Thursday, June 23, 2011

RIP David Rayfiel

David Rayfiel, Screenwriter With Sydney Pollack, Dies at 87
By WILLIAM GRIMES
Published: June 23, 2011

David Rayfiel, a screenwriter who in a long creative relationship with the director Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford collaborated on many of their most successful films, including “Three Days of the Condor,” “Out of Africa” and “The Way We Were, ” but usually chose to keep his work anonymous, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 87.

The cause was congestive heart failure, his wife, Lynne Schwarzenbek-Rayfiel, said.

Mr. Rayfiel’s name was unknown to the general public but led the list for many top directors, who came calling when their scripts demanded subtle touch-ups or a complete overhaul. Mr. Rayfiel excelled at bringing an amorphous role into focus with a sharp bit of dialogue or a restructured scene that illuminated a character’s inner life.

Most scriptwriters “write on the surface,” Mr. Pollack told The New York Times in 1985. “If they want you to know something about a character, they’ll simply have the character say it or have another character say it about him. David doesn’t do that. He writes elliptically, so that it comes out organically, the way you would know something about someone in real life.”

Mr. Pollack was so enchanted by one line of Mr. Rayfiel’s — “You think not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth” — that he used it in four films: “The Slender Thread,” “This Property Is Condemned,” “Three Days of the Condor” and “The Interpreter.”

Mr. Rayfiel’s long Hollywood résumé was dominated by his work with Mr. Pollack and Mr. Redford, who called him “the unsung hero of almost every picture Sydney Pollack and I have made together.” Over the years, however, he also worked with directors like Bertrand Tavernier, with whom he collaborated on “ ’Round Midnight” and “Death Watch”; Sidney Lumet (“The Morning After”); and Ingmar Bergman (“The Serpent’s Egg”).

David Rayfiel, who lived in Corinth, N.Y., was born on Sept. 9, 1923, in Brooklyn. His father, Leo F. Rayfiel, was a Democratic congressman and district court judge.

After attending P.S. 193 and James Madison High School, he enrolled in Brooklyn College, but his studies were interrupted by Army service in Europe during World War II. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College in 1947 and studied playwriting at the Yale School of Drama, where he earned a master’s degree in 1950.

He started out in television in the mid-1950s, writing mostly for the dramatic series “Norby,” “Assignment Foreign Legion,” “Sam Benedict” and “Channing,” as well as for the late-night show “America After Dark” and the game show “Who Do You Trust?”

In 1962 the Writers’ Stage Company presented Mr. Rayfiel’s play “P.S. 193” as its inaugural production, with James Earl Jones in the role of an embittered war veteran who clashes with a liberal philosophy professor played by Severn Darden.

The play won no prizes, but it led to assignments to write for “Kraft Suspense Theater” and “Chrysler Theater,” where the first of his three television plays, “Something About Lee Wiley,” was directed by Mr. Pollack, who also directed the West Coast premiere of “P.S. 193.”

Their first film collaboration was the 1965 drama “The Slender Thread,” with Sidney Poitier and Anne Bancroft. That movie’s principal screenwriter, Stirling Silliphant, adapted a Life magazine article by Shana Alexander about a young volunteer at a crisis center and the suicidal woman who calls him, and Mr. Rayfiel lent a hand. Because there was no money in the budget for extra writers, Mr. Pollack gave him an I.B.M. Selectric typewriter as payment.

The two worked together on two smaller films: “This Property Is Condemned,” a Tennessee Williams play adapted by Francis Ford Coppola, which starred Mr. Redford and Natalie Wood, and “Castle Keep.” They then settled into a creative groove with big pictures like “Three Days of the Condor,” “Jeremiah Johnson,” “The Way We Were,” “The Electric Horseman,” “Havana,” “Absence of Malice,” “The Firm,” “Sabrina” and “The Interpreter.”

“In those days, I thought I would write everything, Sydney would direct everything and Robert would act in everything,” Mr. Rayfiel told The Los Angeles Times in 2005.

When not working with Mr. Pollack, Mr. Rayfiel collaborated on the screenplays for “Valdez Is Coming” and “Intersection.” He also wrote episodes of “Rod Serling’s Night Gallery” and “Columbo.”

Mr. Rayfiel’s first two marriages, the second to the actress Maureen Stapleton, ended in divorce. In addition to his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Eliza Roberts of Sherman Oaks, Calif.; two stepchildren, Danny Allentuck of Manhattan and Katherine Allentuck of Lenox, Mass; a brother, Howard, of Sarasota, Fla.; and two grandchildren.

Mr. Rayfiel did his best work in a supporting role. “I don’t think I have a strong sense of story,” he told The New York Times. The Margaux Hemingway thriller “Lipstick,” one of the few scripts he wrote in its entirety, ranked low on his list of favorites.

What he did have a feel for, he said, was dramatic situations: “A moment when people speak, I know when it’s strong and when it’s not.”

RAYFIEL, David
Born: 9/9/1923, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A.
Died: 6/22/2011, Manhattan, New York, U.S.A.

David Rayfiel's westerns - screenwriter:
Valdez is Coming! - 1971
Jeremiah Johnson - 1972
The Electric Horseman - 1979

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