Stirling Silliphant

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Stirling Dale Silliphant
BornJanuary 16, 1918
Detroit, Michigan
DiedApril 26, 1996 (age 78)
Occupationscreenwriter & producer
Spouse(s)Tiana Alexandra (1974-1996; 1 child)
 
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Stirling Dale Silliphant
BornJanuary 16, 1918
Detroit, Michigan
DiedApril 26, 1996 (age 78)
Occupationscreenwriter & producer
Spouse(s)Tiana Alexandra (1974-1996; 1 child)

Stirling Dale Silliphant (16 January 1918 – 26 April 1996) was an American screenwriter and producer. He was born in Detroit, Michigan, moved to Glendale, California as a child, graduated from Hoover High School, and was educated at the University of Southern California. He is probably best known for his screenplay for In the Heat of the Night and co-creating the television series Route 66. Other features as screenwriter include the Irwin Allen productions The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure, adapting both films from previously published novels. In the case of The Towering Inferno, Silliphant was tasked with blending two entirely unrelated novels into a single screenplay.

Silliphant is also remembered for his now-infamous bet with Hal Warren on whether Warren could make a successful horror film on a limited budget, which was the inspiration for Manos: The Hands of Fate, and he is portrayed in the 2011 documentary / comedy feature film ""SUENO" The Dream of Hal Warren" from director Tony Trombo.

He was a close friend of Bruce Lee — under whom he studied martial arts — who was featured in the Silliphant-penned detective movie Marlowe and four episodes of the series Longstreet. Silliphant was involved in the early part of Bruce Lee's movie and TV career in America, and suggested him for action choreography work on productions like A Walk in the Spring Rain, a Silliphant-scripted film.

They had also been writing on a philosophical martial arts script called The Silent Flute (later known as Circle of Iron), with James Coburn. It was to star Lee and Coburn, and the pre-production even went to the extent of all three going to India on a location hunt.

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Output

Silliphant was a film and television writer with over 700 hours of prime-time television drama to his credit, many of which earned Emmys for their producers, directors, and cast members. However, he never received an Emmy personally as writer. Time in 1967 referred to him in a feature article with the statement: "The moving finger...having written, moved on!"

His famous production manager, Sam Manners, called him from the road unit of Route 66 from El Paso, Texas. He told Stirling they could save perhaps a hundred thousand dollars if Stirling could write an extra story for the show that could be shot in El Paso while all the production trucks and crew were there. Silliphant obliged and had the script ready to shoot in a couple of days. The guest star was a famous character actor, Albert Dekker, who was flown to do the part over the weekend.

His work papers may be examined by scholars at UCLA, Westwood campus.

Television

In the earlier part of his career, he was publicity director for Walt Disney, and was lead writer on the stories incorporated into The Mickey Mouse Club. He produced several independent films such as 5 Against the House with Kim Novak, Huk! and Maracaibo. Later he broke into television, writing for the live Playhouse 90. Perry Mason and Alfred Hitchcock Presents soon followed.

Silliphant was known for his involvement in two TV series of the sixties, Route 66 and Naked City. Silliphant was quoted as saying that a number of his Naked City scripts were far superior to the script that won him the Oscar for In the Heat of the Night. One of his later series creations was Longstreet, which featured a blind detective played by James Franciscus.

He wrote three television miniseries: Pearl (about the attack on Pearl Harbor), Space (based on the James Michener novel about America's early space program), and Mussolini: The Untold Story. He also wrote the script for a never-produced TV miniseries of Atlas Shrugged, the novel by Ayn Rand.

Film

In total he wrote or co-wrote 47 feature films, including Village of the Damned, the Charles Bronson spy thriller Telefon, The Liberation of L.B. Jones, The Killer Elite, the Dirty Harry film The Enforcer and Over the Top (the latter with its star Sylvester Stallone).

In addition to the Academy Award, In the Heat of the Night also earned Silliphant an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, for Best Motion Picture Screenplay.

Silliphant also helped to pull film concepts together. He penned the screenplay for Shaft in Africa, the third film in the Shaft series. With Chatrichalerm Yukol, he co-wrote the screenplay to the 1994 Thai action film, Salween. His last screenplay was for the 1995 film, The Grass Harp.

Although Silliphant worked constantly in Hollywood, he had a well-known aversion against living in Southern California, where he had grown up. After he became successful and famous, he built a house for himself and his family in Tiburon, California, in the San Francisco Bay Area. He commuted regularly by air to Los Angeles.

He died in Bangkok, Thailand in 1996.

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