Lorenzo Semple, 1923-2104

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Lorenzo Semple died last Friday. I might never have known his name if not for James Salter, who counted him as a friend for many years and something of a guide to the vagaries of the screenwriting field. Semple is probably best known for the writing he did on the campy 1960s Batman series, the only Batman which has ever entertained me. No doubt this says something about me, but it also speaks to the quality of Semple’s work as well. His list of writing credits includes work on films like Papillon, Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View. In recent years, he and agent Marcia Nasatir created a series of film review for Youtube under the title Reel Geezers. They’re funny and forthright, and you should seek them out (by clicking here. That’s not too much to ask). Salter tells this story about Semple in a 1978 letter to his friend Robert Phelps:

My friend Lorenzo Semple had his 55th birthday two days ago, he insisted it was his 45th. I gave him a copy of the new Samuel Johnson biography and on the card wrote some moving lines about Johnson from the flyleaf, addressing them to Lorenzo. He was so drunk he tore the jacket off the book with the wrapping paper and the wittiness of allowing him to find the very same lines on the flyleaf was thus blunted. Instead I was astonished to see him almost burst into tears, deeply touched, while I tried to explain I hadn’t written them. No, no, he insisted, as if I were always too modest. Finally I gave up.

In his Art of Fiction interview with the Paris Review, Salter said that, “Movie writers, as Lorenzo Semple and I agree, are among the most overpaid people on earth.” There’s probably some truth to that, but a peculiar sort of skill is also evident at the best of times, and Semple had it. He will be missed. 

— John McIntyre

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