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OBITUARIES / Lawrence Roman, 1921 - 2008

Veteran screenwriter crafted 'Under the Yum-Yum Tree'

May 24, 2008|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Lawrence Roman, who was best known for writing the hit Broadway play "Under the Yum-Yum Tree" and for adapting the farce into the 1963 movie version, has died. He was 86.

Roman died Sunday of a stroke complicated by kidney failure at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, his family said.

In a screenwriting career that spanned 50 years, Roman wrote more than 20 movies and teleplays, including a 1968 film adaptation of George Plimpton's "Paper Lion" and the original screenplay for "McQ," a 1974 movie starring John Wayne.

He also wrote a teleplay, "The Ernest Green Story," which documented a civil rights milestone and won a Peabody Award. The 1993 Disney Channel movie tells the true story of one of nine African American students who integrated a Little Rock, Ark., high school in 1957.

After "Under the Yum-Yum Tree" debuted on Broadway in 1960, the New York Times review said Roman had "a gift for keeping the dialogue lively" and praised Gig Young's portrayal of the lothario landlord.

When the play was in its third year at the Ivar Theater in Hollywood, the Los Angeles Times noted in 1963 that the five-person production had gone through five complete casts and launched more than a dozen movie and TV careers.

In the film version, Jack Lemmon stars as the landlord who tries to seduce his tenant, played by Carol Lynley, who lives with her fiance.

"For the time, the play was very progressive since it showed an unmarried man and woman living together," said Roman's daughter, Catherine. "It was very important to him to stay on top of what was current, socially and politically. That's what gave his career longevity as he aged."

After "Under the Yum-Yum Tree" played Broadway, Roman could afford to move from a small home in Van Nuys to a custom-built house in Encino, his daughter said. His wife of 62 years, Evelyn, still lives there.

He was born May 30, 1921, in Jersey City, N.J., to Russian immigrants -- Isadore Irving and Bessie Dora Roman -- and moved to Los Angeles with his family in the early 1930s. His family owned the Roman Markets grocery-store chain.

While attending UCLA, Roman took an extracurricular comedy-writing class with Edgar Bergen, who briefly hired him to write jokes for his radio show, the Los Angeles Daily News reported in 1993.

After getting a bachelor's degree in 1942, Roman served in the Army in World War II.

He started as a writer at CBS Radio before turning to plays and movies. His first screen credit was "Vice Squad" with Edward G. Robinson in 1953. Other movie scripts included "A Kiss Before Dying" in 1956 with Robert Wagner and the 1973 Sidney Poitier film "A Warm December."

Roman's teleplays included the adaptation of Norman Cousins' autobiography, "Anatomy of an Illness," a 1984 CBS movie with Ed Asner.

Two other Roman plays made it to Broadway. The comedy "P.S. I Love You" opened briefly in 1964 and 20 years later "Alone Together" ran for almost three months.

Outside New York, "Alone Together" found an audience. It has been produced all over the U.S. and has been popular in Europe. The play, about a couple who are horrified when their adult son moves home, was a fictionalized account taken from his own life as a parent, Roman once said.

Besides his wife and daughter, Roman is survived by a son, Steve; and a granddaughter.

Services will be private.

Memorial donations may be made to the Charcot-Marie-Tooth Assn. at


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