Feb 272017
 

Famed Hollywood writer Lorenzo Semple Jr. lived at Lake Chapala in the 1950s and returned several times thereafter. While living in Ajijic, Semple wrote The Golden Fleecing, a play that was produced on Broadway and subsequently turned into a movie. Semple is best-known for creating the big-screen and TV character Batman.

Lorenzo Elliott Semple Jr., whose uncle Philip Barry wrote Holiday and The Philadelphia Story, was born in New Rochelle, New York, on 27 March 1923 and attended Yale University for two years. He dropped out of Yale in 1941 to join the Free French forces led by General de Gaulle. He won the Croix de Guerre for ambulance-driving in the Libyan desert. Semple later served in the U.S. Army and won a Bronze Star.

Credit: The Aspen Times

Credit: The Aspen Times

After the second world war, Semple finished his degree at Columbia University before starting his writing career in the early 1950s as a critic for Theater Arts magazine and contributor of short stories to The Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, Women’s Home Companion and Ladies’ Home Journal.

Even though the precise dates when Semple lived in Ajijic remain unclear, before the 1950s had ended, he had written two Broadway plays – Tonight in Samarkand (1955) and The Golden Fleecing (1959), which was later adapted for the screen as The Honeymoon Machine, starring Steve McQueen – as well as several scripts for the small screen, including The Alcoa Hour (1955); Target (1958); and Pursuit (1958).

The strongest evidence that he wrote The Golden Fleecing in Ajijic comes from a short piece by Anita Lomax in the Guadalajara Reporter in 1967 in which she laments that Ajijic is losing its reputation as “sin city” and is becoming too respectable. She cites the case of a “Young playwright whose play, written here, was produced on Broadway and subsequently made a small fortune from the movie rights which he promptly spent. But he now lives in a Beverly Hills mansion with his beautiful wife and children since creating T.V.’s sensational Batman series.” The same newspaper reported in 1971 that Semple had returned to Lake Chapala for the first time in eight years, vacationing with his wife Joyce and their three children in Chula Vista, at the home of Dick Reiner. Semple told the Reporter correspondent that he thought people were getting tired of having to pay $3 to see a movie!

Semple married Joyce Miller in 1963. Their eldest daughter, Johanna, was born in Guadalajara in April 1963. A year later, they had their second daughter, Maria. The family moved to Spain in 1965. Following their return to Hollywood, they had a third child, Lorenzo (“Lo”), born in about 1967. Later, the family lived for more than two decades in Aspen, Colorado, before eventually moving back to Los Angeles.

It was while the family was living in Spain that Semple was asked by producer William Dozier to develop a television series based on the Batman comic books. The series was an immediate hit. Semple wrote the first four episodes, consulted on all the first season’s scripts and also wrote the screenplay for the feature film version, released in 1966.

After Batman, Semple completed numerous movie screenplays, often in association with other writers, including Pretty Poison (1968), which won best screenplay at the New York Film Critics Awards; Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting (1969); The Sporting Club (1971); The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker (1971); Papillon (1973); The Super Cops (1974); The Parallax View (1974); The Drowning Pool (1975); Three Days of the Condor (1975); King Kong (1976); Hurricane (1977); Flash Gordon (1980); Never Say Never Again (1983), in which Sean Connery reprised his former role as James Bond; Sheena (1984); and Never Too Young to Die (1986).

From 1984 to 1990, Semple taught graduate screenwriting at New York University. His students included John Fusco (Young Guns and Hidalgo), Susan Cartsonis (What Women Want) and Stan Seidel (One Night at McCool’s).

Lorenzo Semple Jr. died of natural causes at his Los Angeles home on 28 March 2014, one day after his 91st birthday.

Maria Semple (Semple’s middle child) is also a novelist and screenwriter. She has written several novels – including This One Is Mine (2008), the best-selling comedy novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2012), and Today Will Be Different (2016) – as well as TV scripts for Beverly Hills, 90210, Mad About You, Saturday Night Live, Arrested Development, Suddenly Susan and Ellen.

Sources:

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Jun 132016
 

Miles Swarthout was the son of award-winning novelist Glendon Swarthout (1918-1992) and his wife Kathryn Vaughn (1919-2015). Miles was born on 1 May 1946 and died on 2 March 2016.

As a five-year-old child, Miles spent six months in Ajijic in 1951 with his parents, while his father worked on a novel, Doyle Dorado, later consigned, in Miles’ words, to “the stove, making hot water for Dad’s shower.” His father’s short story “Ixion” was the “semi-autobiographical story of a young advertising man attempting to write his first novel in the little artist’s colony of Ajijic.” It was first published in New World Writing #13 (Mentor, 1958).

swarthout-milesMany years later, after Miles became a successful screenwriter, he turned his father’s short story into a screenplay called Convictions of the Heart. Miles Swarthout adapted a number of his father’s novels into films, among them A Christmas to Remember for CBS in 1978. Miles wrote a regular Hollywood Western film column for the Western Writers of America’s bi-monthly magazine, The Roundup, and contributed several articles to Persimmon Hill, the quarterly magazine of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, including “The Westerns of Glendon Swarthout” for  the special summer issue of 1996.

Miles also edited a collection of his late father’s short stories,including Ixion, as Easterns and Westerns (Michigan State University Press, 2001).

The screenplay, Convictions of the Heart, “tells the emotional tale of a romance gone bad in Mexico, between Johnson, a thirty-year-old advertising copywriter from Cleveland attempting to write his first novel, and Irene Temple, a middle-aged socialite fleeing a boring marriage in NYC. Mrs. Temple has two daughters in tow, Sheila, 8, and Sara, 6, who have led an untamed life for over a year on the shores of Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest lake, an hour from their second largest city, Guadalajara.”

In the short story, Irene Temple is aged 35, Johnson 29 and the two girls  7 and 6, respectively. There are, inevitably, some more significant, differences between the original short story and the screenplay. For example, in the screenplay, the character of Irene’s former lover Paco Marquez is fleshed out, and he plays a much larger role than in the original story. The screenplay includes a new scene in which Johnson comes to “fisticuffs one drunken night with her former local lover, Paco Marquez” and subsequently “spends the night in Ajijic’s jail”.

“Johnson slowly realizes that his writing career is drying up faster than Lake Chapala, and this tale’s poignant climax is a warning to impressionable young artists about getting sexually involved with their neighbors, to the detriment of their art and their life. Johnson learns a hard, tragic lesson to the final tune of Kenny Loggins’ hit song, “Convictions of the Heart.” And the viewer is reminded of French philosopher Blaise Pascal’s famous maxim, that “the heart has its reasons, that reason knows nothing of….” (Screenplay description)

To the best of my knowledge, this screenplay has never been produced, though such a movie would surely strike a chord among the many Americans who have experienced romantic challenges as they tried to re-invent their lives in Mexico. It could be time for a kickstarter campaign…

Other twentieth century novels set largely, or entirely, at Lake Chapala include:

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

error: Content is protected !!