Lewis John Carlino, Writer and Director of 'The Great Santini,' Dies at 88

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Lewis John Carlino

He earned an Oscar nom for 'I Never Promised You a Rose Garden' and also penned 'Seconds' and the original 'The Mechanic.'

Lewis John Carlino, who wrote and directed The Great Santini, the film adaptation of Pat Conroy's autobiographical novel that starred Robert Duvall as a bullying U.S. Marine Corps pilot, has died. He was 88.

Carlino died Wednesday at his home on Whidbey Island in Washington state of myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood disease, his daughter, Alessa, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Carlino also adapted David Ely's novel for John Frankenheimer's paranoid sci-fi drama Seconds (1966), starring Rock Hudson; reworked Yukio Mishima's book for the intense The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea (1976) — he also directed the Kris Kristofferson starrer — and recast Joanne Greenberg's novel for I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1977), earning an Oscar nomination (shared with Gavin Lambert) in the process.

Carlino was adept at the original screenplay as well, writing The Brotherhood (1968), a pre-Godfather Mafia film starring Kirk Douglas; The Mechanic (1972), with Charles Bronson as a cold-blooded professional assassin and Jan-Michael Vincent as his protege; and Resurrection (1980), starring Oscar nominee Ellen Burstyn as a woman who attains mysterious healing powers.

Carlino displayed a fascination with crime — and its effects — during his career.

"You know, everybody talks about gangsters, crime and stuff like that. But, as a writer, I'm really curious [about] what goes on in somebody's mind," he said in a 2011 interview about The Mechanic. "You can talk about the act in the abstract, but when you deal with it in actuality, how does a person make that adjustment in their mind and go home at night and play with his kids and be with his wife?

"That curiosity, as a writer, led me to do a lot of research on killers and their methods, that sort of thing. I thought it would be really interesting to do a character that, because of the work he does, is locked in such isolation that he's desperate for a relationship."

Carlino received the last of his three career WGA nominations for his work on The Great Santini (1979). Duvall, as Lt. Col. Wilbur "Bull" Meechum, and Michael O'Keefe, as his tortured son Ben, were given Oscar noms but lost out to Robert De Niro of Raging Bull and Timothy Hutton of Ordinary People, respectively.

Lewis John Carlino, the son of an immigrant Sicilian tailor and a homemaker, was born in Queens on New Year's Day in 1932. He and his family moved to California, where he graduated from high school and enrolled at El Camino College.

In 1951, Carlino enlisted in the Air Force and served for four years during the Korean War. After his discharge, he used the G.I. Bill to enroll at the University of Southern California, where he studied drama. He graduated in 1958, then earned his master's in theater from the school two years later.

At USC, Carlino penned several one-act plays, including The Brick and the Rose, which was produced by the American National Theatre and Academy in 1957. It went on to become the first presentation of the CBS Television Workshop, an anthology series, in 1960.

Carlino traveled the world "to let the ideas cook," as he once noted, before settling in New York, where he taught at Columbia University and continued to write plays. Two of his one-acts, Snowangel and Epiphany, made it to off-Broadway in 1963 as part of a double bill that was titled Cages and starred Shelley Winters and Jack Warden.

As Cages enjoyed a run of 176 performances at the New York Playhouse, Carlino also had success with two other off-Broadway productions, the Hollywood-set Telemachus Clay: A Collage of Voices and Doubletalk, starring Franchot Tone and Ruth White. (His full-length drama The Exercise, starring Anne Jackson, would have a short run on Broadway in 1968.)

The sinister Seconds, which played In Competition at the Cannes Film Festival, revolved around unhappy middle-aged banker Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph), who signs up with a clandestine corporation that will transform him into a handsome new person (Hudson).

Frankenheimer reportedly abandoned Carlino's happy ending — which brought Hamilton back to his original family — and instead made the character a victim of the dark company.

Carlino had worked with director Monte Hellman on developing Chartoff-Winkler Productions' The Mechanic from his then-unpublished novel before the project changed studios and Michael Winner was hired at United Artists. (The action movie famously opens with a 16-minute dialogue-free set piece.)

Carlino's characters were then revived for the 2011 and 2016 Mechanic reboots that starred Jason Statham.

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, produced by Roger Corman in one of his more expensive endeavors, starred Kathleen Quinlan as a young woman who lands in a mental institution following a suicide attempt.

Carlino spent about a week in Burstyn's home in New York after she had the idea for Resurrection, then produced the script for the movie in about three weeks. The actress portrays a woman who finds herself with divine abilities after she survives a car crash that killed her husband.

"I loved it, and it has had a lot of meaning for a lot of people because it deals with death a lot and the passing over to the other side and the experiences of some of the people I had read about who had had near-death experiences," Burstyn said in a 2000 interview with The Guardian.

"So many people have written and told me how they have been with their parents and helped them cross over because of Resurrection. And that's pleased me very deeply."

Carlino also wrote the screenplays for The Fox (1967), A Reflection of Fear (1972), Crazy Joe (1974) and Haunted Summer (1988) and directed the sex comedy Class (1983), starring Jacqueline Bisset, Andrew McCarthy and Rob Lowe.

For television, he penned a 1963 episode of the famed CBS series Route 66; co-created the 1973-74 ABC drama Doc Elliot, featuring James Franciscus; and adapted a Gay Talese crime story for a 1973 CBS telefilm, Honor Thy Father, which starred Joseph Bologna.

Upon moving to Whidbey Island in 1996, Carlino returned to his theatrical roots and was instrumental in the launch of the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. He directed several original productions, and his most recent work, the play Visible Grace, is in development.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his grandson, Duncan, and great-granddaughter, June. His second wife, Jilly, died in 2015.