Peter Stone

Active - 1963 - Present  |   Born - Feb 27, 1930   |   Died - Apr 26, 2003   |   Genres - Mystery, Comedy, Thriller

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Biography by AllMovie

Peter Stone wasn't the best known screenwriter in movies or on television, but he did enjoy groundbreaking success in those media and in the theater. He was the first author to win an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Tony Award -- and this artistic hat-trick was accomplished despite the fact that the movies originally wanted little or nothing to do with him. The son of John Stone, a history teacher who became a screenwriter and producer at Fox Studios during the silent era and name for himself on Westerns starring Tom Mix. He never lost his father's fascination with history, or with presenting information of all sorts to audiences, which figured into some of his most important works. Stone attended Bard College and the Yale School of Drama, although his career started in journalism when he joined CBS radio after World War II; he later worked for the television news division, spending several years based in Paris. He moved from news into drama in the mid-'50s, selling his first script to Studio One in 1956. Stone became one of the busier writers in television over the next seven years and branched into theater with the book for Kean (1961), but was thwarted in his first attempt to break into the movie business. His first film screenplay was Charade, a twisting, witty, suspenseful romantic comedy which was rejected by every studio, producer, and agent who saw it. At the time, the film industry was retrenching, and there didn't seem to be any room for this veteran of television drama, even with an Emmy behind him for a 1962 episode of The Defenders. Stone decided to take the bull by the horns and rewrote the script as a novel, which was published under the pseudonym "Pierre Marton." The paperback was a success and it was in that incarnation that the story finally began attracting the serious attention of producers and studios, who thought it seemed ready-made for the screen. (The writer never ceased to be amazed and amused by this reaction.) Stone got the story produced by Stanley Donen and Universal Pictures. With Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn starring, Charade was a huge hit, and marked the last time that Grant would play a romantic lead in a movie. The actor was also pleased enough with the script to do play the lead in Father Goose (1964), for which Stone (working in collaboration with S.H. Barnett and Frank Tarloff) shared an Oscar for Best Screenplay. In the wake of those two scripts, Stone was suddenly a "money" screenwriter, with top actors and their production companies, studios, producers, and directors knocking on his door, trying to get him to write for them. He once quipped to Journal American columnist Nick Lapole that there were two kinds of free-lancers: those that have one less job than they need to support themselves and those that have one more job than they need. Charade and Father Goose, observed Lapole, had propelled Stone from the first group to the second in a matter of months from the outset of the former's production. And the writer never had to look back. Over the next several years, Stone became one of the movie business' most prominent experts in the thriller genre. His adaptation of Howard Fast's Fallen Angel, retitled Mirage, starring Gregory Peck and directed by Edward Dmytryk, established new levels of paranoia (and political sophistication) for movies in a modern urban setting, and raised the same kind of conspiratorial shadows conjured by Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang's thrillers of the 1940s to a new and ominous prominence. Indeed, Mirage was among the earliest Hollywood thrillers to hook its plot around the threat of the military-industrial complex. He adapted George Bernard Shaw's Androcles and the Lion into a 1967 NBC television special. By the end of the decade, he had also established himself properly in the theater. Although his book for the 1965 musical Skyscraper was a failure, he scored a huge hit in 1969 with 1776. A musical drama built around the circumstances leading to the signing of the Declaration of Independence and some of the personalities behind the events, the play was an immediate hit and a surprising one, as well, coming to the stage in the midst of the Vietnam War. With that screenplay, he seemed to be reaching back to his father's work as a history teacher, deftly weaving little-known and seldom discussed attributes of the men and women involved in the story, alongside a more honest portrayal of events than most people ever got in history classes. The play also made William Daniels, Ken Howard, and Howard Da Silva into Broadway stars, and they later repeated their roles in the movie. In keeping with the needs of a theatrical (and, later, cinematic) presentation, there were liberties taken at times, but it was still one of the most popular history lessons in the annals of American entertainment, and at Broadway prices. Many of Stone's works were substantial, highly political in nature, if not overt "message" films and pictures that made one think -- and think hard about their plots and subjects. In a sense, he came along at just the right moment, as the mood of Hollywood had thawed from the 1950s Cold War era. He was in his element in the decade, redefining the thriller and putting new, fresh slants on musicals and historical dramas, even mixing and matching several of these genres. His 1776 was the first piece of popular culture to express -- and, indeed, revel in and celebrate the notion -- that the founders of the United States experienced such emotions as lust, a major popular revelation in 1969. It's a sign of his success that the play and the movie appealed to audiences on the right and the left who were otherwise at each other's throats much of the time. Stone kept his hand in film with his adaptation of Sweet Charity, which was made that same year and turned out to be another success for Universal. Most of his screen work during the 1960s was centered on that studio, but when it came time to do the film 1776 (1972), it was Columbia Pictures that served as home to that production. There were extensive pre-release cuts made in that movie by the producer, Jack L. Warner, and Stone (along with director Peter H. Hunt) later provided a commentary track for the restored version of the film on laserdisc and DVD, explaining the changes and cuts imposed by Warner and the studio. During the '70s, Stone remained busy in all three media. For television, he adapted the Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn vehicle Adam's Rib into an ABC television series for Ken Howard and Blythe Danner, which won critical raves but never found an audience, even with the seeming topicality of the rise of the women's movement. In the theater, he turned Some Like It Hot into a musical entitled Sugar (1972), although it failed on-stage. And in movies, he wrote the screenplay (for United Artists and director Joseph Sargent) for The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974). Following the success of 1776, for which he won the first of three Tony Awards out of six for which he was nominated, Stone concentrated more on theater, and was responsible for writing the musical adaptation of Woman of the Year, which won him a second Tony. His later movie work, including Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe (1978) and Just Cause (1995), was somewhat less high profile, while his theater work encompassed such hits as the musical Titanic, for which he won his last Tony. Stone had a sense of humor about his work and a memory like an elephant, which allowed him to participate in (and, indeed, become the sparkplug behind) The Criterion Collection's special DVD edition of Charade (2001), which featured a witty commentary by the screenwriter and director Stanley Donen that was nearly as entertaining as the movie itself.

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