R.I.P. Walter Bernstein, blacklisted screenwriter and Oscar nominee – The A.V. Club

Walter Bernstein

Walter Bernstein
Photo: Robin Marchant/Getty Images for Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences

As reported by Variety, Oscar-nominated screenwriter Walter Bernstein—who was blacklisted in the ‘50s but kept his career alive by writing pseudonymous scripts—has died. The news was confirmed by former Writers Guild Of America West president Howard Rodman, who referred to Bernstein as a “legendary screenwriter” and “one of the great humans” in a post on social media.Bernstein was 101.

Bernstein was born in Brooklyn in 1919 and began his writing career by doing movie reviews while in college. He later worked as a correspondent for the Army newspaper when he was drafted into the military during World War II, publishing stories about his experiences in The New Yorker after the war. He moved to Hollywood in 1947 and started working as a screenwriter, but it was only a few years later, in 1950, when his support for left-wing political organizations led to his name being printed in a right-wing journal called Red Channels. Because of this and his status as a supposed Communist sympathizer, Bernstein was blacklisted in the entertainment industry only a few years after first getting his foot in the door.

However, by writing under fake names and by working with non-blacklisted writers, Bernstein was able to continue secretly working in television throughout the ‘50s. In the late-1950s, director Sidney Lumet ended Bernstein’s blacklist status by hiring him to write the Sophia Loren movie That Kind Of Woman, leading to more writing gigs on projects like Paris Blues, Fail-Safe, the 1960 version of The Magnificent Seven, The Train, and even Something’s Got To Give (Marilyn Monroe’s final film).

In 1976, Bernstein wrote The Front, a film directed by Martin Ritt and starring Woody Allen as a hapless restaurant employee who agrees to act as a “front” for blacklisted screenwriters who can’t get work. Bernstein received on Oscar nomination for the script, which obviously pulled from his own life, and Allen later gave him a cameo in Annie Hall.