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Name of Director Smithee Isn't What It Used to Be

Movies * Many in Hollywood say the pseudonym for disgruntled directors has served its purpose. Besides, the public is in on the joke now.

January 15, 2000|AMY WALLACE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For years before that, the DGA had refused to allow pseudonyms for fear that some unscrupulous producers could force weak directors to take them, thus negatively affecting their earning power.

The issue flared, however, in 1968 on "Death of a Gunfighter," a Universal release that was begun by one director and completed by another. Neither director wanted credit or future residuals and a DGA panel ruled that the finished film was not representative of either one's work. To prevent Universal from running the film without a credit, which would both tarnish that particular film and undermine the idea that directors generally deserve prominent billing, the DGA invented Smithee.

"Somebody suggested Alan Smith. I said, 'That's ridiculous. There are so many Smiths,' " recalled Rich, the longtime DGA board member. "Somebody said, 'How about Smithe, with an E?' I said, 'How about two E's?' We also came up with Alana Smithee for the women, though I don't think we ever used it."

Over the years, while Alan Smithee's name was never codified in the DGA bylaws, his name became the only pseudonym used when there was a dispute. The TV versions of David Lynch's "Dune," Michael Mann's "Heat" and Michael Apted's "Thunderheart" were Smithee's work, as was the airline version of Martin Brest's "Meet Joe Black." Smithee did a lot of TV as well, including episodes of "The Simpsons" and "MacGyver" and TV movies like "The O.J. Simpson Story."

And in a twist so perfect that it seemed scripted, Eszterhas' "Alan Smithee Film" was credited to Smithee after the real director, Hiller, disputed Eszterhas' editing of the film.

As word of Smithee's condition spread, many in Hollywood reflected on his career. Writer-director Phil Alden Robinson ("Field of Dreams") said that in Hollywood--where the length of one's credits list can be more valued than its quality--Smithee's legacy is secure.

"I've always been jealous of Alan Smithee," said Robinson, who has used a pseudonym himself on some writing projects. "I've only directed four movies. But this guy has quite a list. The films weren't any good, but there sure were a lot of them. I'm going to miss him."

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