Writer Calder Willingham, who as a younger man enjoyed a rich literary career and went on to script some of Hollywood’s best-known films, including Oscar-nominated “The Graduate,” died Feb. 19 of lung cancer at a hospital in Laconia, N.H. He was 72.
A member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, Willingham was nominated for an Oscar for best screenplay for “The Graduate” (1967), written with Buck Henry.
Other pix he scripted include Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory” (1957), “The Vikings” (1957), “One-Eyed Jacks” (1961) starring Marlon Brando and Karl Malden, “Little Big Man” (1970) and “Thieves Like Us” (1974). He also adapted the 1991 pic “Rambling Rose” from his 1972 novel of the same name,
He collaborated with director David Lean on the script for the 1957 film “Bridge on the River Kwai,” but Willingham’s credit was taken away after a squabble with producer Sam Spiegel. He never argued the point and always maintained that the experience was one of his most rewarding.
Born in Atlanta, Willingham grew up in Rome, Ga., going on to study at the Citadel and the University of Virginia. He moved to New York City in 1943 and traveled in the same literary and social circles as Norman Mailer, Truman Capote and Gore Vidal.
In 1947, at the age of 24, Willingham received wide critical notices upon the publication of his first book, “End as a Man,” a dark novel about students at a military college. The novel stirred such controversy over its description of sadistic behavior that obscenity charges were brought against the publisher, Vanguard Press. But the charges eventually were dropped.
He reworked “End as a Man” for the stage, and in 1953 it opened Off Broadway at the Theater de Lys, now the Lucille Lortel Theater, on Christopher Street in Manhattan’s West Village.
After the stage debut, Willingham moved with his wife, Jane, to New Hampton, N.H., where he lived for the rest of his life.
The film based on “End as a Man” – “The Strange One” (1957) – starred many of the stage players, including Ben Gazzara and Arthur Storch.
Two other novels followed “End as a Man” onto the New York Times’ bestseller list: “Providence Island” and “Eternal Fire.”
His family said he recently had completed an original screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment.
Survivors include his wife, Jane Bennett Willingham, and four sons and two daughters.
A private funeral was held Feb. 22 at the New Hampton Community Church in New Hampshire.