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01/25/2001 - Julius Epstein Memorial

Brian A. Wilson

Julius J. Epstein: A Memorial Celebration

"If what you've written is turned down by every major studio, don't worry. It usually means you've written something of value."
--Julius Epstein's advice to screenwriters

We should all be so lucky to have a career like the one enjoyed by Julius J. Epstein, and we should all be so lucky as to go out with as nice a memorial service as the scribe received at the Writers Guild Auditorium on January 20.
Epstein died in December at age 91. Son of a immigrant who grew up shoveling horse dung at his father's stables, Julius went on to help define what it means to be a screenwriter in Hollywood...despite, or perhaps because, of his childhood vocation.
Ten people who were friends, family members, admirers and various combinations thereof eulogized Epstein at the LA event. Hal Kanter, one of the funniest human beings on earth, served as host. Together, the speakers created a heartfelt portrait of Epstein, the writer and the man. Kanter noted that, "It's just as well Juli checked out before George Bush was declared the winner; the news would have killed him." Longtime friend George Kirgo echoed the thought, saying, "Julius Epstein was anti-Republican, anti-Fascist. And that's why he fought in the Civil War."
The group recalled many occasions when Epstein and his writer cohorts butted heads with Jack Warner. For example, Epstein worked four hours a day, and that's it. He was quoted as saying, "If we wanted to work all day, we would have gone into the dress business."
Warner hated the "writers' hours." He issued an edict forcing the writers drag in at 9 a.m. instead of their customary noon. A short while later, a horrible script found its way to Warner's desk. Warner called up Epstein and complained, saying the script was "awful."
"How can that be?" Epstein queried. "It was written at 9 a.m."
That was the end of the 9 a.m. call for writers.
Whatever hours he worked, Epstein did all right: His "selected" motion picture screen credits ran to four pages in the memorial program. During his more than FIFTY YEARS (stop and think about that a moment) in show biz, he wrote or co-wrote such films as "The Man Who Came to Dinner," "The Brothers Karamazov," "Arsenic and Old Lace," "Reuben, Reuben" and, oh yes, "Casablanca." Any of those films or dozens of others he wrote would be a career-maker for any of us who call ourselves screenwriters; for him, each one was merely one more entry on one of the great resumes in Hollywood history.
"'Travel light' was his motto," Fay Kanin, Oscar-winning writer, recalled. "When it's over, it's over."
Julius Epstein's life may be over, but lucky for us, his works of art remain.


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