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Leigh Chapman, a pioneering female screenwriter in the action-adventure genre who co-wrote the 1974 movie Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, has died. She was 75.
Chapman, who started her career as a TV actress and appeared most memorably as the secretary of Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) on the 1960s NBC spy hit The Man From U.N.C.L.E., died at her home in West Hollywood after an eight-month battle with cancer, her sister, Morgan, said.
The chase-crazy Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, which starred Peter Fonda, Susan George, Vic Morrow and several souped-up muscle cars, grossed nearly $30 million for Fox in its initial release and has become a cult classic.
Chapman also wrote the treatment that became the blaxploitation film Truck Turner (1974), starring Isaac Hayes, and did the screenplays for How Come Nobody’s on Our Side? (1975); Steel (1979), with Lee Majors and Jennifer O’Neill; The Octagon (1980), starring Chuck Norris; King of the Mountain (1981), with Harry Hamlin; and Impulse (1990), starring Theresa Russell.
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“I couldn’t write a romantic comedy or a chick flick if my life depended on it,” she said in a 2010 interview. “I could write a love story, but it would have to be a Casablanca-type of love story, and some people would have to die.”
The auburn-haired beauty, a native of Kannapolis, N.C., who graduated from Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., came to L.A. and landed a job at William Morris, where she transcribed scripts at night for the agency to earn extra income.
She sold her first TV script, for a 1964 episode of the ABC detective show Burke’s Law, and later wrote installments of My Favorite Martian, Mission: Impossible, The Wild Wild West and Mod Squad.
Her final TV writing credit was the pilot and a 1993 episode of Norris’ action hit Walker, Texas Ranger. Because of a creative dispute, credit for both scripts was given to Louise McCarn, who was Chapman’s mother.
Chapman also appeared in front of the television camera on Ripcord, The Monkees, Dr. Kildare, Combat and McHale’s Navy.
She is survived by another sister, Frankie, and a brother, John.
8:45 a.m., Nov. 14 Correction: The title of the film is Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and has been corrected.
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Melvin Van Peebles