Partner Brandon Toomey
6512 Moore Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Hollywood Forever Hollywood, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Leonard Spigelgass (November 26, 1908 – February 15, 1985) was an American film producer and screenwriter. During his career, Spigelgass wrote the scripts for 11 Academy Award-winning films. He himself was nominated in 1950 for the story for Mystery Street and garnered three Writers Guild of America nominations over the course of his career. In talking about "Gypsy", Dave Karger and William J. Mann "outed" a lot of people last night, including the screenwriter, Leonard Spigelgass. Along with Dore Schary, Ralph Rainger, Allen Rivkin, and William Fadiman, Spigelgass was a member of the informal "Five Guys Club," a group of writers who'd known each other on the East Coast.
Born to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York, his father, Abram, was the son of a poor Russian immigrant tailor, but had scrimped and saved and studied hard to become a lawyer, representing mostly his poor and working-class neighborhood. Spigelgass graduated from New York University in 1929. He was a literary and drama critic for The Brooklyn Eagle and the Saturday Review of Literature before moving to Hollywood. At RKO, he learned the necessary skills as a continuity writer. Significantly, he was brought into the club by two women, holdovers from the old days: Doris Molloy ("who knew more about the creation of a motion picture than anybody I ever knew") and Sonya Levien, who was a good friends with Zoe Akins.
"He lived for a while with a boyfriend on the beach in Malibu," remembered costume designer Miles White, who had a house nearby and occasionally attended parties at Spigelgass' house. "He was very well connected, very influential and very respected, and everyone knew he was gay. It was hard to hide. After a few drinks, he'd get very outrageous, very melodramatic. He was a character."
Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy would sometimes socialize with Spigelgass and his boyfriend, the actor Brandon Toomey, who played a few small parts in a handful of films. Spigelgass made no secret to his friends that he'd appreciate any help they could give Toomey's career. "I wouldn't say Spigelgass was open about being gay," Bachardy said. "He could be very cagey. But it was generally known."
Spigelglass got his start collaborating on the script for Erich von Stroheim's Walking Down Broadway at Fox Films. After the film was shot, studio executives ordered the film to be re-edited and re-shot; it was released under the new title Hello, Sister! (1933). Spigelglass worked as assistant to Julian Josephson, head of story at Fox. Spigelglass was also credited as writer on Stingaree (1934) and Escape to Paradise at RKO.
Spigelgass occasionally served as an associate producer at Universal, but by the end of the 1930s was established as a competent, reliable company writer.
In December 1933 Spigelglass accepted a contract at Universal to work as scenario and story editor. While there, his story I'll Fix It (1934) was bought for Columbia. In June 1934, Spigelglass was promoted to producer. His first film in that capacity was Princess O'Hara (1935), based on a story by Damon Runyon, which he helped write. He became story editor for Major Pictures and wrote a film of the life of Madame Curie for Universal. At Universal, he wrote for Letter of Introduction (1938), Service de Luxe (1938), Unexpected Father (1940), Private Affairs (1940), and The Boys from Syracuse (1940). He produced the musical One Night in the Tropics (1940), the film debut of Abbott and Costello. He wrote Tight Shoes (1941) and Butch Minds the Baby (1942), based on a story by Runyon and nominated for an Academy Award.
Moving easily in the macho world of other writers, Spigelgass collaborated with none other than Damon Runyon on a couple of films in the 1940s. "Damon showed me his world," Lennie remembered, "the prizefighters and the crap games." Gangster Mickey Cohen told Spigelgass if he ever needed anything, just to call. Well-places friends in fact ensured his sucess: when Dore Schary replaced Louis B. Mayer as MGM chief, Spigelgass' clout only increased.
Leonard Spigelgass rather famously observed, as only he could: "Homosexuality in the 1940s had two levels. One, it was held in major contempt, and the other, it was the most exclusive club. That's terribly important to realize, that it was a club into which heterosexual Hollywood couldn't get. I mean, no ordinary certified public accountant could get into the Cole Porter-Lorenz Hart-George Cukor world. That was their world. That was W. Somerset Maugham. That was Noel Coward... On the one hand, if you said, "They're homosexual," "Oh, my, isn't that terrible" was the reaction. On the other hand, if you said, "My God, the other night I was at dinner with Cole Porter," the immediate reaction was, "What did he have on? What did he say? Were you at the party? Were you at one of those Sunday brunches?" So you had this awful ambivalence."
He wrote some films at Warner Bros., including Million Dollar Baby (1941) and All Through the Night (1942). He also wrote The Man They Couldn't Kill for Edward G. Robinson, but it was not made. At RKO, Spigelglass wrote The Big Street (1942), based on a Runyon story, and They Got Me Covered (1942) for Bob Hope. He did The Youngest Profession (1943) at MGM sharing credit with George Oppenheimer, two gay men writing about startstruck adolescent girls mooning over Robert Taylor. He also sold an original script to Fox titled No Place Like Home, but it appears to have not been made.
Spigelgass served as a lieutenant colonel in World War II and, with Frank Capra, planned and produced Army and Navy Screen Magazine, a bi-weekly, filmed news update for American troops abroad. He also worked on Why We Fight, directed by Frank Capra, the official US government film series defining the enemies of the Allies and why they needed to be vanquished.
He wrote For Her to See for Hal Wallis, which became So Evil My Love (1948). Also for Wallis, he wrote The Perfect Marriage (1947) and The Accused (1949), and he did I Was a Male War Bride (1949) for Fox, light, crisp, and more than a little campy. Cary Grant in drag, trying to accompany WAC wife Ann Sheridan back to the US, is a hoot. In 1948, he was part of the Writers Guild fight against the blacklist. He sold Murder at Harvard to MGM, but it was not made.
Spigelglass signed a long-term contract at MGM where she wrote on Mystery Street (1950), which earned him an Oscar nomination. Mystery Street is a taut little thriller in which the hero-detective, played by Ricardo Montalban, can be read as gay. He followed it with Night into Morning (1951), The Law and the Lady (1951), Because You're Mine (1952), Scandal at Scourie (1953) (where Spigelgass again sided with the outsiders: Catholics, in this case, in a tale of a Protestant couple, Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon, who adopt a Catholic child and agree to raise her as such), Athena (1954), and Deep in My Heart (1954). He produced a documentary series titled MGM Parade, and wrote the musicals Ten Thousand Bedrooms (1957) and Silk Stockings (1957). He wrote International Review, meant to be an all-star musical, but it was not made. He left MGM when his boss Dore Schary was fired. "When I left Hollywood in 1957, I was in the glue factory", he later said. "That I had written movies for many years meant nothing."
Spigelglass moved to New York where he wrote for TV shows such as Playhouse 90 and Climax!, including a story of the life of Helen Morgan. He wrote the play A Majority of One (1959), directed by Dore Schary. Starring Gertrude Berg, it was a hit and ran for 556 performances. This reignited Hollywood's interest in Spigelglass. He returned to Hollywood and found himself treated with far more respect as the writer of a hit play than he had during his entire time there before. "At the age of 50, I am an author and not a hack", he said. He wrote the film adaptation of Majority of One and the big screen version of Gypsy (1962) both directed by Mervyn Le Roy. The film rights for Majority went for $500,000. He returned to Broadway and wrote a series of plays, but none had the success of his first. A musical adaptation of Cafe Crown was not produced. The Free Thinkers was announced for 1961 but not made. Dear Me, The Sky Is Falling (1963) (originally titled Libby) had a short run despite starring Gertrude Berg. Remedy for Winter (1965) (known as Upper Case), Scuttle Under the Bonnet (1965) and The Playgirls (1966) did not make it to Broadway. The Wrong Way Light Bulb (1969) only had a short run. He wrote the book The Scuttle Under the Bonnet (1962). He also wrote the book to the musical We've Done a Whole New Thing but it was not produced. Look to the Lilies (1970) based on Lilies of the Field, but it only had a short run despite starring Shirley Booth. So too did Mack & Mabel (1974) based on an idea of Spigelglass.
In 1971, Spiegelgass joined the USC Cinema Department as an adjunct professor. In the 1970s, Spigelgass wrote an ABC Afterschool Special and several Academy Award ceremonies. He wrote the play Interview (1978), which had some productions.
Spigelgass' sister, Beulah Roth, was a political speechwriter for Franklin Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson, and was married to photographer Sanford H. Roth, a close friend of James Dean. Spigelgass died in Los Angeles, California.
My published books:
BACK TO HOME PAGE