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Writer of 'Romancing the Stone' Killed : Diane Renee Thomas, 39, Dies in 80-M.P.H. Sports Car Crash

October 23, 1985|LEONARD GREENWOOD | Times Staff Writer

Screenwriter Diane Renee Thomas, who burst into fame six years ago when she sold the screenplay for the hit film, "Romancing the Stone," has died in an 80-m.p.h. car crash on Pacific Coast Highway near Topanga Beach, authorities said Tuesday.

Thomas, 39, died instantly when her Porsche Carrera, which was being driven by her boyfriend, actor Stephen Norman, 27, spun out of control late Monday night on the rain-slick highway and smashed into a power pole just south of Coastline Drive, Los Angeles Police Officer John Balicki said.

Thomas was sitting in the back seat of the small sports car.

Another passenger, Ian Young, 40, of Peterhead, Scotland, was airlifted to UCLA Medical Center, where he died two hours later, Balicki said.

Norman was arrested for investigation of driving under the influence of alcohol. He was in serious condition at UCLA Medical Center with internal injuries, police said.

Traffic investigators estimated the car was traveling at 80 m.p.h. when it hit the pole and sheared it off at the base. Norman told police the three had attended classes that evening at Pepperdine University and then stopped for drinks on the way home.

"They decided that since he (Norman) had had the least to drink, he should drive," Balicki said.

Thomas was working as a waitress when she sold the screenplay for "Romancing the Stone" for $250,000. The instant success won her fame as the Cinderella screenwriter of the year.

She detested the tag, telling an interviewer that it ignored the years of preparation that had gone into her work.

Studied Acting

"My mother always says, 'How come they never mention all your education and the fact that you studied acting?' " she said.

Thomas was born and reared in northern Michigan. She majored in marketing at USC and became an advertising copy writer. She later studied acting with Sherman Marks and Jack Garfein and worked with several improvisational acting groups.

In 1978, she took a job as waitress at the Coral Beach Cantina, a Mexican restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway. However, she worked every spare hour for a year on her screenplay.

Her agent, Norman Kurland, told her later that he was so impressed with her work that he had 10 copies made the following day and sent them to major studios, asking for responses and bids. Less than a week later, it was sold to Columbia Pictures and producer Michael Douglas. However, the film--about a shy romance-adventure novelist who finds herself living one of her plots in an obscure Latin American country--was eventually made by 20th Century Fox.

Starred in Film

Douglas, who also starred in the 1984 film, said the fact that Thomas was a novice actually helped to make her work attractive.

"It just had a spontaneity about the writing," the actor-producer said. "She was not cautious. The script had a wonderful spirit about it. . . . There was a total lack of fear to the writing. It worked."

Since "Romancing the Stone," Thomas had written or rewritten screenplays for several producers and production companies, said John De Simio, national publicity director for 20th Century Fox.

At the time of her death, Thomas was under contract to producer-director Steven Spielberg's Amblin Productions.

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