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OBITUARIES

Dean Riesner, 83; Film and TV Scriptwriter

August 24, 2002|JON THURBER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dean Riesner, who wrote screenplays for several of Clint Eastwood's early films and later for the hit television miniseries "Rich Man, Poor Man," has died. He was 83.

Riesner died of natural causes on Sunday at his Encino home, friends said.

"He was able to bring an economy of language and make scenes come alive," said director and longtime friend Sean Cunningham. "He left room for the actors and the director to function, but he always drove the story forward."

Riesner was born in New York City, the son of silent film director Charles Riesner. He started his motion picture career at age 5, playing roles in his father's films. Under the name Dinky Riesner, he appeared in the Charlie Chaplin film "The Pilgrim."

He turned to writing as a young man, earning his first screen credit in 1939 under the name Dean Franklin for "Code of the Secret Service," which was perhaps most memorable for starring a young actor named Ronald Reagan.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 28, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 ..CF: Y 10 inches; 372 words Type of Material: Correction
Screenplay--In Saturday's California section, the obituary of scriptwriter Dean Riesner reported that he wrote the screenplay for the film "Play Misty for Me." According to the Internet Movie Database, Jo Heims and Riesner shared the credit.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday August 31, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 18 inches; 671 words Type of Material: Correction
Riesner obituary--The Aug. 24 obituary of scriptwriter Dean Riesner incorrectly gave him sole writing credit for the film "Charley Varrick." According to the Internet Movie Database, Riesner shared the credit with John Reese, who wrote the novel that was the basis of the film.

The next year, Riesner, again writing as Franklin, wrote "The Fighting 69th," a rousing World War I action film about a well-known Irish regiment, which starred Pat O'Brien and James Cagney.

Riesner himself served in the Coast Guard in the Pacific during World War II before returning to screenwriting and acting.

He wrote and directed "Bill and Coo," a live-action film that told the story of two birds terrorized by a black crow. Produced and narrated by Ken Murray, the film won a special citation from the motion picture academy in 1948.

In the 1950s and '60s, he wrote the screenplays for the biopic of 1920s and '30s torch singer Helen Morgan, "The Helen Morgan Story," and for "Paris Holiday," a Bob Hope vehicle that also featured director Preston Sturges in an acting role.

Riesner moved on to television, writing scripts for such popular series as "Lawman," "Ben Casey," "The Outer Limits" and "Rawhide," where he first encountered Eastwood.

His first film starring Eastwood was the 1968 detective feature "Coogan's Bluff," directed by Don Siegel. Riesner went on to write "Play Misty for Me" and "Dirty Harry." He also wrote the screenplay for the next segment in the Harry Callahan saga, "The Enforcer."

He was an uncredited contributor to the script for "High Plains Drifter." He also wrote the script for another Siegel film, "Charley Varrick," starring Walter Matthau.

Riesner's main characters reflected his "man's man" personality and conception of masculinity, a colleague said Friday. " 'Dirty Harry' and 'Charley Varrick' were flawed characters but heroic, too," said screenwriter Todd Farmer. "Dean helped bring the idea of that kind of characterization to film."

Working in television in the 1970s, Riesner adapted for the small screen Irwin Shaw's popular novel "Rich Man, Poor Man," the first book, and Arthur Hailey's "The Moneychangers."

Riesner's wife, Marie, died several years ago. He is survived by several nieces and nephews. A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Tuesday at the Writer's Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills.

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