Obituary: Paul Jarrico

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Israel Shapiro (Paul Jarrico), screenwriter and film producer; born Los Angeles 12 January 1915; twice married; died Los Angeles 28 October 1997.

On Monday 27 October, the once-blacklisted screenwriter Paul Jarrico received a standing ovation at a 50th-anniversary event commemorating the start of the notorious "Un-American" hearings of 1947. On Tuesday 28 October, Jarrico died after the car he was driving hit a tree. For decades he had campaigned tirelessly to restore screen credits to himself and other screenwriters who had been forced to work under pseudonyms and behind fronts.

Paul Jarrico, a Communist for 24 years, came by his politics naturally; his Russian immigrant father was a passionate Socialist-Zionist and a radical lawyer. While studying at UCLA during the early days of the Depression, the young Paul joined the Communist Party. Soon after graduating, he began submitting original screen stories to the studios. Columbia Pictures bought one of them, and turned it into Little Adventures (1938), a treacly vehicle for their child star Edith Fellows. Columbia next signed Jarrico to write the screenplay for No Time to Marry (1938), a slight comedy about two star reporters (Mary Astor and Richard Arlen) who are so busy scooping one another, they keep having to postpone their wedding.

For RKO he co-wrote Beauty for the Asking (1939), a muddled love-triangle drama starring Lucille Ball in the serious role of a jilted beautician. Back at Columbia, he co-wrote The Face Behind the Mask (1941). The macabre story of an immigrant so hideously disfigured in a fire that he wears a tight-fitting rubber mask, this stylish second feature gave Peter Lorre a rare chance to be both terrifying and affecting.

Jarrico next returned to RKO to write the successful Tom, Dick and Harry (1941), which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Janie (Ginger Rogers) is simultaneously engaged to three men: Tom, a go-getting car salesman (George Murphy), Dick, a suave millionaire (Alan Marshal), and Harry, a poor but idealistic mechanic (Burgess Meredith). The film is built around a series of dream sequences, and typical of Jarrico's touch is the dream in which Janie sees a newspaper headline announcing her marriage to the millionaire. Also on the page is a smaller headline reading: "Hitler Assassinated".

"A tribute to our great ally, it captures authentically the spirit of an entire country!" So trumpeted MGM's publicity department about its lavish Song of Russia (1943), in which Robert Taylor stretched credibility to the snapping point as a great symphonic conductor. Filmed at the express request of President Roosevelt, who wanted to show solidarity to the Soviet Union, it was written by Jarrico and his friend and fellow Communist Richard Collins. They next wrote the all-star Thousands Cheer (also 1943) before Jarrico went into the Merchant Marine and, later, the Navy.

He returned to films to write additional dialogue for The Search (1948). Its director Fred Zinnemann made his name and Montgomery Clift his screen debut in this moving semi-documentary about two displaced persons: mother and child, searching for each other in post-war Germany. With the director producer Ida Lupino, he wrote Not Wanted (1949), a sympathetic study of an unmarried mother, and skilfully adapted James Ramsey Ullman's novel The White Tower (1950).

In 1951 the fact that, seven years earlier, Song of Russia had been made at Roosevelt's behest cut no ice with the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Realising this, the film's co-writer Richard Collins eagerly volunteered to address the committee as a "Friendly Witness". He was promiscuously friendly, giving the witch-hunters 26 names. One of those names, Paul Jarrico, refused to incriminate anyone on his own appearance before the committee, and so found himself a non-person.

He was instantly sacked by RKO's Head of Production, Howard Hughes, who also refused to give him script credit on The LasVegas Story, the film he had been writing. When a California television station showed a print of Tom, Dick and Harry which omitted his name from the credits, Jarrico commented, "The public is not to be protected from my work, however beguiling and subversive it may be. The public is only to be protected from my name."

Deciding to create a film company which would provide work for blacklisted members of the motion picture industry, he produced Salt of the Earth (1953), a powerful, pro-feminist drama about the consequences of a miners strike in New Mexico. Written by the blacklisted Michael Wilson and directed by Herbert J. Biberman, one of the original "Unfriendly 10", Salt found its distribution blocked by the film industry. "It was blacklisted," said Jarrico, "because we were blacklisted."

In 1958, when the US Supreme Court ended the State Department's practice of withholding passports on political grounds, Jarrico was finally free to seek work abroad. An Un-American in Paris, he used many names, writing scripts on "the black market - that bizarre bazaar where I and dozens of my blacklisted friends supported themselves for years." Under the pseudonym "Peter Achilles" he wrote the British-made All Night Long (1961), and he and Michael Wilson shared the name "Ivo Pirilli" when they co-wrote Five Branded Women (1960), a film about Yugoslav partisans during the Second World War.

After the blacklist faded, Jarrico worked as executive story editor on such television programmes as Call to Glory (1984) and Fortune Dane (1986), and wrote the Charles Bronson film Messenger of Death (1988). As head of a revamped committee set up by the Writers Guild of America, he recently took satisfaction in announcing that the credits of 34 films made during the Cold War will at long last be changed to reveal the true author. But, he added, "There are many more credits that need restoring."