Skip to: site menu | section menu | main content

Welcome To Democracy And Socialism .Com

Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler

- Albert Einstein

Michael Wilson (1914- 1978)

Michael Wilson

Michael Wilson was one of the most outstanding authors and screen writers of 20th century America. He was born on the 1st of July in McAlester, Oklahoma. In 1936, Wilson graduated from UC Berkeley, California and taught English language at UC Berkeley before starting his career as a writer. Wilson wrote some short stories for different magazines and in 1941 began his work as a screen writer in Hollywood. His career in Hollywood was interrupted while he served in the United States Marine Corps during WWII.

After the War, he returned back to the United States and became a contract writer with Liberty Films. In 1946, he co-wrote movies “It is a Wonderful Life” and in 1951 “A Place in the Sun” based on the 1925 novel An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. In 1952, Wilson won an Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay for “A Place in the Sun” and in1953, won an Edgar Allen Poe Award and an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for “5 Fingers”.

In 1954, “Salt of the Earth” was screen played by Wilson, directed by Herbert J. Biberman and produced by Paul Jarrico. It is interesting to note that all 3 had been blacklisted. This film is about a long and difficult strike against the Empire Zinc Company in Grant County, New Mexico. In a neorealist style, actual miners and their families played as actors in the movie.

Wilson was one of the many intellectuals blacklisted by the “House Un-American Activity Committee”. The Committee named him an “unfriendly witness” for refusing to provide names of the communist members of the entertainment industry. Wilson was denied jobs while he was at his best. As a result, he left America for France with his wife Zelma and daughters Rosanna and Becca. They lived very modestly in France from 1954-1964 where Wilson worked for the European film industry and continued to write for Hollywood, uncredited or under the pseudonym James O’ Donnell, for much less than the usual fees.

His screenplay for “Friendly Persuasion” (1956) was nominated for an Academy Award but was disqualified because his name did not appear in the credits. Wilson also wrote unproduced screenplays for “The Raid on Harpers Ferry” (1976), “The Wobblies” about the Industrial Workers of the World, and “Quiet Darkness” about the CIA infiltration of the Black Liberation Movement; a disease that nowadays has plagued many progressive movements and organizations worldwide.

On April 9th, Wilson died apparently of a heart attack at the age of 63 in Los Angeles County, California. Later in an interview Zelma said: “My husband was a very good American.”

When Wilson was asked by HUAC, "What knowledge have you of the activities of the Communist Party in the moving picture industry?" Wilson took the Fifth Amendment: "And in so doing I wish also to protect the rights of every American citizen to the privacy of belief and association... I think subversion is being committed against the Bill of Rights here today."

And Zelma was right, her husband stood for the privacy rights of every American, an issue that is a cause of concern in our time. He “was a very good American.”

His famous screenplays:

  • Men in Her Life (1941)

  • Border Patrol (1943)

  • Colt Comrades (1943)

  • Bar 20 (1943)

  • Forty Thieves (1944)

  • Carnival Story (1954)

  • Mannequins fur Rio (1954)

  • Lux Video Theatre (1954) (TV series)

  • The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955)

  • The Bridge on the River kwai (1957)
    co-wrote with Carl Foreman (Blacklisted), Academy Awards (awarded to Pierre Boulle because of blacklisting)

  • The Two-Headed Spy (1958)

  • La Tempesta (movie) (1958)

  • Five Branded Women (1960)

  • Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
    co-wrote with Robert Bolt (credit restored in 1978), Academy Awards, and British Academy Film Awards.

  • The Sand Piper (1965)

  • Planet of the Apes (1968)
    co-wrote with Rod Serling, based on a novel by Pierre Boulle.

  • Che (1969)
    Wilson was not happy with the changes in the screen play and disowned the film.

Back to top