Oscar-nominated Norman Wexler, who wrote “Saturday Night Fever,” “Staying Alive” and “Serpico,” died Monday of a heart attack in Washington D.C. He was 73.
Born in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Wexler graduated from Harvard in 1948 before moving to New York City to work as a reporter.
In 1970, Wexler wrote “Joe,” a film about a bigot who embarks on a search for a drug-addicted young woman, played by Susan Sarandon, making her feature film debut. Capturing the mood of the turbulent ’60s, “Joe” was praised by critics and earned Wexler his first Academy Award nomination. It also earned Wexler the Yugoslavia State Film Award, a Writer’s Guild nomination and a grant from the National Endowment for Arts.
In ’73, Wexler reiterated his screenwriting success when he co-adapted the Peter Maas book “Serpico with Waldo Salt”. Based on the true story of a New York undercover cop who tries to withstand the corruption of his peers, “Serpico” gave Wexler his second Academy Award nomination.
Wexler tackled the issues of racism and slavery in his next two screenplays, “Mandingo” and its sequel “Drum.”
In 1977, “The Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” became the basis for Wexler’s “Saturday Night Fever.” The movie about a Brooklynite who tries to find himself through disco made John Travolta a star and furthered Wexler writing reputation. Director John Badham credited Wexler’s “marvelous” script for being the reason he eventually signed onto the project.
Wexler also wrote the sequel, “Staying Alive,” directed by Sylvester Stallone, and 1986’s “Raw Deal,” which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Wexler was also the cinematographer on “The Kids Are Alright” and penning the play “Red’s My Color, What’s Yours?,” which won the Cleveland Playhouse Award.
In 1985, Wexler was one of a number of screenwriters who went on strike when the Writers Guild agreed to a contract on writers’ videocassette profit share, without the full consensus of the members of the WGA.
Wexler is survived by his two daughters, Erica and Merin, and one granddaughter.