Oscar Artists: Sargent, Alvin–Winning Scribe (Julia, Ordinary People) Dies at 92

Alvin Sargent, two-time Oscar winner, who penned many critically and commercially successful films, from “Paper Moon” and “Ordinary People” to the “Spider-Man” sequels, died Thursday. He was 92.

Sargent won two adapted screenplay Oscars, for “Julia” in 1977 and “Ordinary People” in 1980, and was nominated in 1973 for “Paper Moon.”

He also received Writers Guild awards for all three films.

Born Alvin Supowitz in Philadelphia, Sargent began his Hollywood career with a brief uncredited role in “From Here to Eternity.” As a writer he first worked in TV, penning episodes of “Chevron Hall of Stars” in 1956 and “G.E. True Theater” in 1960.

In the 1960s, he scripted multiple episodes of “Naked City,” “Ben Casey,” “Route 66” and “The Doctors and the Nurses.”

The writer worked with many of Hollywood’s top directors over the course of his career, including Alan J. Pakula, John Frankenheimer, Paul Newman, Peter Bogdanovich, Sydney Pollack, Fred Zinnemann, Robert Redford, Martin Ritt, Norman Jewison, Stephen Frears and Wayne Wang.

Sargent began his career as a TV writer, but broke into features with his screenplay for 1966’s “Gambit,” a Ronald Neame-directed comedy thriller starring Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine.

Sargent wrote the Gregory Peck Western “The Stalking Moon,” directed by Robert Mulligan; Alan J. Pakula’s eccentric love story “The Sterile Cuckoo,” which earned star Liza Minnelli a Best Actress Oscar nomination; and John Frankenheimer’s “I Walk the Line,” also with Peck.

The scribe returned to TV in the early 1970s, penning two telepics, “The Impatient Heart” and “Footsteps,” as well as an episode of “Norman Corwin Presents.”

Sargent then wrote a big-screen adaptation of Paul Zindel’s play “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds” for director Paul Newman and star Joanne Woodward.

In 1973 he reunited with Pakula for “Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing,” the tale of an oddly matched couple played by Maggie Smith and Timothy Bottoms.

Also in 1973, Sargent adapted Paper Moon, the novel by Joe David Brown directed by Bogdanovich, for which he received his first Oscar nomination.

Sargent did uncredited work on the 1976 remake of “A Star Is Born,” which starred Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.

“Julia,” Sargent’s adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s book “Pentimento,” directed by Zinnemann and starring Jane Fonda, Jason Robards and Vanessa Redgrave, scored 11 Oscar nominations and won three, including Adapted Screenplay for Sargent.

Sargent contributed to the script for “Straight Time,” a film best known today for Dustin Hoffman’s performance.

He adapted Judith Guest’s novel “Ordinary People” for director Redford, a powerful family drama that received six Oscar nominations, winning four, including a second Oscar for Sargent for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Sargent did not have another script produced until 1987’s Streisand starrer “Nuts,” a court drama based on Tom Topor’s play that drew mixed reviews. “Dominick and Eugene,” a relatively small film, drew decent reviews, while May-December romancer “White Palace,” with Susan Sarandon and James Spader, garnered largely positive reviews.
Sargent and his life partner, producer Laura Ziskin, devised the story for the 1991 comedy “What About Bob,” which was then scripted by Bob Schulman. (After 25 years together, Sargent and Ziskin married in 2010, but she died of breast cancer in June 2011.) The film, starring Bill Murray as a nutcase hounding psychiatrist Richard Dreyfuss, was both a commercial and critical success.

In 1992, Sargent and Ziskin teamed again on the story for “Hero,” with David Webb Peoples also writing the script, but the film was a flop.

In 1999, the mother-daughter road movie “Anywhere But Here,” starring Sarandon and Natalie Portman, drew mixed reviews.

In 2002, the erotic thriller Unfaithful, which Sargent and William Broyles Jr. adapted from the Claude Chabrol film “La Femme infidele,” was a popular success, earning $120 million worldwide.

Ziskin, the producer of four “Spider-Man” films, brought Sargent onto the first one, released in 2002, to do a rewrite, for which he was not credited. But the film grossed $800 million worldwide, and he subsequently collaborated on the screenplays for “Spider-Man 2,” “Spider-Man 3” and “The Amazing Spider-Man.”

From 1953 to 1975, Sargent was married to actress Joan Camden, who died in 2000.  Sargent’s brother, TV writer and producer Herb Sargent, died in 2005.