CULTURE

Film-noir screenwriter dies

LOS ANGELES (AP) – A.I. Bezzerides, a novelist-turned-Hollywood-screenwriter best known for post-World War II film-noir classics as «Kiss Me Deadly,» «On Dangerous Ground» and «Thieves’ Highway,» has died. He was 98. Bezzerides died on January 1 at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills, California, after a brief illness, his daughter Zoe Ohl said. Bezzerides was working as a communications engineer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power when his 1938 novel «Long Haul» was turned into «They Drive by Night,» a 1940 melodrama starring George Raft and Humphrey Bogart as struggling trucker brothers hauling produce. After Warner Bros paid him $2,000 for the rights to his novel and put him under contract as a $300-a-week screenwriter, Bezzerides discovered that a script based on his book already had been written. «I had no idea whether it was guilt or conscience, or greed to swindle more stories out of me for peanuts, that motivated Warner Bros to offer me a seven-year contract, with options to be exercised every six months,» wrote Bezzerides in the afterword to the 1997 University of California Press republication of his 1949 novel «Thieves’ Market.» «Whatever their reason, I grabbed the offer so I could quit my putrid career as a communications engineer by becoming a writer, writing scripts in an entirely new world,» he wrote. Bezzerides’s first film credit was «Juke Girl,» a 1942 story of migrant farmworkers starring Ann Sheridan and Ronald Reagan. After leaving Warner Bros, Bezzerides, nicknamed Buzz, wrote or co-wrote films such as «Beneath the 12-Mile Reef,» «Desert Fury,» «Sirocco» and «Track of the Cat.» He got into television in the 1950s, writing for such series as «Bonanza,» «DuPont Theater,» «Rawhide,» «77 Sunset Strip» and «The Virginian.» He was perhaps best known for «Thieves’ Highway,» director Jules Dassin’s thriller based on Bezzerides’s 1949 novel; «On Dangerous Ground,» Nicholas Ray’s 1952 crime drama; and «Kiss Me Deadly,» Robert Aldrich’s 1955 crime thriller loosely based on the Mickey Spillane novel. «Buzz was more of a pivotal figure in the development of American film noir than he has been given credit for,» said writer-publisher Garrett White, who interviewed Bezzerides for the foreword White wrote for the reprint of «Thieves’ Market.» While at Warner Bros, Bezzerides was a close friend of William Faulkner, another contract writer at the studio. «Faulkner actually stayed with Buzz and his first wife in Brentwood from time to time,» White said. Albert Isaac Bezzerides was born August 9, 1908, in Samsun, Turkey. His mother was Armenian and his father a Turkish-speaking Greek. He moved to the USA with his parents at the age of 2, and they settled in Fresno, CA, where his father worked in the fields before becoming a produce-hauling trucker. Bezzerides began writing short stories while studying at the University of California at Berkeley. A longtime Woodland Hills resident whose first marriage ended in divorce, Bezzerides was married to film and television writer Silvia Richards until her death in 1999. In addition to his daughter Zoe, he is survived by another daughter, a son, a granddaughter and four great-grandchildren. Greece bids farewell to Vassilis Fotopoulos Oscar-winning set and costume designer Vassilis Fotopoulos died at the age of 72 yesterday. Born in Kalamata in 1934, Fotopoulos’s earliest collaborations were with the Greek National Opera and the National Theater of Northern Greece. He received an Oscar for Best Art Direction – Set Decoration in a black-and-white film in 1964 for his work on Michael Cacoyannis’s celebrated drama «Zorba the Greek,» while he also collaborated with Elia Kazan on the 1963 classic «America, America.» His name, however, was removed from the credits of the Kazan picture, even though the film went on to win an Oscar for set design that was credited to Gene Callahan. He furthermore worked as the artistic director on Francis Ford Coppola’s «You’re a Big Boy Now» of 1966.