Academic journal article Michigan Quarterly Review

HUD: A Conversation with Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr

Academic journal article Michigan Quarterly Review

HUD: A Conversation with Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr

Article excerpt

The distinguished screenwriting team of Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr., first met as young writers at M-G-M and were married in 1946. Irving Ravetch, born in Newark, New Jersey, was an aspiring playwright, who'd attended U.C.L.A. before coming to M-G-M. Harriet Frank, Jr., was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, and eventually attended U.C.L.A. while her mother was working as a Hollywood story editor. After their marriage, the Ravetches worked independently for over ten years before beginning their first collaboration on Martin Ritt's The Long Hot Summer (1958) starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. This experience initiated a remarkable series of collaborations with Martin Ritt that extended over eight films and included Hud (1963), starring Paul Newman and Patricia Neal, for which the Ravetches were nominated for an Academy Award; Hombre (1967), also with Paul Newman; Norma Rae, featuring Sally Field, for which the Ravetches received their second Oscar nomination; and Stanley and Iris (1990), starring Robert De Niro and Jane Fonda. They also wrote various scripts for other directors, including an adaptation of William Inge's The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1960), directed by Delbert Mann and starring Robert Preston and Dorothy McGuire, and an adaptation of William Faulkner's The Reivers (1969), directed by Mark Rydell and featuring Steve McQueen.

BAER: After graduating from U.C.L.A. at different times, you both ended up at M-G-M. How did you actually meet?

RAVETCH: Harriet was in the Junior Writer's Program, and I was writing shorts for the studio, things like "Crime Doesn't Pay." Then one day I saw this beautiful, radiant, young woman walking down the hallway toward her office. So I went to the guy in the office next to hers, and I said, "I'll give you fifty dollars if you'll trade offices." So we made the deal-he was one of the studio lawyers, not one of the writers-and I immediately went to "work" on L. B. Mayer's time!

BAER: And it worked.

FRANK: It definitely did! Any man who comes into your office every morning and reads you The New York Times is the man you have to marry.

RAVETCH: It not only worked, it's worked for over fifty-five years!

BAER: You were married in 1946, but you worked independently in Hollywood for over ten years until you finally collaborated on a script in 1957 when producer Jerry Wald approved your proposal to adapt William Faulkner's novel The Hamlet. Is that correct?

FRANK: That's right. Jerry Wald was very serious about doing "serious" films, especially literary adaptations. So we began writing the script using both The Hamlet and Faulkner's short story "Barn Burning" as starting points, but, in the end, we created mostly new material, so it wasn't really a true adaptation.

BAER: Why did you suggest to Jerry Wald that Martin Ritt be chosen to direct the film, which was eventually titled The Long Hot Summer and starred Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward?

RAVETCH: I'd met Marty in the New York office of Audrey Wood, who was a well-known agent back then. I'd gone to New York for the production of one of my plays, which, unfortunately, had turned out disastrously. Marty had been a member of the Group Theater, and he was one of the founding members of the Actor's Studio. Recently, he'd directed his first film, Edge of the City, with John Cassavetes and Sidney Poitier. So when I got back to L.A., Jerry asked me to suggest a director for Long Hot Summer. He definitely wanted somebody young and creative and promising, and he finally said, "You pick the director, Irving." So I remembered Marty, and that's how it happened.

BAER: After the success of The Long Hot Summer (1958), you wrote your second film for Martin Ritt, an adaptation of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (1959). Then you wrote screenplays for Vincente Minnelli (Home from the Hill, 1960) and Delbert Mann (The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, 1960). …

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