The Envelope Please? Meeting Lewis Carlino

Posted in Feature, Film, History

Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
February 19, 2017

The Academy Awards, the lights, the red carpet…

Lewis Carlino knows what it’s like to live through all the glamour and chaos. But chaos isn’t what comes to mind when you’re around him. He lives a quiet creativeness, with an awareness of all that surrounds him. But his humility contradicts his long and successful career in writing and directing. “I’m very grateful for this work, this profession,” he says. “I’ve met people that I would never have met from all over the world.”

Carlino started writing poetry for the “Stars and Stripes” while he was serving in Korea in the Air Force as a corpsman. He planned on a medical career when he finished and enrolled in premed courses.

After he started college, he realized that his true interest was writing and switched majors from premed to communication. “Suddenly, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” he says, even as his mom was telling him to get a real job. “As a writer, you get inspiration from experiences, observations, projections — and wishes, but the act of writing is something you do on your own and, once committed, you have to keep doing it.”

Lewis Carlino surrounded by photos of family and friends. (Photo by David Welton)

While at university, Carlino was writing plays that were being performed at his school’s repertory theater, the American National Theatre and Academy, and professionally in Los Angeles. During that time, he was approached by a Hollywood agent who said: “I’d like to represent you.” That turned out to be a lifetime friendship, one he’s never regretted. He went on to graduate school to complete his education and wrote for television as well as the stage.

Carlino’s agent told him that he needed to build a body of work, so he went to Taormina, Italy, where he had family, to do just that. The sea and cliffs created just the right environment Carlino needed to write his next two plays: “The Dirty Old Man,” which was eventually performed off-Broadway by Franchot Tone and “The Beach People,” in which Dustin Hoffman performed in 1960. Returning to New York City in the early 60s, Carlino had three plays that were running off Broadway at the same time, including “Cages with Shelley Winters. In the 63/64 season, Carlino won the New York Theatre Critics Drama Desk Award as best playwright.

His focus changed to film when he wrote a screenplay adaptation of “Seconds,” a conspiracy thriller, one of the twenty-five films recently selected by the Library of Congress to be preserved and archived at the library. From that point on, Carlino stayed in film, and having a family with three kids helped him decide to stay with a more practical endeavor. “Theater can be risky,” he says. “It can seem like a great play, but a few bad reviews, and it’s over in a week.”

Lewis Carlino on the set of “Brotherhood” in 1968 with director Marty Ritt and actor Irene Pappas. (Courtesy of Lewis Carlino)

More films and awards followed for “The Brotherhood,” and “The Mechanic,” a film starring Charles Bronson that was unique because there is no opening dialog for 16 minutes, and a surprise ending. Carlino adapted the 1963 novel “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea,” and directed it. He followed this by writing and directing “The Great Santini,” starring Robert Duval and Michael O’Keefe followed by his original film “Resurrection,” starring Ellen Burystyn and Eva LeGalliene. All four actors where nominated for Academy Awards in the same year for their performances.

In 1977, Carlino was nominated for an Academy Award for the best adapted screenplay for “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden,” with Kathleen Quinlan and Dennis Quaid. He also received a Golden Globe nomination for best picture.

Carlino is the first to admit that a lot has changed about the industry. In the early days, he explains, there were no computers, so you’d type your draft, edit it, then send it off to be typed. And this is what went out to the studio.

Lewis Carlino at his desk–where he now writes scripts using a computer. (Photo by David Welton)

He moved to Langley from California but stayed involved in the business. Locally, he’s directed three plays, one of his own, “Telemachus Clay,” the comedy, “Art,” and his revised and edited version of the Restoration comedy, “School for Scandal.” His most recent play has just completed its initial readings in Seattle and New York City.

To cast his votes as a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Carlino has watched more than 90 films this year. When asked about the quality of the movies, he says most of the concentration today is on action and special effects, but his preferences are films that rely on character and deep, complex storytelling.

”Once we lose our stories, our myths, the human experience becomes trivialized, and we become a superficial culture of computer-generated reality,” he says.

As he gets older, Carlino says he has a richer reservoir to draw from, and he finds satisfaction as his frame of reference changes and continues to grow. “Creation is what I call self-generated delight,” he says and he never tires of finding different ways to tell of the human condition. “I’ll never retire from writing. It’s been a worthy and a rich, satisfying career.”

Deb Crager is originally from the Midwest but has lived on the island for 26 years. She wrote the book “101 Things to Do on Whidbey Island: For a Day, a Weekend, or a Lifetime” available on iPad and Kindle Fire, with older copies in print from Amazon and ebay.


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