A blog about writing and all things story…
I am a lucky one, I’ve had the honor to write with one of the greats, Stewart Stern. Stewart was a two-time Oscar–
nominated and Emmy award winning screenwriter best known for writing the screenplay for the iconic film Rebel Without a Cause, starring James Dean. But to me, he was a writing partner in search of story.
We wrote together several times at Louisa’s Café (with the group that meets there), and have had a laugh at a few fun occasions. What a magnificent man; delightful, flirtatious and joy filled. If you knew him then you know how special he could make you feel, how he truly listened, and how even in a crowded room he conversed as if you were the only person there. I loved that about him.
Back then I was working on another project my (yet to be published) novel (working title The Last Tarot), that I am now editing. Stewart liked what I was doing with a particular story-line about the Romanian Gypsies of 1960s Portland Oregon, of which he had a great interest. He was working on the screenplay that he said would be his last, and that was very close to his heart. I won’t comment on our conversations about his work, it was his, not mine to share.
One of the most special moments in my writing life was when, after reading him one of my scenes, he laid his hand on my arm and said, “Your story really knows what it is, it has a voice, a soul. Keep at it. You’re on to something.” I recall it exactly because when I went to my car that day to leave, I wrote it down so I would never forget that moment of acknowledgement from–not just an Oscar winner–but someone who understood the writer’s journey to unearth the essence of a story.
Then we spent the next hour talking about my story, his interest in the King of the Gypsies, who my father knew and whose funeral I recalled in Portland. He was fascinated with my familiarity with a subject that had had him intrigued for many years. Each week he came with new questions;
“You knew some of these people?” He asked.
“They came to my dad’s shop.”
“Tell me what you remember.”
Those were great, memorable conversations and follow up e-mails.
Stewart Stern died on February 2, 2015 and the Seattle skies are a little cloudier for the loss. I know Stewart lit up the world with his storytelling and that he has been much celebrated, but to this lone writer who once sat at his side and explored creativity, I will miss the man who searched for the soul of a story, not the celebrity.
So with heavy heart I say, Good bye Stewart, and thank you for inspiring and encouraging me in ways I can never fully express.
In addition to Rebel Without a Cause, Stern’s most notable screenwriting credits include Sybil, which garnered Emmy awards for both Stern and Sally Field, The Rack starring Paul Newman, The James Dean Story directed by Robert Altman, The Outsider starring Tony Curtis, The Ugly American starring Marlon Brando, Rachel, Rachel starring Joanne Woodward and The Last Movie directed by Dennis Hopper. He is also author of the book No Tricks in My Pocket: Paul Newman Directs, watching the discovery in Paul Newman’s direction for the filming of The Glass Menagerie. Read more here on Wikipedia.
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