Wednesday, January 31, 2007

WRA Alum Wins Oscar for Sunset Boulevard

It's fairly well known that WRA has a number of alumni who are active either on Broadway or in Hollywood as actors, producers, writers, or directors. But not many know that Donald M. "Mac" Marshman '41 actually won an Oscar in 1951 for the screenplay for Sunset Boulevard, one of the most celebrated movies in American film history.

Ten years earlier at WRA, Marshman won accolades
for Mixed Company, a musical comedy he had both written and directed. It was later said that Mac took more curtain calls than any of the players themselves. He went on to Yale where he wrote a column for the Yale News. He graduated in 1944 and joined Life magazine where he worked in several departments before being named movies editor. After two years at that post, he went on to other assignments, then moved over to Time magazine where he continued to review films.

In 1948 Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett invited Marshman to Hollywood. He left
Time and joined the writing team as a full collaborator. The three men devoted a year to writing the story and screenplay for Sunset Boulevard featuring Gloria Swanson and William Holden in the lead roles. At the Academy Awards ceremony in March 1951, all three writers took home a gold statuette when Sunset Boulevard won for best screenplay. Marshman worked on several other films for both Paramount and RKO Pictures.

The talented writer eventually returned east to be closer to both New York City and Yale University. He and his wife, Ann, became parents to four children. Marshman now lives in retirement in Darien, Connecticut.

A couple of years ago, a screenwriters' group put Sunset Boulevard near the top of the list of the 100 best American films. During February the Cleveland Institute of Art's Cinematheque will host a series of "Screen Gems" in its film classics program. The picture selected to kick off that series is the one that WRA's D. M. Marshman helped to write. "Tell Mr. De Mille that I'm ready for my close-up," says Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) at the end of this unforgettable film. It's reassuring to know that this screen classic still ranks up there with the very best.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Photo for a Family Album

As the result of a browser discovering this blog, I can share some details about the lives of the Berry brothers. A granddaughter of Sylvester Wiley Berry found this site and contacted me about her grandfather and his older brother. I was able to confirm that in the 1880s both attended Western Reserve Academy and then Adelbert College of Western Reserve University (Cleveland).

The older brother, John Faris Berry, was born in 1866 in West Liberty, West Virginia. He graduated from WRA in 1884 and went on after college to a distinguished career as a classics teacher, an ordained minister serving churches in Michigan and Ohio, and a registrar for the School of Dentistry at WRU. John Faris Berry responded to alumni surveys in 1906 and again in 19
33. With his 1933 survey, he included this note: "I little realized how much Western Reserve Academy was doing for me. As I grow older I wonder still more if I realize or appreciate how great is the debt that I can never repay to Western Reserve Academy and its teachers." Newton B. Hobart was the school's headmaster when both brothers were students.

Berry retired to Arizona where he died in 1951 and was returned to Hudson for burial at Markillie Cemetery.

Sylvester Wiley Berry, the younger of the two, was born in 1868 and graduated with the WRA class of 1889 as one of just 16 seniors -- 13 men and three women. He earned his degree from Adelbert College in 1893, then went to New York City where he had a career as a teacher and a camp director. In 1926 he was still teaching at the Irving School in New York, but two years later he died at the age of 60.

Archivist's Note: In 1885, WRA began requiring students to have a senior photo, so I have a good photo of Sylvester Berry taken in 1889. Since his descendant had no picture of her grandfather as a young man, I was pleased to be able to send her the one shown here to share with family members.

Thanks for the inquiry!

Dana A. Schmidt '33: WWII War Correspondent

The news coverage of R. W. "Johnny" Apple '52 following his death in late 2006 reminded me that an earlier alumnus, Dana Adams Schmidt '33, garnered similar laurels in the world of journalism, but retired from the field and was little noted when he passed away in 1994. The fact that Schmidt covered the Middle East from posts in Jerusalem and Beirut and wrote books about that region may be enough reason to revisit his career.

Dana Schmidt spent nearly 10 years of his boyhood in schools across Europe. When he came
to WRA, it was reported that "he speaks like a furrinner." Schmidt was on the soccer and track teams while at WRA and wrote for the Reserve Record when LaRue Piercy was the faculty moderator. He was Record editor his senior year.

Schmidt went on to Pomona College in California where he was a feature editor and wrote a daily news column for the campus paper. Following graduation, he worked briefly as a reporter in Los Angeles before entering Columbia University for a master's in journalism.

In June of 1938, Schmidt was awarded the Pulitzer Traveling Scholarship which allowed him to go to Germany as an intern for United Press International. He was still in Berlin a year later when Germany invaded Poland and World War II began. He wrote WRA to say that he had a "terrific beat" with UPI and was living in a Berlin apartment with two attaches from the American Embassy.

As fighting increased, Schmidt was relayed to safer locations in Europe including Istanbul and Cairo, but he continued to report some of the war's leading stories. In 1943, he left UPI to join the New York Times.

After the Normandy invasion in 1944, Schmidt was covering the activities of the Free Fr
ench. He wrote: "This correspondent reached the capital of collaborationist France (Vichy) through the assistance of the French underground--the first American reporter here." His story grabbed headlines in the Akron Beacon Journal and other papers worldwide.

When WWII ended, Schmidt was posted to Paris, Frankfurt, Athens, Vienna, Prague, and later in the Middle East in Cairo, Beirut and Jerusalem. One of his most adventurous journeys was to Kurdistan in northern Iraq where he covered the Kurdish rebels. To get there, he borrowed a mule and secretly entered forbidden territory. His report on this regional conflict helped him win the Overseas Press Club's George Polk Award in 1963 and was published as Journey Among Brave Men (1964). Later, while covering a civil war in Yemen, Schmidt broke his neck in a Jeep collision and had to be airlifted out. He continued sending dispatches from a Beirut hospital. Some of this is in his book, Yemen: the Unknown War (1968). His final book was called Armageddon in the Middle East (1974).

Schmidt's last foreign assignment was to Beirut where he was in 1972 when he decided to leave the New York Times to join the Christian Science Monitor and do freelance writing. During the early 1970s, Schmidt's son, Dana Adams Schmidt, Jr. briefly attended WRA. Schmidt had retired from journalism and was living in Bethesda, Md. when he died at age 78 in 1994. His books are in the Ong Library's Alumni Authors Collection.