D.M. Marshman Jr., Forgotten Screenwriter on 'Sunset Blvd.,' Dies at 92
He joined the legendary writing team of Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett and won an Oscar for his first movie script.
D.M. Marshman Jr., the forgotten third man behind the Oscar-winning screenplay for Billy Wilder’s classic Hollywood-set drama Sunset Blvd., has died. He was 92.
Marshman, who joined the famed writing team of Wilder and Charles Brackett when they feared they were going “stale,” died Thursday at Stamford Hospital in Connecticut, his family said.
Marshman was an influential movie writer for Life magazine when he was given a private screening of Wilder's and Brackett’s 1948 comedy The Emperor Waltz, starring Bing Crosby. He told them he didn’t think much of it.
“Well, they thought I was a smart fellow because they had come to the same conclusion themselves,” he said in a 2007 interview.
Marshman then quit his job at Life and moved to Hollywood for a writing job at Paramount.
According to Sam Staggs’ 2002 book Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard, Wilder (who also directed the 1950 film) and Brackett (who produced as well) were “stymied by a pivotal turn of plot” and turned to Marshman.
“He was bright, and we thought we might go stale so we brought in somebody to kick ideas around,” Wilder says in the book.
Sunset Blvd., of course, stars William Holden as a down-on-his-luck screenwriter who becomes uncomfortably involved with a forgotten silent movie star (Gloria Swanson) — with disastrous results.
“The end of the movie was very much Billy’s idea. He wanted the character to come to Hollywood and meet with success and have his own swimming pool, and at the end of the movie he is shot and falls into the swimming pool,” Marshman recalled in the 2007 interview. “So that gave us a beginning and an end. The next seven months were spent figuring out what came between.”
It has been said that Marshman came up with the idea of having Holden’s Joe Gillis character be a screenwriter and not an oilman.
Brackett and Wilder were one of Hollywood’s most successful writing teams, with credits including Ninotchka (1939), Hold Back the Dawn (1941), Ball of Fire (1941), The Major and the Minor (1942) and The Lost Weekend (1945), for which they won the Oscar.
Sunset Blvd., though, would be the last film on which they would work together.
A native of Cleveland and a graduate of Yale, Marshman later worked at RKO and 20th Century Fox, contributing to the screenplays for Taxi (1953), starring Dan Dailey, and Second Chance (1953), starring Robert Mitchum and Jack Palance.
After Hollywood, Marshman moved into advertising and worked at Young & Rubicam. He lived in Darien, Conn., for 60 years and kept his Oscar on a bookshelf at home.
Survivors include his children, David, John, Frances and George, and grandchildren, Victoria, Elizabeth, Natalie James and Alexander.