Walter Bernstein, the screenwriter who endured the blacklist of 1950s Hollywood and wrote the Oscar-nominated script for The Front, has died at the age of 101. Former WGA West president and longtime family friend Howard Rodman reported the news on Twitter.
Bernstein was also known for adapting Eugene Burdick’s novel for Sidney Lumet’s film Fail-Safe and Dan Jenkins’ book for Burt Reynolds sports comedy Semi-Tough. He also wrote John Schlesinger’s war drama Yanks, which starred Richard Gere, and worked on three films starring Sophia Loren.
Bernstein joined the Communist Party while attending Dartmouth College. In a 2012 interview with The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg, he said, “I never thought there would be repercussions.” He also served in the US Army in World War II, working as a correspondent for Yank magazine.
The writer was blacklisted in 1950 while he was working on television, and his name wasn’t seen in any credits of films until 1958 or any TV shows until 1961. Bernstein was able to continue his career by using pseudonyms and paying others to take credit for his scripts.
“I didn’t make much money, but I was able to work. And I made some very good profound relationships with other blacklisted people,” he said in a 2013 interview with the website Camera in the Sun. “And this may sound off, but in some respects, it was a not-unhappy time because of that, because of the feeling of solidarity, the feeling of community we had. We helped each other.”
His script for the 1976 film The Front, directed by Martin Ritt and starring Woody Allen, centered around a restaurant cashier who’s hired by blacklisted TV writers to become the face of their work. Bernstein wanted the film to be a serious drama, but Columbia Pictures only became interested after comedic elements were introduced and Allen was attached to star.
“It was our movie, it was our revenge in a way,” Bernstein said. “We were saying, ‘We’re still here.’ It was a very satisfying experience.”
Bernstein’s most recent work was a crime-thriller miniseries from 2011 titled, Hidden.