The writer of “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Teresa” and Rachel, Rachel” also co-founded Seattle’s TheFilmSchool in 2003.
His was a quiet voice, but heard by many. Stewart Stern, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter whose works included “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Teresa” and “Rachel, Rachel” and who later became a beloved, inspirational teacher and mentor to countless students, died Feb. 2 in Seattle of cancer, at the age of 92.
“Stewart had a spell about him,” said actor Tom Skerritt, who with Mr. Stern was one of the founders of TheFilmSchool, a Seattle institute dedicated to the training of writers for film and television. Mr. Stern taught screenwriting there for 10 years after its 2003 inception, “giving FilmSchool students a sense of self-worth and ownership in themselves and the stories they carry,” said Skerritt.
A natural storyteller, Mr. Stern would mesmerize his classes while sitting on a stool, speaking softly into a microphone from notes that he’d written out.
“He was much like an actor,” remembered John Jacobsen, another co-founder of the school and its executive director until 2013. “He’d read these stories, hundreds of stories, of his journey through Hollywood, his journey through writing. Stewart was such an open book. That was the point of his classes and why he was so valuable: You had to be authentic to be a good writer. You had to talk about things that nobody wants to talk about, to be an artist.”
Most Read Stories
- Does exercise protect cognitive health? You might not like the answer
- Seattle Pacific University faculty votes 'no confidence' in leadership after board upholds discriminatory hiring policy
- Coronavirus daily news updates, April 21: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world
- COVID vaccine demand softens in some parts of Washington state as variants, cases rise
- Family of Pat Tillman angry at military
Mr. Stern, with his wife, Marilee, had lived in Seattle since the mid-1980s. Born in New York in 1922, he grew up among Hollywood royalty: His uncle, Adolph Zukor, was the co-founder of Paramount Pictures; the Loews, who owned the movie-theater chain and at one time controlled MGM, were among his relatives.
In “Hoofbeats and Heartbeats,” an oral history about growing up in 1930s New York that Mr. Stern presented at the Port Townsend Film Festival in 2003, he spoke enchantingly about the icemen, coalmen and milkmen making their rounds on Central Park West, and about his repeated visits, as an enthralled little boy, to see Eva Le Gallienne in “Peter Pan.”
After serving in World War II (and fighting in the Battle of the Bulge), Mr. Stern began a Hollywood screenwriting career. His first credited writing job — to script the 1951 drama “Teresa” for director Fred Zinnemann — earned him an Oscar nomination. “Rebel Without a Cause,” an influential portrait of teen rebellion that introduced the mercurial actor James Dean to the world, followed in 1955.
Also in that decade, during which time Mr. Stern wrote busily both for films and television, he formed a professional and personal bond with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodard, a friendship that continued throughout their lives. Mr. Stern received his second Oscar nomination for 1968’s “Rachel, Rachel,” directed by Newman and starring Woodward.
Among his other credits were the war drama “The Rack” (starring Newman); a TV adaptation of “The Glass Menagerie” with Katharine Hepburn; the Oscar-winning short documentary “Benjy”; and the television movie “Sybil” (starring Sally Field and Woodward), which won Mr. Stern an Emmy Award. His final produced feature was 1978’s “A Christmas to Remember,” a television movie for which Mr. Stern received a Writers Guild Award.
By the mid-’80s, Mr. Stern found himself increasingly frustrated by Hollywood, and with his wife moved to Seattle in 1988. “I desperately needed to restore myself,” he told The Seattle Times in 1996. “I had to get away from all the outside voices and pressures, and back to what inspired me to write in the first place.”
In Seattle, Mr. Stern discovered another great love: the animals at Woodland Park Zoo, where he spent thousands of hours as a devoted volunteer. And he began teaching at the University of Washington Extension, sharing his love of the written word.
“He was an observer of people, politics, the human condition — his mind never stopped churning about that.” said Steve Rosen, producer of the 2005 documentary “Going Through Splat: The Life and Work of Stewart Stern” (directed by Jon Steven Ward). When Mr. Stern performed the marriage ceremony for Rosen and his wife, Jill, in 2002, he spent “hours and hours” interviewing the Rosens’ friends and family. “He just so wanted to get to know us the best he possibly could,” said Rosen. “That’s the way he was with everybody.”
“His love for life and for his Marilee was limitless,” said Rob Burke, a Seattle filmmaker and friend. “Spending time with Stewart was like being transported to another magical world — one that was better and filled with incredible humor, kindness, stories and laughter. His words and emails were poetry, and his gentle soul and thoughtfulness was so extraordinary to see firsthand.”
Even a fleeting encounter with Mr. Stern could result in a delightful story shared. In a long-saved email he sent to me years ago, he noted with wonder that an upcoming screening of “Going Through Splat” was sold out.
“I have never been sold out in my life,” Mr. Stern wrote, “except for the night Greta Garbo came to see a play I was in on Broadway and the cast spent the whole evening at a peep-hole backstage whenever they weren’t ‘on,’ just watching the Legend trying not to laugh. I was lucky enough to have only the tiniest part, but still managed to miss a cue and be unable to walk with my back straight for at least two weeks.”
Throughout his long and rich life, Mr. Stern’s favorite story was “Peter Pan” — a tale that for him, like the boy at its center, never grew old.
“It’s the unmoored, untended child searching for an idealized teacher, hero or protector to help him find the path,” Mr. Stern told The Seattle Times in 1996. “All my movies are about that, and about finding out that the hero resides within.”
Mr. Stern’s survivors include his wife, Marilee Stiles Stern. According to his Writers Guild of America obituary, there are no plans for a memorial service.