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"Stealing a man's wife, that's nothing, but stealing a man's car, that's larceny."

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Niven Busch Biography

Niven Busch - image

Novelist, screenwriter and producer, Niven Busch, was, as David Shipman says, "associated with some interesting films at the time when movies were movies". Busch was born in Manhattan on April 26,1903, and died in San Francisco August 25, 1991. He was 88.

Busch's father was born into a New York banking family, was a stock broker at times yet was in the film business and ran a night club in Paris; his mother was British. Niven's childhood was spent in luxury in Oyster Bay, NY, and at a fashionable boarding school. He decided to become an author at the age of 14, when he again saw his name in print when his poem was published in his school magazine. Previously, at about age 9, St. Nicholas Magazine published a few of his little stores and poems in its section reserved for children's compositions. Before he left for Princeton in 1921 he had already sold verses and sketches to such well-known magazines as McClure's. He left Princeton before the end of his sophmore year when his father's firm went broke. He soon connected with his cousin, Briton Hadden who was editor of the new Time magazine. He worked at Time for a number of years, becoming an editor himself. He was also contributing stories and profiles to Harold Ross's budding The New Yorker. He owed much, he later confessed, to Ross's tuition. His first book, Twenty-one Americans, a collection of portraits of current famous Americans which had appeared in The New Yorker, was published in 1931.

In 1932, realizing he had gone as far as he was likely to go as a New York-based magazine writer and editor, Busch decided Hollywood was the place to be, and he had a connection through his father, who was at one time in the motion picture distribution business with Lewis Selznick. And through that connection, Niven met Lewis's son, David. It was David who brought Niven out to Hollywood.

David Selznick soon secured work for Busch at Warner Brothers, and Busch decamped to Los Angeles to write his first film, Howard Hawk's The Crowd Roars (1932).

By the early 1940s, Busch was chief story editor for independent producer Sam Goldwyn. During his stint with Goldwyn, Busch met and married contract actress Teresa Wright. For 21 years he was a screenwriter at such studios as Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, Goldwyn, Paramount and Universal, scripting movies which included The Big Shakedown (1934) staring Bette Davis, The Man With Two Faces (1934) staring Edward G. Robinson, and He Was Her Man (1934) staring James Cagney. He was nominated for an Academy Award for best original screenplay for In Old Chicago (1937), a film based on his story We the O'Learys, which climaxed with the Chicago fire of 1871 and one of the most expensive films made at the time. In 1940 he co-wrote The Westerner for director William Wyler and producer Sam Goldwyn. Soon thereafter he went to work as Goldwyn's story editor, recommending Pride of the Yankees (1942), in which Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright starred.

Another notable film of the period, for which Busch produced and wrote the original screenplay, was Pursued (1947) staring Robert Mitchum and Teresa Wright, one of the first psychological Westerns with "noir" overtones. Around the same time, Busch also adapted the noir thriller The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), for Metro- Goldwyn Mayer. The Furies (1950), from Busch's novel, attracted some scorn for its "Freudian excesses". However, says the London Times, "Busch was always shrewd and knew exactly what he was doing".

"I always wanted to write a novel. I started two or three, then dropped them when a film job came along. I finally figured out the problem: when I was writing a novel no one was paying." But he did find time in 1939; The Carrington Incident, published in 1941, was followed by the best-seller Duel in the Sun (1944), which was purchased by David Selznick and turned into the 1946 blockbuster of the same title. He now alternated between the writing of screenplays and novels, most of which became best-sellers. They Dream of Home (1944), a tale of returning veterans (film title Till the End of Time [1946]), was followed by The Furies (1948), which became the film of the same name (1950) starring Barbara Stanwyck.

Though born and raised on the East coast, Busch had a fascination for the West, which played out in his novels and screenplays. In his Hollywood days, he bought property in Encino, where he could keep horses and ride in the undeveloped coastal hills. He liked to wear cowboy gear and sometimes appeared more like the lead in a Western than its author. In 1951, he took a further step in his pursuit of the Western life. He left Hollywood for a ranch near Hollister in Northern California, where he devoted himself full time to the writing of novels. Several of his most successful works were written here, including California Street (1959) and The San Franciscans (1962). Around 1969 or '70 he moved to San Francisco.

By the time he wrote his final novel, The Titan Game (1989),Busch had become one of San Francisco's literary lights and a Regent's Professor at the University of California.

At the age of 84, Niven Busch made a wholly unexpected acting debut, essaying a small part in The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988). He played role of "Old Man" in the scene in which Sabina receives the letter informing her of Tómas's and Tereza's deaths.

Busch had five wives and seven children. His wives, in order of marriage, and their joint children, were: Sonia Frey (son Peter Briton), Phyllis Cooper (son Briton Cooper), Teresa Wright (son Niven Terence and daughter Mary-Kelly), Carmencita Baker (son Joseph Baker – called Jerry – and twins Nicholas and Eliza) and Suzanne Te Roller de Sanz, who brought her thee children, Miguel, Juanita and Mark de Sanz into their combined household in San Francisco's Pacific Heights.

Niven Busch died of heart failure at his San Francisco home on August 25, 1991. He was 88 years old.