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Paul Monash, 85; Producer and Writer Had Eye for a Good Script

Obituaries

January 16, 2003|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Paul Monash, an award-winning writer-producer who brought "Peyton Place" to television, served as executive producer of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and produced "Slaughterhouse-Five," "Carrie" and other movies, has died. He was 85.

Monash, whose writing credits date from the heyday of live TV and continue through 2000, died Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles after a brief illness.

Beginning in the late 1940s, he wrote for shows such as "Studio One," "Kraft Television Theatre," "Climax" and "Playhouse 90," winning an Emmy in 1958 for "The Lonely Wizard," an episode of "Schlitz Playhouse of Stars."

He also wrote the pilots for the TV series "The Untouchables," "The Asphalt Jungle" and "Twelve O'clock High," and he served as executive producer of the popular prime-time soap opera "Peyton Place" and the legal drama "Judd, for the Defense."

"Paul Monash was a highly successful television producer for us," said producer David Brown, former executive vice president of 20th Century Fox.

"He was, of course, a top-grade, A-list writer," said Brown. "Paul was a charismatic writer. He had a strong presence. He was not a nerd; he was a writer with attitude and personality, and we were very fond of him."

Turning to theatrical film production in the mid-1960s, Monash reportedly read William Goldman's script for "Butch Cassidy" and urged 20th Century Fox to buy it.

The script sold for $400,000 -- the highest price paid for an original screenplay at the time -- and the film, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, became one of the era's biggest hits.

"Paul's success as a producer was based on the fact that he recognized great properties," said screenwriter Dennis Feldman, a family friend. "He knew a good thing when he saw it -- whether it was his wife, Jacqueline; the novel 'Carrie' or the screenplay of 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,' or wine or music."

Among Monash's other feature film credits as a producer are the Billy Wilder remake of "The Front Page," starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau; "Big Trouble in Little China," and "The Friends of Eddie Coyle," for which Monash co-wrote the screenplay.

After about a dozen years as a producer, he returned to writing for television, including the 1990s biopics "Stalin" for HBO, "Kingfish: A Story of Huey P. Long" and "George Wallace."

He won a Golden Globe Award in 1980 for "All Quiet on the Western Front" and, in 1997, a Humanitas Award for "George Wallace."

In 2000, he received the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award from the Writers Guild of America -- the highest award for television writing, given to those who have "advanced the literature of television through the years."

Born in Harlem on June 14, 1917, Monash grew up in the Bronx.

He earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin and a master's in education from Columbia University.

Spurred by a sense of adventure, he spent time hitchhiking across the country and had a stint in the merchant marine, seeking, he once wrote, "material for the Great American Novel."

He "found the material but not the words," he wrote in the Army during World War II, and continued his quest in Manhattan's Greenwich Village for three years, where he had one novel published "but not the Great One."

He subsequently spent four years in Paris and the surrounding area, where he had another novel published "but still not the Great One."

By the late '40s, he had begun writing for television. His most recent credit was "The Golden Spiders: A Nero Wolfe Mystery" on A&E in 2000.

Despite the acclaim he received for his years of television writing, Monash harbored one regret.

"I have not written the Great American Novel," he said when named the recipient of the Chayefsky award. "It is still in first draft."

Up until some weeks ago, Feldman said, Monash was still working on his novel.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two daughters from a previous marriage, Stephanie Monash and Jessica Berty; and two stepchildren, Rija Kline and Paul Kline.

A memorial service is being planned.

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