Alec Coppel

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Alec Coppel (17 September 1907 – 22 January 1972) was an Australian-born screenwriter, novelist and playwright. He spent the majority of his career in London and Hollywood, specialising in light thrillers, mysteries and sex comedies. He is best known for the films Vertigo (1958), The Captain's Paradise (1953), Mr Denning Drives North (1951) and Obsession (1949), and the plays I Killed the Count and The Gazebo.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Coppel was born in Melbourne and attended Wesley College. He moved to England in the 1920s to study medicine at Cambridge University, but dropped out before graduating and went to work in advertising, writing in his spare time. Coppel's first stage plays were Short Circuit (1935) and The Stars Foretell (1936).

I Killed the Count[edit]

His first big success was his play I Killed the Count (1937), which had a successful run in the West End. Coppel turned it into a novel (1939), screenplay and radio play. It also led to him receiving screenwriting offers.[1][2]

His script credits include Over the Moon (1939), the film version of I Killed the Count (1939), and Just like a Woman (1939).Coppel contributed to the book of a revue, Let's Pretend (1940), and wrote a new play, Believe It Or Not (1940).

Return to Australia[edit]

Coppel returned to Australia during the early days of World War II, where he co-founded and worked as a director for Whitehall Productions, operating out of the Minvera Theatre in Kings Cross.[3]

Among the plays he presented there was the world premiere of his own Mr Smart Guy (1941). He also wrote for radio and contributed to the script of Smithy (1946), one of the few feature films made in Australia during this time.

Return to London[edit]

Coppel moved back to London towards the end of the war, and continued to alternate between novels, plays and screenplays.

His plays included My Friend Lester (1947) and A Man About a Dog (1949). His scripts included The Brass Monkey (1948), Woman Hater (1948), Obsession (1949) (based on A Man About a Dog), Two on the Tiles (1951), and The Smart Aleck (1951) (based on Mr Smart Guy).

Coppel was hired to rewrite some scenes on No Highway in the Sky (1951) starring James Stewart and wrote Mr. Denning Drives North (1951) based on his own novel.

He became the first Australian to receive an Academy Award nomination for screenwriting with The Captain's Paradise, which was nominated for Best Story in 1953. That year he published a novel The Last Parable (1953).

Coppel was used by Warwick Pictures on Hell Below Zero (1954) and The Black Knight (1954); like No Highway and Captain's Paradise they were British films with American stars and Coppel wanted to work in Hollywood.

Move to Hollywood[edit]

Coppel moved to Los Angeles in 1954, where he wrote a number of scripts. He did some uncredited work on To Catch a Thief (1955) and did the thriller Appointment with a Shadow (1957). Hitchcock used him to do a draft of Vertigo (1958).

He wrote the plays The Genius and the Goddess (1957) and The Joshua Tree (1958), and saw The Captain's Paradise adapted into a musical as Oh, Captain! (1958). He had a big hit with The Gazebo (1959), based on a story by Coppel and his wife; this was later filmed although someone else did the screenplay. Coppel adapted The Captain's Paradise (1961) for stage and did a swashbuckler for MGM Swordsman of Siena (1962).

Later career[edit]

He spent the 1960s mostly working in Europe and London. He adapted his own story "Laughs with a Stranger" into Moment to Moment (1966).

His last two credits were a pair of sex comedies co-written with Denis Norden, The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom and The Statue, based on his play Chip Chip Chip.

He also wrote the plays Not in My Bed, You Don’t (1968), Cadenza and A Bird in the Nest and the TV play A Kiss is Just a Kiss (1971).

Personal life[edit]

Coppel died of colon cancer on 22 January 1972, in London.[4]

He was married twice. He is survived by his son Chris Coppel who lives in the UK and continues to represent his father's works.

Partial filmography[edit]

Year Title Director Notes
1937 Over the Moon Thornton Freeland Co-screenplay
1939 I Killed the Count Frederic Zelnik Screenplay, based on his play
1939 Just Like a Woman Paul L. Stein Co-screenplay
1946 Smithy Ken G. Hall Co-screenplay
1948 Brass Monkey Thornton Freeland Screenplay
1948 Woman Hater Terence Young Based on short story
1949 Obsession Edward Dmytryk Screenplay, dialogue director; based on his novel, A Man About a Dog
1950 Two on the Tiles John Guillermin Screenplay
1951 The Smart Aleck John Guillermin Screenplay, based on his play Mr Smart Guy
1951 No Highway in the Sky Henry Koster Co-screenplay
1951 Mr. Denning Drives North Anthony Kimmins Screenplay, based on his novel
1953 The Captain's Paradise Anthony Kimmins Co-screenplay
1954 Hell Below Zero Mark Robson Co-screenplay
1954 The Black Knight Tay Garnett Co-screenplay
1954 To Catch a Thief Alfred Hitchcock Uncredited contribution to script
1957 Appointment with a Shadow Richard Carlson Screenplay
1958 Vertigo Alfred Hitchcock Co-screenplay
1959 The Gazebo George Marshall Based on his play
1962 Swordsman of Siena Étienne Perier Co-screenplay
1966 Moment to Moment Mervyn LeRoy Co-screenplay
1968 The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom Joseph McGrath Co-screenplay, based on his play A Bird in the Nest
1971 The Statue Rod Amateau Co-screenplay, based on his play Chip, Chip, Chip
1971 Jo Jean Girault French film. Based on his play The Gazebo

Unfilmed screenplays[edit]

  • The Chinese Room[5]

Plays[edit]

TV plays[edit]

Novels[edit]

Radio plays[edit]

  • A Rum Affair (1941)[9]
  • Mr Smart Guy (1941)
  • Murder Scrapbook (1950)[10]

Unmade projects[edit]

  • Peace in Our Time (1940) – British film[11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "HE KILLED THE COUNT!—and became a Famous Playwright!". Table Talk. Melbourne. 7 September 1939. p. 6. Retrieved 19 February 2015 – via National Library of Australia. 
  2. ^ "Belated £3,000 for playwright". The Argus. Melbourne. 3 August 1951. p. 7. Retrieved 19 February 2015 – via National Library of Australia. 
  3. ^ Whitehall Productions at AusStage
  4. ^ Vagg, Stephen. 'Alec Coppel: Australian Playwright and Survivor.' Australasian Drama Studies, No. 56, Apr 2010: 219-232.
  5. ^ "FILMLAND EVENTS: Miss Lindfors Will Appear on Broadway" Los Angeles Times 12 Sep 1960: C11.
  6. ^ "Britain Lean But Alive And Kicking". The Sun (11,638) (LATE FINAL EXTRA ed.). Sydney. 14 May 1947. p. 10. Retrieved 22 October 2017 – via National Library of Australia. 
  7. ^ Guests for Dinner at AustLit
  8. ^ "Guests for dinner". The Australian Women's Weekly. 24 ([?]). 12 December 1956. p. 40. Retrieved 11 June 2016 – via National Library of Australia. 
  9. ^ "BROADCAST FEATURES From A.B.C. Stations." Riverine Herald. Echuca, Vic. 15 November 1940. p. 1. Retrieved 19 February 2015 – via National Library of Australia. 
  10. ^ "RADIOPINION". Sunday Mail. Brisbane. 28 May 1950. p. 8. Retrieved 19 February 2015 – via National Library of Australia. 
  11. ^ http://lantern.mediahist.org/catalog/motionpictureher1381unse_0063

External links[edit]