ScreenwriterGloria Katz

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A writer with a Masters degree in film from UCLA, Katz mostly collaborated with Willard Huyck — her husband. The two wrote a forgettable movie together: Messiah of Evil (1973), re-released later as Dead People. Nevertheless, another up-and-coming filmmaker, who had met Huyck in film school, asked the two to write a script for him based on his own experiences growing up, which he had titled Another Quiet Night in Modesto. Along the way, the film was re-titled: American Graffiti. The up-and-coming guy: George Lucas. The result: a classic. “The nostalgia boom has finally produced a lasting work of art,” gushed the New York Times. “The stunning screenplay by Lucas, Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck is rich in characterizations, full of wit and surprise.” The script was nominated for an Academy Award (but lost to The Sting).

Katz, working out the structure of American Graffiti with George Lucas. (Photo: Lucasfilm)

With that hit under his belt, Lucas moved on to his next pet project, but he was having trouble with that script. Just before the film started shooting he brought in Katz and Huyck as script doctors. “He said, ‘Polish it — write anything you want and then I’ll go over it and see what I need’,” Katz remembered. “George didn’t want anyone to know we worked on the script, so we were in a cone of silence.” But they fixed its problems, and particularly worked on adding humor. Katz said she and Huyck wrote about 30 percent of the film’s dialogue. Plus, they didn’t like the lead female character: they changed her into a woman who “can take command,” she said, “instead of just a beautiful woman that schlepped along to be saved.” That character: Princess Leia. The film: Star Wars (1977). Lucas also brought the pair in to write the screenplay for another story he had written: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), directed by Steven Spielberg. Along the way they wrote some other bombs too, such as Howard the Duck (1986). Katz served on the Board of Directors for the Writers Guild of America, and was a consultant for the soon-to-open Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. She died from ovarian cancer on her 49th wedding anniversary — November 25 — at 76.

From This is True for 2 December 2018