Stewart Stern, Writer of ‘Rebel Without a Cause,’ Dies at 92

Stewart Stern Dead

Twice Oscar-nominated screenwriter and Emmy-winning television writer Stewart Stern, who wrote film classic “Rebel Without a Cause,” Dennis Hopper’s “The Last Movie” and seminal telepic “Sybil,” starring Sally Field, died February 2 at the Swedish Hospital in Seattle, after battling cancer. He was 92.

Stern’s credits included the iconic 1955 James Dean teen rebellion drama “Rebel Without a Cause (screenplay by Stern, adaptation by Irving Shulman, story by Nicholas Ray), as well as a documentary feature on the late actor, “The James Dean Story” (1957), co-directed by Robert Altman; 1971’s notorious counterculture indie drama “The Last Movie,” co-written and directed by Hopper (written by Stern, story by Hopper and Stern); 1963’s The Ugly American,” starring Marlon Brando (screenplay & screen story by Stern, from the novel by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick), which earned Stern a Writers Guild Award nomination for best written American drama; and the Paul Newman-directed 1968 film “Rachel, Rachel,” starring Joanne Woodward, for which he earned an Oscar nomination for adapted screenplay as well as a WGA nomination for best written American drama.

His other screenwriting credits included “Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams” (1973); “The Rack” (1956), starring Paul Newman; “The Outsider” (1961); “Thunder in the Sun” (1959, screenplay by Russell Rouse, adaptation by Stern); and his debut feature film, “Teresa” (screenplay by Stern, story by Alfred Hayes and Stern), for which he earned his first Oscar nomination for best writing, motion picture story, shared with Hayes. He also wrote the Oscar-winning short film “Benjy” (1951).

“Stewart Stern lived so many lives! He was a great screenwriter, a tireless mentor, a WWII hero, an interlocutor with the primates at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle — and a man possessed of greater generosity of spirit than most anyone I’ve ever met. He had such access to his feelings, and in his presence you had the same. In so many conversations I can recall having with him I ended up near tears — not in sorrow, but in recognition of the truths he so wisely and gently shared,” said WGAW vice president Howard A. Rodman.

Stern also wrote several movies for television, including the 1976 miniseries “Sybil,” starring Sally Field (from the book by Flora Rheta Schreiber), which memorably explored multiple personality disorder, earning Stern an Emmy, as well as the holiday telepic “A Christmas to Remember” (1978), which earned Stern a Writers Guild Award for anthology adaptation.

During the ’50s, Stern also wrote several productions for TV drama anthology series such as “Playhouse 90” (“Heart of Darkness,” 1958), “Goodyear Playhouse” (“Thunder of Silence,” “And Crown Thy Good,” 1955) and “The Gulf Playhouse” (“Crip,” 1953).

Stern’s experiences on the set during the rehearsal and filming of the 1973 TV adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” provided him with the material for his book “No Tricks in My Pocket: Paul Newman Directs.”

Stern was raised in New York City. After graduating from the University of Iowa, he served in the U.S. Army during World War II in the 106th Infantry Division and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. For his service Stern received a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, and Combat Infantry Badge.

Stern was connected to Hollywood through his family: He was the nephew of Paramount Pictures founder Adolph Zukor, and his cousins were the Loews, who formerly controlled MGM. He was subject of the 2005 documentary “Going Through Splat: The Life and Work of Stewart Stern” and of an upcoming documentary written and directed by Oscar-winning screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie set for release later in 2015.

Stern was a member of the Writers Guild of America West since 1951 and served on the guild’s screen council branch from 1970-72.

He was a guest lecturer and instructor at USC’s Film Writing Program in the 1980s and, after moving to Seattle, taught screenwriting at the University of Washington’s Extension Program through the ’90s.

In 2005, he and actor Tom Skerritt founded TheFilmSchool, a non-profit educational institute dedicated to training the next generation of film and television writers, where Stern taught a course titled “The Personal Connection.”

He also served as a mentor and taught workshops at the Sundance Institute’s Screenwriting Lab  for many years.

Stern is survived by his wife, Marilee Stiles Stern.

There are no plans for a memorial service.

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  1. Dianne Chilgren says:

    I am saddened to hear of Stewart’s passing. He was such a wonderful and interesting man…and the husband of a very good friend of mine. R.I.P. Stewart…What a shame….He was an icon of the film industry…to be sure. (Marilee…my thoughts are with you…)

  2. Sheila Henneman says:

    Marilee Thank you for sharing him with us. He was everything to my dad and we are so very sorry for your loss. I am so very grateful for our visit , phones calls and emails. I will miss him so much !!! Love Sheila Henneman (Jim Srameks daughter)

  3. Scott MacDonough says:

    I had the distinct honor of meeting and working with Stewart Stern as the Unit Publicist on “Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams”, a brilliant original screenplay he had written especially for his longtime friend, Joanna Woodward. A superb writer, an extraordinary man and a cherished friend, Mr. Stern encouraged my writing aspirations (as did the lovely Ms. Woodward) long after filming finished on NY’s Upper West Side shortly before Christmas, 1972, first on the set during breaks in filming, afterwards in letters he wrote to me from the West Coast which I still have–and treasure–to this day. A few years later, my telephone rang one day and it was Stewart, inviting me to the subway location of the day’s shooting schedule of “Sybil”, a 4-hour TV-movie he had again written for Ms. Woodward (though former TV-sitcom-star Sally Field played the title role). That day turned out to be a sort of reunion for the three of us–Stewart, Joanne and myself. To even be in the company of two such illustrious artists (who also happened to be such modest, warm-hearted, ego-free and good-humored people) was beyond my wildest fantasies. My eternal gratitude to Stewart Stern for making a then-28-year-old’s dreams become so gloriously true!

  4. I took a class from Stewart Stern and remember him fondly because, when I told him about a 13-year-old nephew I had who was having a very difficult time in his life, Steward made special arrangements to meet us at the Seattle Zoo and take him into the back side of the cat cage where we got to meet the big cats real up close and personal. He really took an interest in helping people with his life.

  5. Griff says:

    Stern’s “No Tricks in My Pocket” book was written about Paul Newman’s 1987 theatrical feature film of “The Glass Menagerie,” not the 1973 Anthony Harvey TV version.

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