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Vancouver Sun (24/Nov/1990) - 91-year-old writing remake of his '28 classic



91-year-old writing remake of his '28 classic

The prevailing wisdom in Hollywood is that it's tough to be a screenwriter if you're over 40. The Writer's Guild even mails surveys to its members every few years, checking the extent of age discrimination in the business.

Clearly, not all the young moguls in Hollywood have heard of 91-year-old Charles Bennett. Or, if they have, they assume that the writer of such classics as Foreign Correspondent, The Thirty-Nine Steps and The Man Who Knew Too Much has long since tottered off into the sunset.

But don't look for Bennett in the palatial back bedroom of a Sunset Boulevard mansion, reliving his glory days through the haze of senility like a Norma Desmond.

Bennett, happily ensconced in the Los Angeles home he bought more than four decades ago, is hard at work on a new screenplay. It will be the 59th in his career. He is the oldest writer in the history of film ever to be paid to write a major screenplay.

"I love it," said Bennett, of 20th Century Fox's decision to remake Blackmail, which he first wrote as a stage hit for Tallulah Bankhead in 1928 and which was turned into a film by Alfred Hitchcock a year later.

It's a young man's industry, said Bennett in a recent telephone interview. He is well aware of the astronomical prices commanded by such screenwriters as Joe Eszterhas, who was paid $3 million for Basic Instinct, and 29-year-old Shane Black, who got $1 million for Lethal Weapon II.

"I think I was born too early," Bennett said. "I'd love to get a million dollars for a picture."

Bennett was approached to write the remake of Blackmail by Stuart Birnbaum and William Blaylock, a writer-producer team.

Birnbaum said they hired a team of new writers to remake Blackmail, intending that Bennett's involvement be merely cursory. They sent a draft over to his house and Bennett asked if he could give them a few notes.

When he sent back a 42-page document that amounted to "a total reconstruction of the story ... amazing, right on target," they made him the sole writer, Birnbaum said.