Obituaries

Andy Lewis, Oscar-nominated for ‘Klute’ screenplay; at 92

Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland in the 1971 film KLUTE, directed by Alan J. Pakula.
Warner Brothers
Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland in the 1971 film “Klute,” directed by Alan J. Pakula.

Andy Lewis was nominated for an Academy Award for the screenplay of the classic 1971 thriller “Klute,” but he held no lofty illusions about his craft.

Jane Fonda won an Oscar for “Klute” for playing Bree Daniels, a high-priced prostitute, and Mr. Lewis suggested that in a way, screenwriters were similarly employed.

“A writer in show business is a ‘worditute,’ ” he said in an interview for “The Next Reel” podcast in 2013.

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Of his many years writing numerous TV shows before “Klute,” he said bluntly: “I was an assembly worker, turning out entertainments in quick time on short notice, to be carried out — usually without rehearsal – by actors who could be trusted at minimum to get on and off camera without missing their marks or blowing their lines.”

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For Mr. Lewis, who was 92 when he died Feb. 28 in his Walpole, N.H., home, “Klute” was both his most significant writing achievement and virtually the last script he penned that made it to the screen, in theaters or on TV.

“The next 15 years or so were extraordinary in that I was constantly employed, I made a quite reasonable living writing all kinds of stuff on assignment and on speculation — thrillers, comedies, pilot scripts for TV series, everything — and hardly an inch of it ever got made,” he told the podcast. “I think I must hold a record.”

Mr. Lewis co-wrote “Klute” on spec with his brother and frequent collaborator David E. Lewis, who was 10 years older. The movie is about an investigation conducted by private detective John Klute, played by Donald Sutherland. He travels to New York City to investigate the disappearance of a Pennsylvania businessman who seemed to have a connection to the prostitute Fonda portrayed.

Directed by Alan J. Pakula, “Klute” was a commercial and critical success. Mr. Lewis told the podcast that he borrowed some plot points from an old Saturday Evening Post story, in particular “the rube who turns the tables on the city slickers.” To that he added elements of paranoia: “The hidden pattern of things. The darkness. The people out there watching you, plotting against you, waiting to hurt you.”

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And he included a strong role for a woman. “I like to write smart, individualistic women, and I like to think I was good at it,” he told the podcast.

Fonda also won a Golden Globe for the role. Though the screenplay was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe, Mr. Lewis had a somewhat distant relationship to the film after finishing his work.

Hearing second-hand that the film had opened, “I wound up going to the local theater and buying a ticket like everyone else,” he told the podcast. That turned out to be a good way to gauge his creation. “I liked listening to the audience’s reactions. And here I felt, yes, here was Dave’s and my story, and here were our characters, and here, in particular, was my dialogue.”

On the night the Oscars were awarded, “I watched the ceremony with my kids back east on TV. We all booed when Dave and I didn’t win, but it didn’t shake us much. There was no disgrace in losing to Paddy Chayefsky,” he said of the screenwriter who won that year for “The Hospital” and was best known for the movie “Network.”

By virtue of the nomination alone, Mr. Lewis said, “I felt that Dave and I had been valued by our peers.”

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The years that followed, writing scripts that went unproduced, were busy and, ultimately, exhausting. “I finally, around 1985, in the classic fashion, burned out. Really and truly,” he told the podcast. “I’d moved out to L.A. in hopes of reviving my progress, but too late. By then, I was just staggering for the finish line. So I quit. I’ve scarcely written a word since.”

The youngest of four siblings, Andrew Kittredge Lewis grew up in Lexington. His mother, the former Mabel Maxwell Graves, had left Mount Holyoke College after her sophomore year to marry Clarence Irving Lewis, who became a well-known philosophy professor at Harvard University.

“I started wanting to be a writer — or perhaps just wanting to find an accepting audience — quite early,” Mr. Lewis wrote in an autobiographical sketch.

At Phillips Exeter Academy, he became friends with future writer Gore Vidal. After turning 18, Mr. Lewis served in the Army during World War II as a machine gunner in the 86th Infantry, which was known as the Blackhawk division. The experience left him with a dislike for most early movies about the war. “They continued to be overblown and heroic,” he told the podcast. “We — my infantry colleagues and I — used to sit and laugh at this crap.”

Mr. Lewis used the GI Bill to attend Harvard, from which he graduated in 1949. He married Sally Cushman that year and they lived in Concord.

While writing short stories, Mr. Lewis worked for Harvard’s financial aid office and at WGBH-FM, and also became a milkman for the DeNormandie and Verrill dairy in Concord.

His first marriage ended in divorce, as did a second marriage, to Anne Barry.

In the years after college, Mr. Lewis sold stories to magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post, and then began writing for the “Omnibus” TV series. That led to working in commercial TV, where his credits included “Dr. Kildare,” “Profiles in Courage,” “12 O’Clock High,” “Judd for the Defense,” “The Virginian,” and “The FBI.”

“This is dreary, nervous, and reclusive work — in my case anyway — but on the other hand, it doesn’t spot the clothes,” he wrote in 1974 for the 25th anniversary report of his Harvard class.

Mr. Lewis, who lived for a time in California, and commuted to New York City and Los Angeles from New England when necessary during his writing years, was more invested in plays he wrote, such as “The Triumph of Lincoln Clum.”

“I think this may be the best thing I ever wrote,” he told the podcast.

In his autobiographical sketch, he said that while living far from Los Angeles much of the time might have been “a tactical error” for his career, “when I consider the way it worked for my kids, it was a strategic victory.”

“His family was really important to him,” said Mr. Lewis’s son Dan of Alstead, N.H. “He’d do anything for us kids.”

A service has been held for Mr. Lewis, who in addition to Dan leaves his longtime companion, the artist and photographer France Menk; four daughters, Susanna of Bradford, Vt., Nancy Colbeth of Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., Elizabeth of Gloucester, and Andrea of Framingham; another son, David of West Brattleboro, Vt.; and 10 grandchildren.

In retirement, Mr. Lewis patented an innovative building design that he used to construct a prototype in Walpole — the house in which he lived until he died.

“I then hustled it to everyone everywhere in the building industry, in hopes of licensing my design and becoming rich and famous,” he said in the podcast. “As you may guess, it didn’t happen. My design was radical and the building biz, like showbiz, runs on habit.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.