Karl Schanzer, Who Inspired Coppola’s 'The Conversation,' Dies at 81

Courtesy Marilyn Schanzer

He created the story for “Camouflage,” found “48 Hrs.” for Paramount and worked as an actor, story analyst and studio executive.

Karl Schanzer, a longtime story analyst whose real-life experience as a private eye was an inspiration for Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, died May 25 in Studio City. He was 81.

Schanzer worked as a reader for Jeffrey Katzenberg at Paramount (where he found what would become the 1982 Eddie Murphy hit 48 Hrs.) and as a creative executive at 20th Century Fox, among many studio positions.

He also produced and created the story for Camouflage (2001), co-written by Billy Bob Thornton under the pseudonym Reginald Perry. (Thornton’s character in Sling Blade is named after Schanzer.)

Born in Hartford, Conn., on Nov. 25, 1932, Schanzer attended Los Angeles City College, where his roommates were actors James Coburn and Robert Vaughn, then began his career as an actor, appearing in Coppola’s Tonight for Sure (1962) and Dementia 13 (1963). 

To make ends meet, he found work as a detective and later told Coppola how disappointed he was when a man he had tailed for months failed to recognize him at a party. Coppola drew on that story to write and direct The Conversation (1974), starring Gene Hackman.

Schanzer also appeared in Jack Hill’s Spider Baby or, the Maddest Story Ever Told (1967) before embarking on his career as a reader. In addition, he co-authored with Thomas Lee Wright the book American Screenwriters.

Survivors include his wife, Marilyn, and sons Adam and Aaron.