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Robert Bolt; Movie Scripts Won 2 Oscars

February 23, 1995|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Robert Bolt, the British playwright who turned to screenwriting and won Academy Awards for the scripts of "Dr. Zhivago" and "A Man for All Seasons," has died. He was 70.

Bolt, who garnered a third Oscar nomination for his screenplay of "Lawrence of Arabia," died Monday night at his home near Petersfield, 70 miles southwest of London. The writer had a history of heart problems and had been partially disabled since a heart attack and stroke in 1983.

At the time of his death, Bolt was adapting "Wild Swans," Jung Chang's memoir of her family's life in China, for the BBC. He had recently completed a film for HBO about Richard Nixon in his youth.

Born in Sale, England, the son of a shopkeeper and a teacher, Bolt attended Exeter and the University of Manchester, and became a history teacher. He carried that perspective into writing novels, plays and film scripts about epic historical characters.

During World War II, Bolt saw firsthand the scenes he would later write into "Lawrence" when he served in the Royal Air Force and the Royal West African Frontier Force, rising to the rank of lieutenant.

His first play was produced on the London stage in 1958.

Two years later, Bolt assured his success as a writer with his play "A Man for All Seasons." The play told the story of Sir Thomas More, the 16th-Century Lord Chancellor of England who was executed by King Henry VIII for his loyalty to the church.

The play won the New York Drama Critics Award and a Tony in 1962, and Bolt's screenplay earned him his second Oscar in 1966. His first was awarded in 1965 for his adaptation of Boris Pasternak's novel "Dr. Zhivago," the sweeping tale of the Russian Revolution.

Tempering his reaction to phenomenal success, Bolt wrote in 1962: "Success and failure: both of short duration. Both unimportant then? No, but neither important enough to knock you off your balance. What holds the balance is that both are brief."

A political liberal, Bolt took part in several anti-nuclear demonstrations and was a longtime member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

By 1972, Bolt moved into directing as well as writing with the film "Lady Caroline Lamb."

His last credited screenplay was "The Mission," starring Jeremy Irons and Robert DeNiro, in 1986. The screenplay, based on Bolt's novel of the same name, won the Palme d'Or at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival, a Christopher Award and the Golden Globe Award.

Bolt is survived by his wife, actress Sarah Miles, whom he married twice, and four children.

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