Leonard Schrader   [1943-2006]

Stage/Screen Director/Producer

Leonard Schrader was the older brother of the noted screen writer and director, Paul Schrader. Both brothers were born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and both attended and graduated from Calvin College, a religiously conservative college in Grand Rapids, before the college became more liberal following their graduation in the mid to late 1960’s. Both brothers were raised in a conservative Calvinistic household where worldly entertainment, including going to movies, was considered taboo.

Leonard graduated from college around 1965, decided to become a writer, and enrolled in the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop, a graduate program in writing, where he studied with such luminaries as Kurt Vonnegut, Nelson Algren, Richard Yates, Robert Coover, Jose Donoso, and Jorge Luis Borges. He graduated with an MFA degree in 1968.

But in 1968, the war in Vietnam was heating up and the need for draftees would soon cause him to be called to military service. So he decided to leave the country, and gain some writing and teaching experience in a foreign country. He decided on Japan, where he found a job teaching English in a church school. With his graduate education in English, and his ability to become proficient in the Japanese language quickly, he was able to begin teaching American Literature at Doshisa University and at the prestigious Tokyo University.

While doing his teaching in the day time, he was able to penetrate the Japanese subculture of the Yamaguchi-gumi, the dominant Yakuza gangster Family in Kyoto. While inside the crime family, he was able to gather material that would help him write about the gangster family, which he titled “The Yakuza”. Upon his return to the United States in the early 1970’s, he was able to convert his material on the Yakuza into a screenplay, co-written with his brother Paul. The screenplay, “The Yakuza” was turned into a movie and was directed by Sydney Pollack. The movie starred Robert Mitchum, and came out in 1975.

In 1978, Schrader co-wrote the screenplay for “Blue Collar”, with his brother Paul. The movie was directed by his brother Paul, and starred Richard Pryor and Harvey Keitel. And in 1979, he co-wrote “Old Boyfriends” with his brother Paul. The movie was directed by Joan Tewkesbury and starred John Belushi, Talia Shire, Keith Carradine and John Houseman.

Schrader’s other major cooperation with his brother Paul, in 1984, was on the movie “Mishima: A Life in four Chapters”. The movie was executive-produced by George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, and directed by his brother Paul.

Schrader’s background in Latin American literature, and David Weisman’s experience in Brazil, led them to co-write the screenplay for “Kiss of the Spider Woman”. This movie earned them an Academy Award nomination in 1986. The actor William Hurt won an Academy Award for his performance in the movie.

Schrader made his directorial debut, in 1982, with the movie “The Killing of America”. He also wrote the screenplay , directed and produced the movie. His only other directing experience was in 1991, with “Naked Tango”, a movie for which he also wrote the screenplay.

Schrader is probably the only screenwriter who ever wrote plays in both English and Japanese. In 1979, he wrote the screenplay for the Japanese movie “Taiyo o Nusunda Otoko” [The Man Who Stole the Sun]. The movie was quite a success in Japan, and it won Japan’s Best Film of the Year Award in 1980.   

Leonard Schrader ended his film writing career as a teacher. From 1996 to 1999, he taught a screenwriting class at the University of Southern California, and from 1999 to 2003 he revamped the Screenwriting Department at Chapman University, where he held a faculty position.

Schrader was quite a collector during his life. Near the end of his life he had accumulated a collection of over 100,000 books, which lined the walls of his entire residence. He also collected theater lobby cards, which graced the lobbies of theaters from the 1910’s onward. His collection amounted to nearly 10,000 unique cards.

Leonard Schrader was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan on November 30, 1943. While in Japan, he met his future wife, Chieko, also a screenwriter. The couple got married in 1977. Schrader passed away at the relatively young age of 62, on November 2, 2006. He was suffering from cancer and died from a heart attack.

 

REFERENCES

Leonard Schrader, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Schrader

Leonard Schrader, Oscar-nominated screenwriter, The Independent,http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/leonard-schrader-423855.html

Leonard Schrader: Lobby Hero,http://www.movingpicturesmagazine.com/departments/stilllife/leonardschrader

 

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