Richard Brooks, 79, motion picture director and screenplay writer whose work included such cinematic classics as "Elmer Gantry," "The Blackboard Jungle," "In Cold Blood," and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," died of congestive heart failure March 11 at his home in Beverly Hills.
Mr. Brooks's cinematic career spanned more than 40 years, beginning in the early 1940s, and his work included 37 films. They were characterized by an uncompromising, hard-boiled realism, reflected in the macho style of such leading men as Humphrey Bogart and Burt Lancaster.
As a director, Mr. Brooks was known in the industry as a rebel and tough guy. He insisted that his films be about something, and he demanded total control in the editing room, script writing and direction. He often refused to show a finished script to his producers, and his actors got their lines one scene at a time, the night before the scenes were to be filmed.
He also had a reputation as one of Hollywood's more erudite directors, and many of his films were based on the stories and dramas of leading authors. These included "Key Largo" (1948), starring Bogart and based on a play by Maxwell Anderson; "The Last Time I Saw Paris" (1954), based on "Babylon Revisited" by F. Scott Fitzgerald; "The Brothers Karamazov" (1958), based on the novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky; and "Lord Jim" (1965), starring Peter O'Toole and based on the Joseph Conrad novel.
"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958) and "Sweet Bird of Youth" (1962) were based on plays by Tennessee Williams. "Elmer Gantry" (1960), which featured Burt Lancaster as a slick, unscrupulous evangelist, was based on the novel by Sinclair Lewis. Mr. Brooks won an Academy Award for the screenplay of that film, and Lancaster took the Oscar for best actor.
He won an Academy Award nomination for the screenplay of "In Cold Blood" (1967) adapted from Truman Capote's best-selling novel based on the murder of four members of the Clutter family in rural Kansas. For that picture Mr. Brooks spent a year researching the murders and studying transcripts of taped conversations the killers had with psychiatrists.
He was also nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay of "The Blackboard Jungle" (1955), a tense melodrama about a teacher trying to cope in a tough, inner-city school, starring Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier. The film was also notable for the shock wave effect of its title music, "Rock Around the Clock," with Bill Haley and the Comets. It was based on the novel by Evan Hunter.
A novelist himself, Mr. Brooks was author of "The Producer" (1951), which has been considered one of the leading Hollywood novels, and "The Brick Foxhole," which was based in part on his World War II experiences in the Marine Corps. That became the basis for the 1947 movie "Crossfire."
Mr. Brooks was born in Philadelphia and attended Temple University, but he dropped out when he discovered that his parents had taken out a loan to pay his expenses. For two years during the Great Depression he rode freights about the country looking for work, and it was during this period that he met a man who would become one of the major influences in his life.
As he recalled it years later, he was waiting for a southbound freight in West Virginia when he struck up a conversation with a laid-off railroad worker and told him about his ambitions to become a writer. The railroad man spoke fondly of having read Flaubert and Scott Fitzgerald and then told Mr. Brooks that the best way to become a writer was to read voluminously. "For every word you write, read a thousand," he said.
Mr. Brooks went on to become a journalist with the Atlantic City Press Union, the Philadelphia Record and the New York World Telegram, then worked as a writer for NBC radio. He moved to California early in World War II and began collaborating with Orson Welles on radio scripts and working on film scripts.
After his wartime Marine Corps service and the film "Crossfire," Mr. Brooks began writing screenplays and directing full time. His insistence on total control over his films, critics argued, meant that it was only fair that he was totally responsible for any failures, and, in fact, several of his films were eminently forgettable.
Over the last two decades he was best known for "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" (1977), a sex thriller starring Diane Keaton and based on the novel by Judith Rossner. Mr. Brooks mortgaged his house to make that film, and its popular success rescued him from insolvency after a series of failures that included "Dollars" (1971) and "Bite the Bullet" (1975).
In 1990 the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America, which in the past had feuded over the likes of credits and revenues, joined forces to present Mr. Brooks with their first-ever combined Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 1961 Mr. Brooks married actress Jean Simmons, who starred with Lancaster in "Elmer Gantry." They were divorced in 1976.
Survivors include a daughter, Kate Brooks.
HOWARD T. WRIGHT
Air Force Lieutenant Colonel
Howard T. Wright, 77, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and marketing company executive, died of a heart attack March 9 at Sibley Memorial Hospital. He had emphysema.
Col. Wright served in the military for 22 years and had lived in Bethesda since retiring from the Air Force in 1962. He was a human factors and systems analyst for General Electric Co. and vice president of the Taussig Associates marketing firm in Washington until 1972.
Col. Wright was born in San Francisco. He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served during World War II in China with Gen. Claire Chennault. He later was an air defense staff officer in the Philippines and Japan, commander of an electronics and communications operation in Orlando, Fla., operations deputy in Oklahoma City and Air Force representative at Fort Knox.
During the last five years of his career he was assigned to the Central Intelligence Agency here and to Air Force headquarters in Weisbaden, Germany, where he was chief of clandestine planning and operations and chief of psychological warefare, unconventional warfare, biological and chemical warfare, escape and evasion and special warfare.
After he retired, Col. Wright received a bachelor's degree in in human engineering and industrial psychology at George Washington University.
He was a member of the World War II "China Blitzers" 26th Fighter Squadron, and the Burma Hump Pilots Association. He had published stories in Aerospace Historian magazine and the Air Force Magazine.
Survivors include his wife, Audrey Wright of Bethesda, and two sons, Hilary G. Wright of Memphis and Curtis Wright of Monte Sereno, Calif.
GEORGE M. BELTZ
Builder and Real Estate Agent
George M. Beltz, 89, a retired real estate broker and builder in Prince George's County, died of a heart attack March 10 at the Regency Nursing Home in Forestville, where he had been a patient since 1986. A resident of the Washington area since 1936, his home was in Suitland.
Mr. Beltz retired in the late 1960s after operating Beltz Real Estate for more than 10 years. He previously worked as a Prince George's County building inspector and was a home builder in the southern county for about 25 years. He was a developer of Robin Dale Golf Club near Waldorf. He was a native of Darwin Township, Ill.
Mr. Beltz was a charter member of the Southgate Lions Club and belonged to the Prince George's Democratic Club.
His wife, Thelma Beltz, died in 1987. A daughter, Betty J. Stevens, died in 1990. Survivors include a granddaughter and a great-granddaughter.
ETHELYN PRATT THOMPSON
Montgomery Health Aide
Ethelyn Pratt Thompson, 88, former executive secretary to the public health officers of Montgomery County, died of congestive heart failure Feb. 29 at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital.
Mrs. Thompson, who lived in Rockville, was born in Potomac. She attended Western Maryland College.
She began working for the Montgomery County Health Department in 1925 when her father, Dr. William T. Pratt, became the county's first full-time public health officer. She retired about 1960.
She was a member of Christ Episcopal Church in Rockville.
Her husband of 42 years, Francis L. Thompson, died in 1975. There are no immediate survivors.
BRIAN ALEXANDER RICHARDSON
Washington Gas Manager
Brian Alexander Richardson, 46, manager of gas control for Washington Gas Company, died March 10 at Easton Memorial Hospital after a heart attack.
Mr. Richardson, who lived in St. Michaels, Md., was born in Washington. He attended Good Counsel High School in Wheaton and St. John's College High School in Washington and graduated from Easton High School in Easton.
From 1963 to 1966 he served in the Navy. He had worked for Washington Gas since 1966.
He enjoyed sailing in log canoes and was a former vice president of the St. Michaels High School Parent-Teacher Association.
Survivors include his wife, Diane Lloyd Richardson of St. Michaels; and two daughters, Jo Anne Richardson Roe of Cordova, Md., and Holly Lynn Richardson of Savannah, Ga.