the discussion seems to be trending. And he becomes very upset and breaks in with something
like this: “Look – wait – look! You liked me shooting that crazy
guy! You’re gonna give me to those Indians!? You said I saved the whole town. I was a hero.
I saved this whole town!”
Whereat – here it comes, guys, my
best line ever – the Head Selectman turns to him and says, “Well, look at
it this way, son. You’ve got a chance to
do it again.”
Now you may well ask, did I ever
get justly celebrated for this line?
No. The actor just quickly
mutters his way through it, and they go on to shooting the next scene, whatever
it was. I live with the regret.
TNR: According to IMDb, you wrote for quite a few TV shows in the 50s and 60s as
well as two TV movies in the 70s. Do you
recall any specific instance of your writings that turned out exactly as you
saw it in your head?
AL: The IMDb list is incomplete. I’ve never seen everything listed in one
place, and I doubt that I could recall everything myself. As to whether any show got made the way I
visualized it: as I’ve said, I can
recall a couple of episodes of “Profiles in Courage” bunch that got
performed and shot pretty carefully.
I’m sure there were other occasions but I can’t right now bring them to
mind. But that’s how it goes – went. You work with a whole range of others. By and large they’re good people, but their
degrees of talent are all over the place.
But to come to the main point of
this – my writing life, start to end – the brute fact is that the sort of
things that have always interested me – the real gritty facts of the American
Revolution, for instance, or how it must really be to live in Burkina Faso – things
like that – are things that almost nobody but me ever wanted to put on camera.
TNR: How did you make your big break into writing
AL: I had been prodding my agents about this for
years. At length, they got me a job with
an outfit called Levy-Gardner-Laven to work on their film Underground. This was what
you’d call a “B” production, a mission-behind-enemy-lines WW2 sort of
action-potboiler. B-pictures were what
these guys did, one after another. I
worked for them some months and got paid a nickel. But they were good, unpretending people, all
three, and I liked them a lot personally.
I don’t remember how much of my writing got used – probably not much – and
I’ve never seen the film itself. But to
this day, oh my God, I get wee residuals from its getting recycled through
Lagos and Bangkok and New Delhi and wherever. American culture enriching the
But, to return to the point, I
liked these guys. And a quality they
shared was an extraordinary instinct for what was marketable. And as things went, a couple of months later
on, in a casual conversation with Levy (I think Levy), he dropped a comment
that he thought the American audience was ready for a film about a
prostitute. Promptly – promptly – I
swiped that notion into a corner of my mind.
TNR: And that is how Klute came to be?
Klute was/is an artifact. A deliberate outcome. I wanted to get out of TV. I knew I had to write for the market. That almost automatically meant
“thriller.” I put that
together with Levy’s passing comment and with the gamine female character I
spoke of before, and then, to complete my thievery, I pulled out a plot
situation I remembered from years before – when I was literally a child – from
an ancient Saturday Evening Post serialized story about a farmer/rancher-type
who journeys to the big city to look at an empty yard where his brother was
murdered long ago to figure out who actually did it.
This is one of two resonant
American themes (I’ll get to the other in a moment): the rube who turns the tables on the city
slickers. There is an entire tradition –
you may well be familiar with it – of the Toby Show. Toby is the rural duffer who turns out to be
smarter than the slickers all around.
The second theme is paranoia. I’m sure this afflicts people all over the
world, but I somehow think of it as typically American. The hidden pattern of things. The darkness. The people out there
watching you, plotting against you, waiting to hurt you. Sounds you hear at night. Silences on the phone. All that stuff. I figured I would write this thing, however
it went, to take the fullest possible advantage of this – what should we call
it? – instinct. Deliberately.
TNR: Paranoia’s always been a key part of it. Interestingly, Klute is the first film of
what some people refer to as Alan J. Pakula’s “paranoia trilogy,” joining The Parallax View and All the President’s Men. Speaking
to the nature of paranoia, how do you feel it plays into this film?
AL: To illustrate, you may remember an early
scene in Klute where Klute spots that
he and Bree are being watched from the skylight above. He goes busting up to the roof in
pursuit. Now, when Alan and I were
working together, his version of how it should play out – and
as you’ll recall it playing actually in the movie – is that we, the audience,
should glimpse a shadowy figure scampering away and that Klute should go
rampaging after him unsuccessfully. That
plays. And that plays to the kind of
fear we’re talking about. (Though
actually, myself, I always sort of thought it might have been better to have
Klute come sprinting out and find no one. Just the dark. Keep the thing there but hidden, that is.)
Alan and I had the same instincts
about a lot of things, and certainly he welcomed, in this instance, the theme
of paranoia. For all I know, he may have
given it much thought before, but in this particular instance, in our script,
it was there waiting for him.
So here anyhow, summing up, here
we have an environment: big city
prostitution. We have our heroine: beautiful, smart, articulate, in terror for
her life but witty about it. We have our
hero: the rube in the city. And we
have our overriding atmosphere of paranoia.
TNR: This film deals heavily with the nature
of trust, and how we give and
grant trust in our relationships. The message ends up being quite powerful both
in the context of personal/professional relationships (Bree/Klute) and
power/industrial relationships (Klute/Cable). Was this message intentional or
AL: I think this motif – the love and distrust
part – is/was implicit from the start between Bree and Klute. I could never claim that Dave and I invented
or deliberately enhanced this element.
It was just always there. And
Alan felt from the start, and quite rightly, that this was the carrying element
of the story and what we had to focus on.
TNR: The 70s stand out as a period in which
production design turns from stately stage work of the 40s and 50s to a gritty,
dirty, even aggressive view of “real life”. Was this a trend you were specifically aware
of in writing the script? How did the
resulting design of the film fit your vision of it, and how did that vision
contribute to (or distract from!) your vision for the film?
AL: Your observation interests me. You speak of the change of character in
dramatic culture from “stately stage work” to “real life.” You place this change in the 70s. It seems to me that it came, or at least
started, a good deal earlier, and came as a result, to my mind, due to
WW2. That war was the occasion, after
all, when a whole generation of us got a whole firsthand faceful of
“real life.” And this started
to get reflected in what we’d see and do on screen. Bit by bit, we began to watch what we could
consider real people doing real things, or somewhere close. I’d say that this started as early even as
the late forties, and had become available as a dramatic mode by
the time of Klute. And,
yuh, I wanted to make Klute as nearly
“real” as I could. And so did
Dave, and so did Alan. But the trend had
started well before us.
(Digression. It’s funny to me that
this “realism” we’re talking about came about as a result (I claim)
of WW2, but we never saw it applied to the movies about that
war that were made during and immediately after it. They continued to be overblown and
heroic. We – my infantry colleagues and
I – used to sit and laugh at this crap.
It’s only recently – very, very recently in the past few years – that
WWII has been dramatized in ways that partly catch the real feel of it. Curious. I’ve never been able to figure
the why of this.)
TNR: Backing up a bit, describe the writing
process for Klute. How did
you and David move from the birthing of the idea to writing it?
AL: It was written entirely on
“spec.” As I’ve indicated, I swiped the topic, the female
character, the environment, and the general course of the story from one
different place or another. I did most
of the actual scripting, but in the early stages there was a whole lot of
back-and-forth between Dave and me of opinions, events, particulars of
character and scene, and everything else.
This went on mostly by letter and via phone – a prodigious amount as
Dave was located in California and I in Massachusetts. I’d have trouble attributing any part of the
original script to one or the other of us solely.
The outcome was just as I’d
hoped. Partly out of the elements I’ve
listed and partly out of simple good luck, I had hit on a real audience
appetite. My agents were greatly
pleased. In effect, they put it up for
auction. It sold literally overnight to
Warner Bros. as it turned out.
As I remember, from my first
dealings at the time with Warner Bros., Alan had expressed an interest in the
script as producer/director but was passed up. A little bit later, he reinserted
himself in the proceedings and got locked into the project.
is a fascinating film because it plays as a thriller but also is a fascinating
character study, both of Klute and Bree (and to some extent Cable).
AL: I’ve already spoken of my pleasure in the
character of Bree, the female “gamine,” and my sense of competence in
writing this character. And since she’s
a prostitute and city girl, it makes an interesting contrast to offer Klute as,
essentially, a country man with a set of country virtues.
There was a whole lot more of
Klute in the original script than what survived in the film. It’s my besetting fault as a writer that I
get wound up in my characters and want to explore their conflicts and
atmospheres, and that as a result I chronically write overlength. A lot of this length always has to come
out. That was the first chore Alan and I
had to undertake, and as he maintained and I had to agree Bree was our core
charismatic element. So what had to
come out came out almost entirely from Klute’s part.
TNR: Cable is such an interesting character for
us. Beyond being the bad guy, what does
this character represent to you in terms of the overall dramatic mechanism of
your story? If this film is a mirror representing your interpretation of our
culture at the time, what does Cable represent in that reflection?
AL: Geez. I’ve never thought, and don’t think, of
Cable as a character at all. He was a
necessary mechanism. Klute had to be a
thriller. A thriller needs a bad
guy. The setup of the story, its
location and logic of events, led rather directly toward a business
executive sort of bad guy, an associate of the missing
victim, located in a countryside headquarters of a large company but
having occasion for trips and wickedness in the big city.
That’s just about all of Cable, apart from Alan’s and my few added
fillips. And Alan and I used to have fun
talking about him as our all-purpose pervert. Our
“interpretation of culture?” C’mon.
Really. You and I have just finished talking about
“realism.” How real, do you
really think, is the figure of a responsible business executive
(important enough to ride around in his own helicopter) who himself,
personally, firsthand, conducts three murders and tape records himself
doing it? C’mon.
TNR: True enough.
So with all these great characters in your script, do you remember any
other bits that had to come out? Any
specific bits of additional stuff from Klute or someone else?
AL: Lots of stuff. In the original script, just for one example,
there were scenes of Klute closing up his Pennsylvania house and driving toward
New York (and listening to the early morning local produce report on his car
radio – I always liked that bit). Somewhere
along in the story – another example, I forget just where – there was also a
flashback scene back at Klute’s home previously – where he comes upon his wife
in outright adultery and they part bitterly.
And later in New York, we see a good deal of his working
relationship with the black cop Trask and with the psychiatrist figure (whom
Alan turned from male to female, and why not?).
Another sequence that was in there in some detail: Klute had a relationship with Tom Gruneman’s
widow. She was drawn to him and comes to
New York to see him, and runs smack into his situation with Bree – a tough
sort of face-off.
Another quite considerable
example: I had written in some of the
growing trust, even a sort of domesticity, between Bree and Klute, and
their first occasion of genuine sexual intimacy (starting when they lie on
a rug together reading the comic strips – I liked that part too). And then there were a whole series of events
having to do with Bree’s ambition to be a real actress (this is the
only sizeable incident where Bree material had to be discarded). She gets a part in an off-Broadway production
and then gets fired – with the emotional repercussions you might expect. (Included in the course of all this was
a really dandy scene of Bree finding herself, after rehearsal, suddenly alone
in empty theatre.)
Stuff like that. All gone.
Had to go. But it saddened
me then and even a little bit now.
TNR: Talk about the transition from
script to film and what it means in the context of the story you were trying to
tell. Did Pakula’s version work? Were you happy with the
AL: I’ll seize on the occasion to refer
back all the way to Dave’s and my very first writing, and this will
fall into two parts: changes that were
made in collaboration between Alan and me, and the few changes he made himself
subsequent to that in the course of production.
I’ve already previously noted that
Dave’s and my original was considerably overlong, that by force of circumstance
a lot of length had to come out, and that most of that was stuff about Klute
himself. Similarly, as I said, Alan and I took out episodes of Bree’s
aspiring-actress life, though Alan gave a nod to that in one brief scene
where she does a reading for an off-Broadway director. (Alan, as I recall, had some disdain for the
Alan and I worked in company for
several weeks. That’s the total of it,
and in fact my total experience of Alan.
(Other people, other writers, surely knew him better.) Alan was a splendid editor, one of the three
best in my whole writing memory. He and
I found that our minds ran together to an extraordinary degree – details of
script that we found interesting or important, etc. We made a
lot of changes and swapped a lot of ideas.
I don’t remember any idea coming from him that I’d consider dumb.
Case in point. There was the matter of the
“establishing scene” – how to kick the story off. Dave’s and my prologue, as I’ve described,
was full of color but lengthy. We had to get things going
differently. Alan’s solution, as finally
filmed, was to open with a short scene wherein we observe a dinner party in
progress with Klute attending, then have a quick cut – or maybe pay away and
back, I don’t remember which – to an empty chair where the host, Gruneman, had
been sitting. Alan himself
didn’t much admire this solution, and to my mind it didn’t work very
Not a whole lot else comes to my
mind. I do remember that we chopped out
a scene between Bree and her pimp that served to elucidate an aspect
of the general whore/pimp relationship.
An “inside” bit, but just, after all, a bit.
In general, the result of Alan’s
and my working-through (very thorough on both our parts; I liked his
appetite for detail) was to narrow the focus on the Bree-Klute emotional
relationship and to render it less thorough but somewhat harder edged than in
the original. At every point, we aspired
to preserve the paranoid atmosphere of events.
More importantly, we wanted to preserve the sense (to a degree
illusory) that we were offering the real “inside story” of high-class
Now these are changes that came
about in the course of Alan’s and my efforts jointly. There remain changes that Alan
subsequently made by himself without our consultation. Some were minor and within the usual course
of things in the transition from script to the much more complex business of
production. Examples: a scene in a grocery store becomes a scene at
a fruit stand, inserted visuals, Cable and his helicopter, etc. Things like that.
Alan also invented and added (and
I believe wrote by himself) a scene during the search by Klute and Bree for her
former and addicted call girl colleague.
This scene offered a glimpse into a small, rundown brothel setting. I recall it to mind as the “Janie
Dale” scene, if I have that right. Anyhow, I remember objecting to it when
Alan first proffered it to me, but I was wrong and he was right.
More significantly, and distinctly
part of Alan’s reworking from script to film, was his use of tape
recording as a dramatic device.
The first instance of tape recording, to be sure,
occurred in Dave’s and my script – Klute bugs and tape records Bree’s phone
conversations in order to get a handle on her.
I guess this took Alan’s fancy as he extended the topic in the film
version. We see that Cable tape records
Klute himself in an office scene.
This, in effect, discloses Cable as a possible suspect and occurs
earlier in the story than I would have put it. But then – more importantly – Alan used it
again in the final Cable-Bree scene where he has her captive. He actually plays her the
tape of himself killing his previous prostitute victim. And this scene – apart from a smattering of
my previous dialog – is entirely Alan’s invention. I’m not sure I would ever have written it his
way: it would seem to me too wide a
departure from reality. But – it is
dramatic, and so far as I understand it works just fine to the audience. So why
And now, at last, I get to the
final Bree and Klute scene. Dave’s and
my original version compared with the final film version as devised by Alan:
Dave’s and my version was as
follows: Klute’s about to leave. He proposes to Bree. It’s more of a deep, sudden, threatening
commitment than she can handle. She
makes a succession of panicked wisecracks (“How can I leave the Mets?,”
etc.). Klute listens stolidly and then
just picks up his suitcase and heads out to his car. And then – she runs after him.
In Alan’s version, and as it got
filmed, we find the two of them, finally, in an emptied apartment with a packed
suitcase. Bree gets a phone call and
informs the caller that she’s unavailable.
She’s going away for a while. Her
tone is ambiguous, uncommitted. Then she
hangs up, Klute picks up the suitcase and they just walk out.
Now, I still enjoy Dave’s and my
original version. In broad terms, it’s
true to Klute’s and Bree’s characters and the course of their
relationship. And hey, it’s tricky and it feels good. But you know what? Alan’s version is less cozy and somewhat
closer to the “real life” that we’ve been purporting to show. Ambiguous.
Uncertain. And to get artistic
about it, I think Alan’s version is probably better.
TNR: After working on rewrites with Alan, what
happened? Were you involved in the
AL: That’s a story by itself. Some of what happened next is illustrative of
the screenwriter’s role in life. The
kitchen work of film biz.
Alan took the script and headed
West after our several weeks of collaboration.
There ensued a long silence. On
my part, I immediately got involved in other things – and into a mire.
Warner Bros. had offered me the
stump of someone else’s script. A
comedy. As written, it was centered in the late 1800s around the greatest
horse rider in the west who was, at the same time, a complete wastrel. I forget all the plot of the script as
written, but I turned it about in such fashion that this champion, besides
being a wastrel, was the ardent enemy of everything in the dawning modern age –
everything from indoor plumbing to lawnmowers.
And the story was going to center around his epic
confrontation: a three day cross country
race against the “Bristol Tiger,” a British motorcar – one of the
very first – and its inventor, a wedge-faced Henry Ford-type who was just as
much a scoundrel as our hero. Even now,
this notion beguiles me. It could have
been a fine, funny movie.
But Warners, besides offering me
this assignment, had clasped me together with a producer and
a director. These two didn’t like
each other much, and with good reason.
They were both, each of them, inflated and devious. I labored between. Between that and some personal issues, this project
went down the chute. And with it went
the small momentum I’d just previously gained.
But now, during the long time that
this stuff was going on, I heard nothing – not a word – from out West. I
supposed that Klute might be nearing
production but I was busy with these other things. But then this long silence got broken
abruptly by a phone call from my son in New York that Klute had opened!
To this day, I don’t know why Alan
had sequestered the production in this fashion – why I’d heard nothing all along
– or whether this was just his custom.
You’d have to ask others, but I confess to being a little startled.
TNR: So you didn’t see it at the premiere then?
I wound up going to the local theatre and buying a ticket like everyone
else. Well, OK. Sitting there in the theatre, I liked
listening to the audience’s reactions.
And here I felt, yes, here was Dave’s and my story, and here were our
characters, and here, in particular, was my dialog.
TNR: What did you think of the movie overall?
AL: I felt Alan had done a first rate job with
it. I felt that he’d nailed the things
he and I had felt important, and that he himself had added touches here
and there that worked well toward our main purposes. (An example would be the two brief scenes he
added of Bree’s relapse into drug use.)
Any quibbles I could feel, then or now, are entirely minor. (For instance I felt that he somewhat miscast
the figure of the elderly garment district proprietor, Bree’s main client. Alan brought him forth as a quite handsome,
even rather elegant, man though this wasn’t the way Dave and I’d envisioned
him. But that, as I say, could only rank
as a quibble.)
But I think I have to make note
here, before we move on, of something that caused some degree of distress to
Dave and me both. Around when Klute was still playing, I heard that it
had become scripture here and there that Klute
was a damaged script to begin with and that Alan had somehow rescued and
transformed it. I don’t know where
this thesis arose or how it got spread, but it’s fair to say that it didn’t
cheer me much. But after all, I’d
already spent twenty years in showbiz, and this wasn’t the first time I’d been
TNR: From this script, you and David received an
Oscar nomination, a Golden Globe nomination, an Edgar Allan Poe nomination, and
a WGA award nomination. Congratulations! Had there been
awards buzz leading up to the awards?
AL: To this day, honest to God, I’m not sure I
heard of any of them in advance except for the Oscar, but I did feel a
surge of pride in that one.
TNR: What were your thoughts when learning you
were nominated for an Oscar?
AL: I felt that Dave and I had been valued by our
TNR: What was your experience the night of the
AL: I watched the ceremony with my kids back East
on TV. We all booed when Dave and I
didn’t win, but it didn’t shake us much.
There was no disgrace in losing to Paddy Chayevsky [for The Hospital].
Dave’s experience was less
happy. He actually traveled from Palo
Alto to attend the awards ceremony and, in the confusion of things afterward,
his wheelchair got swiped and used to propel Charlie Chaplin. It took Dave most of the night to get it back.
TNR: After this, you wrote a number of specs that
never were made then retired. What sorts
of scripts were they? More thrillers? Did any of them get
close to production?
AL: Lots and lots of ‘close but no cigar.’ The next fifteen years or so were
extraordinary in that I was constantly employed, I made a quite reasonable
living writing all kinds of stuff on assignment and on speculation: thrillers, comedies, pilot scripts for TV
series, everything – and hardly an inch of it ever got made. I think I
must hold a record.
But you’ve been kind enough to ask
about these scripts and so, by golly, I’m going to take full advantage. There’s no point in this to be sure, no
profit for anyone, but it’ll make me feel good. So here, at great length, are some of my
BRANT – about a Maine lobsterman in
Prohibition times caught up in the smuggling trade.
ALLIE – about professional dancers in New
York. (I don’t know how come I ever got hired to write about the dance world,
but I did – twice, in fact – and Allie was a good, authentic job.)
MERCHANTS – about
a major weapons deal gone bad in Thailand.
Warners bought this one for (at that time) big dollars, but never
actually got it done. (I’ve sometimes
wondered if it got squished by overlapping corporate interests.)
LEGION – Comedy. I’m going to explain this one at length. Bear with me.
To set it up: the 9th Legion, as
I’m sure you recall, was one of four legions sent by Caesar to conquer the
British Isles. They sort of did, and
remained in occupation until AD 120, at which point the 9th Legion vanished! Dropped from all Roman records, that is. Never mentioned again. In the centuries since, as you might imagine,
this mystery has been exploited in all sorts of ways – histories, novels, even
a film – and all humbug. Bogus.
What really happened,
you see, is that the 9th, stationed in Londinium, was under fierce attack by a
bunch of Celts – at least they looked like Celts. And things went badly, you see: the Legion kept having to fall back and dig
in. And, well, one thing led to another,
and how it ended up is that they’re still there! Clustered there
underground in their secret caverns trying bravely to preserve their Roman
life, living in uneasy symbiosis with modern London up above.
The core of the story is how one
of their guys, the bravest Roman of them all, while on a secret mission
aboveground (they have their agents and suppliers, after all) gets entangled
with a visiting female tourist, an accountant from Milwaukee.
THEO – about a hapless sort of woman who
gets savagely beaten by a boyfriend and how, afterwards, bit by bit she
rebuilds her life and person and a profession in boat repair in Seattle’s
OF LINCOLN CLUM – Here again I’ll go on at length because I think this may
be the best thing I ever wrote.
Clum is a failed sort of man, a
florist, on the outskirts of a town in Northern Michigan. He wants to be some sort of role model for
his middle school son. He gets embroiled
in his son’s mathematics assignment. You
know the sorts of problems: “An
eight foot ladder leaned against a wall…”, “At what time after two
o’clock will the two hands…”, “A hydrant pours at the rate of…”,
“A man invests in stock at an annual yield of…” and so on.
Clum, with a thrill of horror,
discovers he can’t do these problems – not on paper
anyhow. But then it comes to him that,
gee, he has a ladder after all, and clock, and a nearby
hydrant and so on. And so – I’m sure you
see where we’re headed – he starts working these problems out in real
life. And he never gets them right, of
course, but through an extraordinary series of events, he gets vaulted into all
sorts of notoriety then fame. He gets
involved with a crooked New York tycoon, a delegation of hostile Russians,
the FBI, his son’s mathematics teacher Eliza, a massive stock fraud that
may make him rich, and so on. Our climax
finds him besieged by the tycoon, the Russians, the FBI, a helicopter pounding
on his roof – I really don’t have space here to explain everything – and a
heavy major-machinery war between two contractors. Well, it all finally collapses, as you might
suppose, but he has a new sense of himself as a man, content with his life,
with his son, and Eliza.
There. You’ve been very
As you may have gathered from
these samples, the film world and I have not always run on the same track.
TNR: They’re great! Thanks for sharing them. And who knows, maybe one of our readers will
discover your ideas here and call you up to option them. So now, with all these scripts and other
projects, why retirement? Have you continued writing since?
AL: I finally, around 1985, in the classic
fashion, burned out. Really and
truly. I’d moved out to LA in hopes of
reviving my progress, but too late. By
then, I was just staggering for the finish line. So I quit.
I’ve scarcely written a word since.
What I did do in
the next twelve years or so was develop and patent a building design – a
building system – that had engaged me from long years before. After I had it patented, I went ahead and
built a prototype, a demonstrator house, here in New Hampshire. I then hustled it to everyone everywhere
in the building industry, in hopes of licensing my design and becoming rich and
As you may guess, it didn’t
happen. My design was radical and the
building biz, like showbiz, runs on habit.
So here, on surface, I was faced
with another nothing. What’s more,
building the house itself had been a real ordeal – I don’t exaggerate – eating my
money and confronting me at every step with likely disaster. But there was a major element here; a
satisfaction that I hadn’t had for a long time before. And that was that from first to last,
throughout all my fears and fumbles, I got to do everything my way. I was the one responsible.
So now I live in my prototype in considerable
comfort with my mate, nearby to some of my grown kids. And now, as I sometimes look back upon this
stuff I’ve told you of, I sometimes wonder what, maybe, I should have been
instead of a script writer. Not a
novelist surely – I don’t have the right rhythms for that. Maybe an engineer, maybe an architect. Or maybe a crane operator. That’s a skill I acquired in the course of
building my house. Hoisting heavy stuff
around. Wonderful sense of competence.
Gentlemen, I’ve been flattered by
your interest. At the same time, as I
said at the very outset, we’re all a little peculiar to be poking through these
obscure matters of a time gone by. And
it’s been interesting to me – and at times a little painful – that in
reminiscence I can still feel some small, long-gone ambitions and hopes.
But things go as they go. I’ve had
a lucky life.
My best wishes to you both at THE
Andrew K. Lewis
It really was a pleasure chatting with Andy Lewis about his TV writing, his life, his brother, and Klute. We wish him the best of luck.
Andy & Pete