George Axelrod, creator of Hollywood greats, dies at 81

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The Independent US

Playwright George Axelrod, who anticipated the sexual revolution with The Seven Year Itch and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and later wrote screenplays for such films as Breakfast at Tiffany's and The Manchurian Candidate, died yesterday. He was 81.

The radio and television writer hit the jackpot in 1952 with The Seven Year Itch. The play about a married man who pursues the young beauty who lives above his flat ran for almost three years on Broadway and was filmed by 20th Century Fox as a vehicle for Marilyn Monroe. The film was a box-office hit, aided by the classic photo of Monroe's skirt being blown into the air.

Axelrod, who collaborated with Billy Wilder on the script, said in 1955 "we didn't make a very good picture". The industry censor forbade the sexual innuendo contained in the play and would not allow the characters to sleep together.

His next play, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, lasted more than a year on Broadway and was also filmed by Fox. He steadfastly refused to see it. "They didn't use my story, my play or my script," he said.

Breakfast at Tiffany's was marked by acrimony with the director, Blake Edwards. Axelrod, who lived in the East then, was advised by Wilder: "You can't sit in New York, see the finished project, then raise hell about it. If you want to be involved in the making of the picture, you've got to be out here to do it." He moved to Hollywood and became the highest-paid writer in films.

Axelrod was born on 9 June 1922 in New York City and after three wartime years in the US Army Signal Corps, he returned to New York and wrote scripts for radio, then television. He calculated that he had written more than 400 broadcasts.

The Manchurian Candidate, in 1962, may have been Axelrod's best work. But critics were offended by the tale of an American prisoner of war in Korea who returns home and kills a politician. It was shelved after John F Kennedy's assassination but re-released in 1987. Critics proclaimed it a classic.