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Steve Shagan, a novelist and screenwriter who earned Oscar nominations for his work on Save the Tiger and Voyage of the Damned, has died. He was 88.
Shagan, who also co-wrote the adapted screenplay for the Richard Gere religious thriller Primal Fear (1996), died Nov. 30 in his sleep at his home in Los Angeles, his family announced.
Save the Tiger (1973), directed by John G. Avildsen, starred Jack Lemmon as Harry Stoner, a disillusioned and desperate executive at an L.A. fashion house. Lemmon was so impressed with Shagan’s first feature script, he worked for union scale ($165 a week) and wound up receiving the only best actor Oscar of his career.
While waiting for the studio to deliver the financing for Save the Tiger, Lemmon prodded Shagan, who also produced the movie, to make a novel out of his screenplay. “I did it just to preserve my sanity,” the writer once recalled.
For his second Oscar nom, Shagan (with David Butler) adapted the 1974 book Voyage of the Damned. His 1976 film, which starred Faye Dunaway and was directed by Stuart Rosenberg, revolved around the plight of 937 German Jews who boarded an ocean liner in 1939 for Cuba in an attempt to flee the Nazis.
Shagan’s screenwriting credits also include Robert Aldrich’s Hustle (1975), starring Burt Reynolds; Arthur Hiller’s Nightwing (1979); Avildsen’s The Formula (1980), with George C. Scott and Marlon Brando; and Michael Cimino’s The Sicilian (1987). And he produced W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975), directed by Avildsen and starring Reynolds again.
Shagan also received an Emmy nom for his screenplay for the 1996 HBO telefilm Gotti, starring Armand Assante.
The son of a Brooklyn pharmacist, Shagan was working as a stagehand on the live CBS series Danger when Rod Serling, a writer on the show, encouraged him to write as well. Shagan moved to Hollywood in the late 1950s and worked as a publicist for John Wayne, and in the 1960s, he produced an NBC Tarzan series, which starred Ron Ely, in addition to four movies that featured the King of the Jungle.
In all, Shagan authored eight novels, including those that served as the basis for the movies Hustle and The Formula.
“When you write a novel, there’s nothing between you and the audience,” he said in a 1982 interview. “When you write a film, there’s a whole army between you and the audience. Not that I’ll give it up. I get a tremendous kick out of seeing a character I’ve created up on the screen.”
Survivors include his son Robert. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to the World Wildlife Fund.
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Sterling K. Brown