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National Screenwriters Day: This 'princess' had a semi-secret identity -- script doctor



Today marks the inaugural National Screenwriters Day (http://nationalscreenwritersday.com/). Since Carole Lombard had a great appreciation for screenwriters -- she worked with many of the best of her era, including Roberft Riskin, Norman Krasna, Ben Hecht and more -- it seemed proper to write a screenwriter-oriented entry today. (Lombard's premature passing prevented her from working with Billy Wilder, who knew and admired her.)

From the early '30s on, Lombard gained a reputation as someone with a sharp sense of what worked in a script and what didn't, even though she never wrote one herself. Writers often used her as a sounding board. (She was romantically linked to Riskin, whose partners also included Glenda Farrell. In the 1940s, Riskin married Fay Wray, who also appreciated writers -- John Monk Saunders was a prior husband.)

In the classic Hollywood era, each major studio had its own script department, and revisions almost always were done in-house. It wasn't until the studio system broke down in the 1960s, long after Lombard left us, that the concept of "script doctors" -- outsiders who would examine and suggest changes to scripts -- took hold. Many such people, including Quentin Tarentino and Joss Whedon, first gained industry fame as script doctors. Meanwhile, someone whose reputation came before the camera, not behind it, did likewise:



That's right...Carrie Fisher, best known in popular culture as Princess Leia from the "Star Wars" franchise (and who died Dec. 27 at age 60), was for a time considered one of the premier script doctors in Hollywood.

For those of us who know Fisher as a humorist (she also wrote several novels), it shouldn't be much of a surprise; she had a wonderfully witty way with words. And this skill of hers wasn't hidden to the public -- this story came out in 2015 (http://www.themarysue.com/carrie-fisher-script-doctor/). Nevertheless, it was one of her more unrecognized talents. She rarely if ever gained a screen credit for her scriptwriting surgery.

Some of the films Fisher aided may surprise you -- "Hook," "Sister Act," even "Lethal Weapon 3" and "Outbreak" (http://hellogiggles.com/10-movies-absolutely-no-idea-carrie-fisher-helped-write/). As Fisher once said, "I'm a good script doctor because I respect the original tone or dialect of the original and try to rewrite it according to what it is already. ... There's usually not a lot of me in it, just some line I put in it."

Other sources to learn about Fisher as script doctor include http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/movies/carrie-fisher-secretly-hollywood-best-script-doctors-article-1.2925689, http://www.slashfilm.com/carrie-fisher-script-doctor/ and http://mashable.com/2016/12/27/carrie-fisher-script/?utm_cid=mash-com-fb-main-link#5ri4oGzuomq8. It's from the last I derive my closing quote. Asked what it takes to heal bad dialogue, she said: "Make the women smarter and the love scenes better."

Amen.
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