Lewis, Edward

Lewis, Edward
(b. 1920)
   In more than 30 years of filmmaking, producer-writer Edward Lewis—producer of SPARTACUS (1960)—has been involved in a myriad of high-profile films, ranging from Lonely Are the Brave (1962), to Grand Prix (1966), to Missing (1982), as well as films directed by such luminaries as John Huston, STANLEY KUBRICK, John Frankenheimer, and Robert Aldrich. Predisposed toward films dealing with social issues and real events, Lewis’s success stems from a rare ability to combine business acumen with an appreciation of motion pictures as an art form.
   The prodigious son of Florence and Max Lewis attended Bucknell University at the age of 15 and there started writing songs and dramatic material. During World War II, he served four years in the U. S. Army, rising from the rank of private first class in the air corps in 1942, to captain in the special services corps in 1946. This latter post brought Captain Lewis to Hollywood to round up talent for tours to Midwestern military hospitals.
   After the war, Lewis settled in Hollywood, where he commenced writing screenplays, with limited success at first. In 1949 he produced The Lovable Cheat, his own screen version of a story by Balzac, along with another film, The Admiral Was a Lady (1950). Lewis formed a television company in 1951 with Marion Personette and went east to produce The Faye Emerson Show, the first television show to be filmed for national distribution. His other early TV producing efforts included the China Smith series and 50 episodes of Schlitz Playhouse of Stars. (The industry practice of using individual episodes of an anthology series as pilots for new series originated with the Schlitz Playhouse. )
   A series Lewis wrote for Procter & Gamble earned him enough money to concentrate on writing another film script, Mavourneen, which KIRK DOUGLAS’s Bryna Productions bought in 1956. Bryna signed Lewis to a writer-producer contract, and within two years he was the company’s vice president. Lewis’s wife and producing partner, Mildred, introduced HOWARD FAST’s novel, Spartacus, to her husband. Lewis was impressed with its themes of social consciousness and suggested it to Kirk Douglas for development by Bryna Productions. Part of the deal Bryna struck with Howard Fast allowed the novelist to write the screenplay, but it soon became apparent to Douglas and Lewis that this arrangement would not work out.
   Secretly, the two producers hired blacklisted screenwriter DALTON TRUMBO to adapt the script, with Edward Lewis acting as Trumbo’s “front,” that is, taking the screenwriting credit and passing payments along to Trumbo under the table. As the screenplay began to circulate among potential stars such as LAURENCE OLIVIER and CHARLES LAUGHTON, Lewis became increasingly embarrassed at receiving praise for a script he had not written. Finally, all parties concerned decided to go out on a limb and give screen credit to Dalton Trumbo, in spite of the industry’s unspoken blacklist. Years later, Trumbo would thank Lewis for being “the man who gave me my name back. ” Lewis furthermore has the distinction of producing more of Dalton Trumbo’s screenplays than anyone else, including: Spartacus, Lonely Are the Brave (1962), The Fixer (1968), The Horsemen (1971), Executive Action (1973), and The Last Sunset (1961). Although the discord between Kubrick and Kirk Douglas on Spartacus is legendary, Edward Lewis, whose loyalties naturally lay with Douglas at the time, maintains a fairly objective, even somewhat favorable opinion of the director:
   Stanley is in command, always. I remember the first day he was given a script, when we needed a new director; he read it quickly and said, “Yes”; and I remember Kirk and I saying to him, “How much time do we shut down?” for him to get ready. And he said, “No, we’ll start shooting on Monday,” and we lost no time. And he came on the set and just announced to the cast that this is the way the picture’s going to be made, that he’s the director. I mean, he was a young director and hadn’t done a really big picture, and here he was with Kirk Douglas, Olivier, Ustinov, Laughton, and a huge, epicscale picture, which he had never tried before —costume, period. Nothing intimidated him at all. He just was cool, collected, he knew what he wanted, and nobody got his dander up. And if they yelled at each other, it went in one ear and out the other. I remember his once saying,“I’ll listen to anything you have to say, but in the end we will do it my way. ” . . . So Stanley was in control, in that he didn’t play the games that any of these actors wanted. He knew what he wanted. But it was never his project, as you know. He likes to—I think always has—initiate the projects that he’s going to do, write them. It was a case of a young director having a big opportunity thrust at him.
   In addition to Spartacus, Edward Lewis’s involvement with Bryna Productions yielded several other outstanding pictures, among them Lonely Are the Brave, The List of Adrian Messenger (1963), and Seven Days in May (1964). The last marked the beginning of Lewis’s longtime association with director John Frankenheimer, which resulted in such films as Seconds and Grand Prix (both 1966), I Walk the Line (1970), and The Horsemen (1971). Lewis served as executive producer for American Film Theater’s first three productions—The Iceman Cometh (1973), Rhinoceros (1973), and Lost in the Stars (1974)—and in the same capacity for The Blue Bird (1976), the first Soviet-American coproduction, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Fonda, Cicely Tyson,Ava Gardner, Richard Pearson, and Will Geer. In 1964, Lewis planned to produce the film version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which was enjoying a successful Broadway run under the steam of its producer-star, Kirk Douglas, but it would be fully another decade before Cuckoo finally would be adapted for the screen, with Michael Douglas, not Lewis, producing.
   Much of Lewis’s writing and producing work has been done in collaboration with his wife, Mildred. Together, they coproduced the 1982 Costa-Gavras film Missing, starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek. Among Mildred Lewis’s other films is Harold and Maude (1971), for which she was executive producer. Edward Lewis’s other films include The River (1983), with Mel Gibson, Sissy Spacek, and Scott Glenn.
   ■ “Biographical Notes: Edward Lewis,” Lost in the Stars, press book, 1974;
   ■ “Edward Lewis: Biography,” Brothers, press book,Warner Bros. , undated;
   ■ “Edward Lewis: Crackers,” Universal Press Department, December 16, 1983;
   ■ Lewis, Edward, audio commentary, Spartacus (1960), Criterion Collection 1992/2001. DVD;
   ■ Sabinson, Harvey, “Edward Lewis: Co-Producer,” One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Broadway), press book, undated;
   ■ Stevens, Tracy, ed. , International Motion Picture Almanac, 72nd edition (La Jolla, Calif. : Quigley), 2001.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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