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March 09, 2008

Prolific Writer Malvin Wald Dies

Works like Perry Mason, The Naked City and Peter Gunn left
a "lasting impression on the storytelling landscape"

Sherman Oaks, CA – Malvin Wald, who wrote for TV shows like Peter Gunn, Daktari, Playhouse 90 and Perry Mason, died on March 6 in Sherman Oaks, California. He was 90.

Wald was also a writer on The Naked City, which aired from 1958 to 1963, in addition to co-writing the screenplay for the movie of the same name—with its famous closing lines, “There are 8 million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”

The film earned Wald an Oscar nomination, which he shared with Albert Maltz, one of the famed “Hollywood 10” blacklisted during the McCarthy era.

Born on August 8 in New York City, Wald was at Brooklyn College studying to be a Spanish teacher when he got an assignment to write a criticism of a young artist named Georgia O’Keefe.

While perusing her work at a Madison Avenue art gallery Wald met a man he assumed to be the janitor. Only later did he learn the man was photography master Alfred Stieglitz, who convinced the young Wald, who’d sold some jokes to Walter Winchell, to pursue a career in writing.

By the time he graduated from college, Wald was ready to head off to Hollywood to join older brother Jerry (Mildred Pierce, Key Largo, Dark Passage), who was on his way to a successful film producing career. (Jerry Wald was also said to have inspired the Sammy Glick character in Budd Schulberg’s novel What Makes Sammy Run?)

By 1939 Wald was the youngest scribe at Warner Brothers, where he was asked by John Huston to join the writer’s table at the studio commissary.

“The only actors admitted were Humphrey Bogart because Bogey carried on a good conversation, and Errol Flynn because he told us all about the high school girls he was seducing,” Wald wrote in 2003.

“Every day Ronald Reagan would come by," he continued, "and look anxiously waiting to be invited, like a child in a candy story.” (Reagan was forever rebuffed by the likes of Huston, who thought he was “a nice boy,” but “a square [who] doesn’t have much to add to the conversation.”)

Wald and Reagan would cross paths again in 1942 when both were members of the First Motion Picture Unit of the Army Air Corps. During their three-year stint together Wald helped make more than 30 training and recruitment films in Culver City.

He also wrote a play about Theodore Roosevelt, a future movie role Reagan lobbied hard for. Wald, however, didn’t exactly warm to the idea, telling the future president he was too good looking to play T.R. “You look like a movie star,” Wald told Reagan. “You don’t look like a president!”

While Wald’s writing career spanned four decades and includes numerous TV credits, it was his work on the film The Naked City that has left a lasting impression on the storytelling landscape.“What we see all over our TV screens today originated in large part in that movie,” film historian Leonard Maltin told the Los Angeles Times.

“It was a novelty then, deglamorizing Hollywood’s depiction of crime-solving, taking it out of the hands of glamorous or exotic private investigators and following day-to-day, mundane activities of the police,” Maltin said.

“My concept,” Wald later wrote, “was that the Police Department—with all its fingerprint experts, crime scene photographers and autopsy physicians—solved murders, not Sam Spade-type private eyes working alone.”

Wald, who also taught screenwriting at the University of Southern California, is survived by his son Alan Wald and daughter Jenifer Morgan.

Bob Makela

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