Oscar Profile #446: Alvin Sargent

Born April 12, 1927 in Philadelphia, PA, Alvin Supowitz, known professionally as Alvin Sargent, was the son of Esther and Isaac Supowitz, who grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Upper Darby. He attended Upper Darby High School but quit at age 17 to join the U.S. Navy to fight in World War II, following in the footsteps of his four-year older brother, Herb.

Like his older brother, Alvin was a prolific writer. Herb’s first TV credit appeared in 1955, Alvin’s in 1956 although he had been working on scripts since 1953. Herbert would eventually win six Emmys while Alvin, would have a more substantial career in film, eventually winning two Oscars.

Both brothers would marry actresses from whom they would later become divorced. Alvin married Joan Camden in 1953 with whom he would remain married until 1975. Herb married Geraldine Brooks in 1958 and was divorced from her in 1961. He then married Norma Crane from whom he later became divorced as well. Neither brother had children.

Alvin also had a brief stint as actor, including an uncredited role in the 1953 Oscar winning film, From Here to Eternity playing a friend of Montgomery Clift.

His first credited film was 1966’s Gambit starring Shirley MacLaine on which he collaborated on the screenplay with Jack Davies. 1968’s The Stalking Moon starring Gregory Peck and Eva Marie Saint was the first film for which he was the sole screenwriter. He had further success with 1970’s I Walk the Line, starring Peck and Tuesday Weld and 1972’s The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds directed by Paul Newman and starring Joanne Woodward. He hit the big time with his Oscar nominated screenplay for 1973’s Paper Moon starring Ryan and Tatum O’Neal. That same year, he wrote the screenplay for Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing starring Maggie Smith and Timothy Bottoms.

Alvin began a long-time relationship with writer Laura Ziskin in 1975, but the pair didn’t marry until 2010, a year before her death. In 1976, he provided uncredited work on A Star Is Born starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. He provided the screenplay for Al Pacino’s 1976 flop, Bobby Deerfield bur rebounded with his Oscar winning screenplay for 1977’s Julia starring Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave. He then wrote the screenplay for 1979’s The Electric Horseman starring Fonda and Robert Redford and 1980’s Ordinary People, directed by Redford starring Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore and Timothy Hutton for which he, Redford, Hutton and the film itself all won Oscars.

Alvin did not write another screenplay until 1987’s Nuts starrngn Barbra Streisand, followed by 1988’s Dominick and Eugene starring Ray Liotta and Tom Hulce, 1990’s White Palace starring Susan Sarandon and James Spader, 1991’s What About Bob? starring Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss and Other People’s Money starring Danny DeVito and Gregory Peck.

Alvin found even greater success with 2002’s Unfaithful starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane and Spider-Man 2 starring Tobey Maguire. His last two films were 2004’s Spider-Man 3 also starring Maguire and 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man starring Andrew Garfield.

Alvin Sargent died on May 9, 2019 at 92. Herb Sargent died on May 6, 2005 at 81.

ESSENTIAL FILMS

PAPER MOON (1973), directed by Peter Bogdanovich

Sargent’s Oscar nominated screenplay and Bogdanovich’s direction go a long way in enhancing this adaptation of the novel by Joe David Brown whose Stars in My Crown and Kings Go Forth were previously adapted for the screen. Ryan O’Neal as the confidence man and his real-life daughter, nine-year-old Oscar winner Tatum O’Neal as his young protégé are, of course, first-rate as are Madeline Kahn and P.J. Johnson in the film’s major supporting roles. This one remains ever delightful, it’s guaranteed to not only tickle the funny-bone, but raise your spirits every time you see it.

JULIA (1977), directed by Fred Zimmemann

Working from a story by Lillian Hellman, about her relationships with Dashiell Hammett and a childhood friend, the Julia of the title, in the throes of World War II, Sargent has crafted an absorbing screenplay that under Zinnemann’s skillful direction gave substance to four Oscar nominated actors, two of whom won – Vanessa Redgrave as the title character and Jason Robards as Hammett while Fonda as Hellman and Maximilian Schell in a brief but interesting role as an anti-Nazi German took home various other awards for their performances. The film and Zinnemann were also nominated for Oscars, and Sargent won his first.

ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980), directed by Robert Redford

Sargent’s adaptation of Judith Guest’s novel earned him his second Oscar. The film also earned Redford the first Oscar given a director who was better known as an actor for his sensitive handling of the story about a suicidal young man (Oscar winner Timothy Hutton) guilt-ridden over the accidental death of his older brother. Donald Sutherland as his good-natured father, Oscar nominated Mary Tyler Moore in a stunning performance as his bitter mother and Oscar nominated Judd Hirsch as his psychiatrist also provide memorable performances as do Elizabeth McGovern and Dinah Manoff in brief appearances.

DOMINICK AND EUGENE (1988), directed by Robert M. Young

This emotionally riveting drama was truer to life than the year’s feelgood Oscar winner about disabilities, Rain Man but not nearly as successful at the box-office. Sargent’s screenplay, as was to be expected, is first-rate throughout. Tom Hulce and Ray Liotta star as twin brothers. Hulce’s Dominick, due to a childhood accident is a bit slow while Liotta’s Eugene who is not handicapped, is studying to be a doctor. He is being supported by Golden Globe nominated Hulce, who works as a garbage man in their native Pittsburgh. Jamie Lee Curtis and Todd Graff have the principal supporting roles.

WHITE PALACE (1990), directed by Luis Mandoki

Sargent’s adaptation of Glenn Savan’s novel is easily one of the best films ever made about a relationship between an older woman and a younger man. Susan Sarandon in a smoldering Golden Globe nominated performance has never been more radiant than as the waitress who seduces vulnerable rich young widower James Spader and thinking she’s not good enough for him, which only makes him more interested. Spader, in one of his most sensitive roles, is Sarandon’s equal here with the two receiving fine support from Jason Alexander, Kathy Bates, Eileen Brennan, Steven Hill, Corey Parker and Renée Taylor.

ALVIN SARGENT AND OSCAR

  • Paper Moon (1973) – nominated – Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Julia (1977) – Oscar – Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Ordinary People (1980) – Oscar – Best Adapted Screenplay

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