Screenwriter remembered for noir classics

A.I. Bezzerides, screenwriter of film noir classics “Kiss Me Deadly,” “On Dangerous Ground” and “Thieves Highway,” died Jan. 1 in Woodland Hills, Calif., after a brief illness. He was 98.

Bezzerides, known as “Buzz,” started as a novelist and short story writer. He was working for the L.A. Dept. of Water & Power when Warner Bros. paid $2,000 to turn his 1938 novel “Long Haul” into the 1940 melodrama “They Drive by Night.” George Raft and Humphrey Bogart starred as trucker brothers hauling California produce.

It wasn’t until after Warner paid him that Bezzerides found out a script based on his book had already been written. The studio nonetheless offered him a seven-year contract to continue writing screenplays, which he eagerly accepted.

He published his second novel, “There Is a Happy Land,” in 1942 and did script polishing for Warners during WWII. After leaving Warners, he wrote or co-wrote films including “Beneath the 12-Mile Reef,” “Desert Fury,” “Sirocco” and “Track of the Cat.” At Warners, he became a close friend with William Faulkner, another contract writer at the studio.

Bezzerides was best known for “Thieves’ Highway,” director Jules Dassin’s thriller based on Bezzerides’ 1949 novel; “On Dangerous Ground,” Nicholas Ray’s 1952 crime drama; and “Kiss Me Deadly,” Robert Aldrich’s 1955 crime thriller loosely based on the Mickey Spillane novel.

“He was a working-class writer from the bare-knuckles school of writing,” screenwriter Eric Nazarian told the Fresno Bee. “He thought you needed to write reality. He had a love for the truth. When I visited him, he still had ink spots on his fingers.”

Later in the 1950s, Bezzerides began working in TV, writing for “Bonanza,” “77 Sunset Strip” and “The Virginian.” He was co-creator of 1960s Western series “The Big Valley” starring Barbara Stanwyck.

Albert Isaac Bezzerides was born in Samsun, Turkey, and moved to Fresno, Calif., with his parents before he was 2. He grew up with young William Saroyan and began writing short stories while at UC Berkeley.

He was the subject of two recent documentaries, “The Long Haul of A.I. Bezzerides” in 2005 and “Buzz” in 2006.

Bezzerides was married to film and television writer Silvia Richards until her death in 1999. He is survived by two daughters, a son, a granddaughter and four great-grandchildren.

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