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Obituary: Walter Bernstein

Celebrated screenwriter who was blacklisted during the McCarthy era


Blacklist: Walter Bernstein. Photo: Susan Wood/Getty Images

Blacklist: Walter Bernstein. Photo: Susan Wood/Getty Images

Blacklist: Walter Bernstein. Photo: Susan Wood/Getty Images

Walter Bernstein, who has died aged 101, was a screenwriter blacklisted and deprived of work in the McCarthyite 1950s because of his communist links - an experience he drew on in his script for Martin Ritt's film The Front, for which he won an Oscar nomination.

In the 1977 movie, Woody Allen plays Howard Prince, a neurotic cashier who agrees to be a "front" - someone who gives his name to scripts written by blacklisted screenwriters - but ends up attracting the attention of the House Committee on Un-American Activities himself.

As well as his being deprived of work, Bernstein was followed by the FBI and his phone was tapped. His friends were harassed and he was denied a passport.

Bernstein got his own back, in fiction at least, when at the end of The Front, Prince refuses to co-operate with the committee, saying: "I don't recognise the right of the committee to ask me these kinds of questions. And furthermore, you can all go f**k yourselves." He is sent to jail - an unlikely martyr.

Many of the " blacklistees" were not communists at all, though Bernstein certainly was. In 1950 his name had appeared in the anti-communist document Red Channels.

Walter Bernstein was born in Brooklyn on August 20, 1919, to Louis and Hannah Bernstein, immigrants from eastern Europe.

After school he enrolled at the University of Grenoble, where he mixed with communist intellectuals.

He later attended Dartmouth College, reviewing films for the student newspaper and contributing to The New Yorker.

During the Second World War, he was a correspondent on the US army journal Yank, scoring a scoop in May 1944 when he became the first western correspondent to interview partisan leader Josip Broz, known as Tito.

After the war, Bernstein joined the Communist Party.

In 1947 Bernstein landed a contract with Robert Rossen at Columbia Pictures, where he did uncredited scriptwriting on All The King's Men.

He earned his first Hollywood credit on Kiss The Blood Off My Hands the following year. By this time, however, the House Committee on Un-American Activities was up and running, and the invitations dried up.

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For the next few years, though, Bernstein worked under assumed names for filmmakers such as Sidney Lumet.

Once the "red scare" had abated, he returned to screenwriting under his own name in Lumet's That Kind Of Woman (1959), with Sophia Loren.

From then on he remained busy. He worked into his 90s, collaborating in 2011 with Ronan Bennett on the BBC's mystery mini-series Hidden.

His Inside Out: A Memoir Of The Blacklist, was published in 1996.

Bernstein's first three marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his fourth wife Gloria, and by four sons, a daughter and stepdaughter.

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