Ernest Lehman: The Sweet Smell of Success

Univ. of Kentucky. Sept. 2022. 392p. ISBN 9780813195957. $34.95. FILM
Historian and biographer Krampner (The Female Brando: The Legend of Kim Stanley) focuses on the professional relationships in the 1950s and 1960s of screenwriter Lehman (1915–2005). His appetite for writing first found expression in magazine short stories and early TV dramas, culminating in his best-selling 1977 novel The French Atlantic Affair. An elusive, perfectionist New Yorker, Lehman proved his varied compositional skills in North by Northwest (considered his only original screenplay) and the screen adaptations of Sweet Smell of Success (cowritten with Clifford Odets but based on Lehman’s own novella), The King and I, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf??, Hello Dolly!, and Portnoy’s Complaint (which he also directed). Nominated for an Academy Award six times, he finally won the first Honorary Academy Award for screenwriting in 2001. Movie mavens and amateurs will appreciate this crisp, often jocular, book based on interviews and archival research.
VERDICT With the marginalization of screenwriters in stories about the entertainment industry, which both Lehman and Krampner resent, this life-history fills a chasm in the literature.
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