Adventures in screenwriting

Every movie begins on a blank page. And someone who knows that better than most is Douglas Day Stewart ’62, who broke into TV and film writing not long after leaving CMC.

Stewart, who lives with his wife, Judith, in Hawaii, will be on campus Monday, Feb. 24 to conduct an afternoon screenwriting workshop, followed by an evening Athenaeum presentation (The Arduous Road to Screenwriting Stardom and True Love). In advance of his visit, we learned that he was a humanities major at CMC, played tennis, and in his junior year, started a literary magazine, The Claremont Man, with the help of a handful of “fellow artists” he’d found hiding out in Story House.

“We presented smart fiction, cartoons, poetry,” Stewart said. “It showed the student body a whole different look at our lives here, and I am very proud of it.” Post-CMC, he earned a master’s degree in 1967. He would then cut his creative teeth on a popular soap opera: Days of Our Lives. The next decade had him writing for a number of TV shows iconic to a post-Woodstock generation: Bonanza, Room 222, and Cannon.

The episodic work would lead the way for his numerous successes in film screenwriting. But as Stewart plans to share with CMCers on Monday, sheer will was much more a factor than happenstance. “I have had to generate almost all of my own breaks, and by like token have generated almost all of my failures,” he said.

Perhaps Stewart’s best known screenplay was for the movie, An Officer and a Gentleman, starring Richard Gere. The film, based on Stewart’s own experiences as a naval officer, had a later incarnation as a stage musical (which Stewart also authored). But alumni of a certain age might also remember Stewart’s teleplay for The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, led in cast by a very young John Travolta. A bit of minutiae: Travolta engages in a bit of poppin’ and lockin’ in the TV movie which producers of the film Saturday Night Fever took note of, and led to his role as Brooklyn disco king Tony Manero–– a breakout performance that thrust Travolta into the ranks of movie superstardom.

Other films Stewart wrote include The Blue Lagoon, a hothouse rumination on teen love and sexual discovery––on a deserted tropical island no less––starring teen idol Brooke Shields; The Scarlet Letter, with Demi Moore; and two films that he also directed: Thief of Hearts and Listen to Me. His newest, What About Love, stars Sharon Stone and Andy Garcia, and is set to be released in theaters this year.

More about the writer/director will be shared at 4 p.m. on Monday, in the Kravis Board Room (room 367). Stewart will speak to students on the art of screenwriting, his own career, and the current state of the field, with time for an extended Q&A session.