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|The Emperor's Second-Hand Clothes
Irving is a thoroughly discouraged young writer who is tired of making his living as a bike messenger and decides to end it all in Central Park. Enter H.C., a dark stranger who befriends Irving and, with the help of another writer making his living as a policeman and a pretty photographer from Irvings past, Irvings personal disappointment turns to hope and everything movies right back into its proper place (as does H.C.)
Noon. A Fall day in 1990. A secluded part of Central Park in New York City. Some bushes, a park bench with a trash can.
In 1948, Malvin Wald wrote The Naked City, which closed with the now familiar lines, There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them. Even those who have never seen the film can quote this line (or something akin to it). That year, the film was nominated for an Academy Award as the Best Original Story. During his prolific career, Wald has been associated with over 300 productions as a writer and/or producer. A Google search on the web turns up dozens of pages of Wald references. He has credits on 20 feature films and over 200 television programs and documentaries. His words have been acted by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Orson Welles, Bing Crosby, William Holden, Glenn Ford, Lee J. Cobb, Gene Kelly, Mike Wallace, Rich Little, David Opatoshu and Kirk Douglas (to name a few). Among his films are Jive Junction (1943), The Dark Past (1949), Outrage (1950); Al Capone (1959), and Venus in Furs (1970), as well as Behind Locked Doors, Ten Gentlemen from West Point, The Powers Girl, Two in a Taxi, Undercover Man, On the Loose, and Man on Fire. Wald has received two Academy Award nominations, an Emmy Nomination, a Venice Film Festival Gold Medal in Childrens Films, and has won national playwriting awards, including five for Father Was President (written with Walter Doniger) and three for Talk in Darkness, which marked the dramatic debuts of Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte.
Bookstores sell videotapes of his two scripts for NBCs Greatest Heroes of the Bible, and his multiple documentaries include Young Abe Lincoln, Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy and In Search of the Historic Jesus.
IN THE NEWS: Malvin Wald's "Naked City" Released on DVD!
"The roads to becoming a creative artist. Music. Poetry. Painting. Photography. Drama. Film. An artist's life never ends with his death. He lives on through his work. Think about that, my young friend. Seriously."
-- Photographer Alfred Stieglitz, 1934 (as told to a 17-year-old Malvin Wald)
On Thursday, March 6, Malvin Wald died in his sleep and Creative Screenwriting lost one of its first and most important collaborators.
I first spoke to Malvin in 1994, right after the first issue of Creative Screenwriting had been published. I had reached out to film faculty across the country and Malvin called me, enthusiastic about my new journal. He wanted to help any way he could. I added him to Creative Screenwriting's original editorial board, and we created a new section in the journal, The Screenwriting Life, to accommodate the many amazing stories he had about his career in screenwriting. It is that life which I celebrate here.
Malvin Wald grew up in the working class Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn and entered Brooklyn College at the age of 15. He wrote a weekly humor column and graduated cum laude in psychology and education. Later, he would add graduate studies in drama and a law degree.
In 1938, he followed brother, Jerry Wald, to Hollywood. Jerry was a prolific producer (An Affair to Remember) and the primary inspiration for Budd Schulberg's book, What Makes Sammy Run? Malvin wrote an original script called Benefit of Mankind, based on his experience as a "sometime student of undergraduate law courses" and his two years working in the Brooklyn Post Office. He got the script into the hands of agent Arthur Landau, once famous as the agent for Jean Harlow and Marie Dressler. "But when those two great stars died, Landau fell on bad times and was willing to accept anybody as a client, even unknowns like me," Malvin wrote.
Landau sold the screenplay to Warner Bros. for actor John Garfield. Signed to a Warner Bros. writing contract for $250/week as part of that deal, Malvin wrote a treatment for The Shadow, but Jack Warner told his producer, Brian Foy, "Never will Warner Bros. do a comic book. We do the great pictures. We will go out of business." I guess times have changed a little.
Being on the Warner lot had other advantages for Malvin. He met Jack and Harry Warner, and was invited by John Huston to dine at the legendary Warner Bros. writer's table. There he was introduced to Humphrey Bogart, Julius and Philip Epstein, Errol Flynn, and veteran writer, George Bricker, who told him, "If you don't make it big by time you are 40, you will be considered a washed-up hack." Maybe times haven't changed so much.
After his seven-month contract ran out, Malvin was unemployed. He sold a story to Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck, Ten Gentlemen from West Point, which he had researched in the history room of a local public library. The screenplay for the film was written by Richard Maibaum (From Russia With Love, Goldfinger) and George Seaton, with an uncredited $1,000/day polish by legendary screenwriter Ben Hecht (Wuthering Heights).
In April 1942, while working on an assignment at Columbia Pictures, Malvin was drafted. He entered the Army Air Corps, serving in the First Motion Picture Unit. He wrote more than 30 instructional films there, working with Ronald Reagan, William Holden, and other notable actors. Former Editor-In-Chief Den Shewman and I took Malvin to lunch about six months ago, and Malvin told us about his experiences working in the unit. One of the films he wrote, Ditch and Live, was very well regarded by the Air Force, and his vivid recollection of the story inspired me to begin a horror treatment on a related concept (a B-29 bomber crashing in the Artic). Such was the power of his enthusiasm.
After the war, Malvin was unemployed and he took up play and short story writing. His one act play, Talk in Darkness, was popular, with a young Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte appearing in it in Harlem. He credited that success with earning him the opportunity to write The Naked City.
In 1946 Malvin met Universal-International Producer Mark Hellinger and sold him on the idea of researching the NYPD homicide case files for a new kind of police story. Malvin wrote, "My concept was that the police department, with its fingerprint experts, crime scene photographers, autopsy physicians, solved murders, not Sam Spade type private eyes working alone.
"When I returned to Hollywood a month later with a notebook full of story ideas, Hellinger asked me eagerly, 'Do you have a good story?' 'I don't know,' I answered. 'There are eight million stories in the Naked City.' Hellinger replied, 'Forget about the eight million, just give me one good one.'"
Malvin worked for six months on the screenplay, and when it was finished, "Hellinger called me in and said he couldn't do it. It was too original. I had written a script where actual locations in New York were to be used instead of Hollywood studio sets. Hellinger said that would be too difficult to produce and was shelving the project. I begged him to get a second opinion, and he reluctantly gave the script to director Jules Dassin, who had just finished making a picture called Brute Force for him. Hellinger called me a few days later to say that Dassin loved the idea and told Hellinger that they would make film history with it," Malvin related.
The gritty, black-and-white film noir did make
history, inaugurating the police procedural genre and popularizing the
method of shooting scenes on-location. Because of some intrigues by the
producer Hellinger, Malvin would share credit on
The Naked City
with Albert Maltz, and their screenplay would receive nominations for
the Writers Guild screenplay award and the Academy Award for best story
Continuing his interest in documentary writing, Malvin worked with Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes fame on a Marilyn Monroe documentary shortly after her death in 1962, and was assigned to work with an aging Walter Winchel on a series about his life.
He was a writer with an insatiable desire for research, ferreting out new stories, exploring new ideas and innovative ways to tell a story. A long list of credits for largely forgotten TV shows and movies isn't nearly as impressive as the long bookshelf in his Sherman Oaks, CA home, filled with his produced screenplays bound in leather. From his screenplay Homicide (later retitled The Naked City) to his work as a story editor on Daktari, Malvin was proud of each of his screenplays. He was a man who worked.
Reflecting on his life, Malvin wrote, "One of the wonderful by-products of being a Hollywood writer is that occasionally you get to meet real writers -- world-famous authors and playwrights. In my long career I had brief encounters with Dorothy Parker, Jack Kerouac, Upton Sinclair, James Hilton, John Hersey, James Cain, Henry Miller, and Clifford Odets, but the most memorable experiences were with two Nobel Prize Winners -- William Faulkner and John Steinbeck."
Malvin Wald was a real writer -- one of the finest and most prolific screenwriters in Hollywood history. But he was also my friend, mentor, and the nicest, most giving person I have had the privilege of meeting in Hollywood. He is gone now, but the stories he created and the lives he shaped live on.
Erik Bauer was the founding publisher and editor of Creative Screenwriting. He is currently developing feature screenplays for production and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.