Lewis John Carlino, Oscar-Nominated Screenwriter, Dies at 88

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Lewis John Carlino, a screenwriter and playwright who earned an Oscar nomination for “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” and who both adapted and directed “The Great Santini,” died on June 17 at his home on Whidbey Island, Wash. He was 88.

His daughter, Alessa Carlino, said the cause was complications of myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood disease.

Mr. Carlino had written several Off Broadway plays earlier, including “Cages,” “Telemachus Clay,” and “Doubletalk.” His other screenwriting credits included John Frankenheimer’s “Seconds” (1966); “The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea” (1976), starring Kris Kristofferson and Sarah Miles, which he also directed; “The Brotherhood” (1968), starring Kirk Douglas; “The Mechanic” (1972), starring Charles Bronson; and “Resurrection” (1980).

In a long career of writing and directing for the stage, the screen and television, however, Mr. Carlino was best known for the films “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” (1977), based on Joanne Greenberg’s novel about a teenage girl’s struggle with schizophrenia, for which he and Gavin Lambert received an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay; and “The Great Santini” (1979), based on the autobiographical novel by Pat Conroy, which he adapted and directed. That movie’s stars, Robert Duvall and Michael O’Keefe, were nominated for Academy Awards, and Mr. O’Keefe was nominated for a Golden Globe.

After Mr. Carlino read Mr. Conroy’s novel about a son’s troubled relationship with his authoritarian and abusive father, a Marine Corps fighter pilot, he later recalled, he wrote furiously, finishing the entire screenplay in 21 days.

“I loved its humanity. I loved its humor,” Mr. Carlino told The New York Times in 1980. “The people were very real. They just leaped off the page for me.”

Lewis John Carlino was born on Jan. 1, 1932, in Queens to Sicilian immigrants. His father, Joseph Carlino, was a tailor, and his mother, Ida (Orcel) Carlino, was a homemaker.

Mr. Carlino’s father died when he was 14, and his mother moved the family to Los Angeles, where he graduated from Manual Arts High School. He enlisted in the Air Force as a medic in 1951 and served during the Korean War.

Upon returning to civilian life, Mr. Carlino attended El Camino College in Torrance, Calif., and then studied playwriting at the University of Southern California. After graduating in 1959, he earned a master’s degree in theater from the university in 1960.

His first plays were produced by the university’s Workshop Theater while he was an undergraduate there. His work later found its way onto professional stages in Los Angeles and New York, where he earned the Drama Desk‐Vernon Rice Award for excellence in Off Broadway theater.

After a successful run at a summer theater festival in 1967, his play “The Exercise” opened on Broadway in April 1968, starring Anne Jackson and Stephen Joyce. But the reviews were negative, and it closed after only five performances.

When Mr. Carlino returned to El Camino College to direct his play “The Brick and the Rose” in the early 1960s, he met and married Natelle Lamkin, who acted in various local productions while they lived Ojai, Calif. They had three children: Voné Natelle Carlino, who died in 1988; Lewis John Carlino II, who died in 2018; and Alessa, who survives him, along with one grandson and one great-granddaughter.

Mr. Carlino’s first marriage ended in divorce in 1970. In 1976 he married Jilly Chadwick, who he met while she was working as a script supervisor on “The Brotherhood.” She died in 2015.

Though his work faced harsh criticism at times, Mr. Carlino always prided himself on knowing his characters inside and out.

Discussing “Resurrection,” Mr. Carlino emphasized his ability to create and intuit his subjects.

“I’ve lived moment to moment with every character in that screenplay,” he said. “If I don’t know the answers, nobody does.”

Especially as he grew older, Mr. Carlino focused less on seeking critical acclaim and more on the satisfaction of sculpting complex characters. After projects including “The Great Santini” received mixed reviews, he moved to Whidbey Island and began choosing his work based on whether the story would allow him to evoke emotion. At the time of his death, his most recent play, “Visible Grace,” was in development for production.

“I love to write people, you know,” he said in the Times interview. “I’m trying to get back to subjects that have some affirmation for the human condition.”

“The work that I do from now on,” he continued, “should make you feel good about being alive.”


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