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OBITUARIES / Malvin Wald, 1917 - 2008

TV, film writer received an Oscar nomination for 'The Naked City'

March 08, 2008|Claire Noland | Times Staff Writer

Malvin Wald, a prolific writer for film and television best known for co-writing the Academy Award-nominated screenplay for the 1948 film "The Naked City," died Thursday of age-related causes at Sherman Oaks Hospital, said his son, Alan. He was 90.

Wald wrote the story for the archetypal police drama, which ended with the now-famous line, "There are 8 million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them." He and writer Albert Maltz, one of the blacklisted Hollywood 10 who refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, were credited with the screenplay, which was also nominated for a Writers Guild Award.

The gritty black-and-white film noir, produced and narrated by Mark Hellinger and directed by Jules Dassin, follows a police investigation of a model's murder. Filmed on location on the streets of New York City, it spawned a television series by the same name and, ultimately, a genre of film and TV dramas that includes "Dragnet," "Hill Street Blues" and the "CSI" series.

"What we see all over our TV screens today originated in large part in that movie," film historian Leonard Maltin told The Times on Friday. "It was a novelty then, deglamorizing Hollywood's depiction of crime-solving, taking it out of the hands of glamorous or exotic private investigators and following the day-to-day, mundane activities of the police."

Wald, a Brooklyn native who had worked in a New York post office after college, wanted to capture the feel of his hometown streets.

"No one had done a film where the real hero was a hardworking police detective, like the ones I knew in Brooklyn," Wald told the Hollywood Reporter last year, not long after a restored version of the film was released on DVD. "We knew we were making a new genre that became the police procedural."

He did research by shadowing NYPD homicide detectives, who were initially skeptical.

"When I met Inspector [Joseph] Donovan, he said to me, 'Oh, you picture guys always make cops look so stupid, like we couldn't find a sail in the Navy yard,' " Wald told the Hollywood Reporter.

The movie became a critical and popular success. It won Oscars for cinematography and film editing.

Born Malvin Daniel Wald in 1917, he got his start in Hollywood by following in the footsteps of his older brother Jerry, who began writing screenplays in the 1930s and became a noted producer. After graduating from Brooklyn College in 1936, Malvin moved west and began writing.

When World War II began, he enlisted in the Army Air Forces and was assigned to the First Motion Picture Unit at the old Hal Roach Studio in Culver City.

He worked as a writer on more than 30 military training and recruitment films, sometimes getting screen time as an extra.

After the war ended and he was discharged, Wald continued writing for film and, later, for television, including many of the anthology programs of the 1950s and multiple episodes of "Daktari" and "The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams." He taught screenwriting at USC for many years and wrote essays and articles about film history.

In addition to his son, Wald is survived by a daughter, Jenifer Wald Morgan. His wife, Sylvia, died in 1999. His brother died in 1962.

No services are planned.

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claire.noland@latimes.com

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