Donald Wrye, Writer and Director on 'Ice Castles,' Dies at 80

Donald Wrye - S 2015
Courtesy of Kathryn Dowling Wrye

Donald Wrye - S 2015

A two-time Oscar nominee, he also directed Linda Blair in the 1974 telefilm 'Born Innocent,' which featured a controversial gang-rape scene.

Donald Wrye, who wrote and directed the 1978 figure-skating romantic drama Ice Castles, starring Lynn-Holly Johnson and Robby Benson, has died. He was 80.

Wrye, who received Oscar nominations for producing a pair of short documentaries in the early 1970s, died May 15 in his sleep at home in Harrisburg, Pa., his wife, Kathryn Dowling Wrye, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Wrye helmed the boundary-pushing 1974 NBC telefilm Born Innocent, starring Linda Blair (coming off the release of The Exorcist months earlier) as a 14-year-old runaway who is raped with a plunger handle by a gang of girls at a reform school. Re-airings of the movie cut the graphic rape sequence.

“The project certainly caused a lot of disturbance in America, and it’s one, years later, that I am so proud of, because it really helped change a lot of lives,” Blair said in a 2013 interview.

Wrye also wrote, directed and executive produced ABC’s 1987 seven-part, 15-hour miniseries Amerika, which starred Kris Kristofferson in an epic story about a Soviet Union takeover of the United States.

Ice Castles featured Johnson as an Olympic-hopeful figure skater who loses her eyesight in a skating accident and Benson as her hockey-playing boyfriend. Its theme song, "Through the Eyes of Love," performed by Melissa Manchester and written by Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, was nominated for an Oscar.

Wrye later directed a 2010 straight-to-DVD Ice Castles remake that starred Taylor Firth and Rob Mayes.

Wrye received his Oscar noms for producing An Impression of John Steinbeck: Writer (1969), with Henry Fonda providing the voice of the novelist, and The Numbers Start With the River (1971), about life in an Iowa town.

He directed Jack Lemmon in the much-lauded 1976 NBC telefilm The Entertainer (1976) and guided Marlo Thomas and Orson Welles in ABC’s It Happened One Christmas, a 1977 adaptation of the Jimmy Stewart classic It’s a Wonderful Life.

Wrye also won Humanitas prizes for his work on Divorce Wars: A Love Story, a 1982 telefilm starring Tom Selleck and Jane Curtin, and Lucky Day, a 1991 TV movie toplined by Amy Madigan and Olympia Dukakis.  

Wrye’s trademark was to examine individuals involved in a family crisis or struggling with social issues, his wife noted.

Born Sept. 24, 1934, in Riverside, Calif., Wrye attended the University of Arizona and graduated from UCLA’s film school. He was a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and served for years on its documentary feature film committee.

In his addition to his wife of nearly 28 years, survivors include children Gabriel, Ariel and Catalina; grandchildren Esme, Levi and Kagan; brothers Terry and Richard; sister-in-law Karen; his children’s spouses, Heather and Kate; and mother-in-law Barbara.

A private memorial service will be held in Malibu, where he lived for years.

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