Writer Peter Viertel, widower of actress Deborah Kerr, died of lymphoma Sunday Nov. 4 in Marbella, Spain, at 86, the same age his wife died at just three weeks before.
He was a novelist, memoirist and screenwriter best known for books about his friends Ernest Hemingway and John Huston, including the novel “White Hunter, Black Heart” (1953) and memoir “Dangerous Friends: At Large With Hemingway and Huston in the Fifties” (1992). He helped adapt “White Hunter, Black Heart” for the 1990 Clint Eastwood pic.
Huston invited Viertel to accompany him to Africa in 1951 to help work on dialogue for James Agee’s unfinished script of “The African Queen.” He met Hemingway in 1948 and was responsible for bringing Huston and Hemingway together. Viertel eventually wrote screenplays based on Hemingway’s novels “The Old Man and the Sea” and “The Sun Also Rises.”
He worked on a number of other scripts, often uncredited, such as “African Queen” and “Beat the Devil” and also in early TV. Among his novels were “Love Lies Bleeding” (1964) and “American Skin” (1984). He published his first novel, “The Canyon,” when he was 20. With novelist friend Irwin Shaw, they wrote the play “The Survivors.”
Native of Dresden, Germany, was the son of poet-novelist-director Bertold Viertel and Salka Viertel, a screenwriter who wrote for friend Greta Garbo. The family eventually moved to California to work on films, and their Santa Monica home became known for Sunday salons attended by Garbo, Huston, Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, Charlie Chaplin and others.
Later, Viertel became a Marine during WWII, serving in the Pacific and the Office of Strategic Services in Europe. After the war, he attended Dartmouth and UCLA.
His first wife, Virginia “Jigee” Ray Viertel, died in 1960. He is survived by a daughter, Kerr’s two daughters, three grandchildren and a brother.