Reginald Rose

Citation metadata

Publisher: Gale
Series: Dictionary of Literary Biography
Document Type: Biography
Length: 2,567 words

Document controls

Main content

About this Person
Born: December 10, 1920 in New York, New York, United States
Died: April 19, 2002 in Norwalk, Connecticut, United States
Nationality: American

WORKS

BY THE AUTHOR:

MOTION PICTURES

  • Crime in the Streets (Allied Artists, 1956), screen story and screenplay.
  • Dino (Allied Artists, 1957), story and screenplay.
  • 12 Angry Men (United Artists, 1957), screenplay.
  • Man of the West (United Artists, 1958), screenplay.
  • Man in the Net (United Artists, 1959), screen story and screenplay.
  • Baxter! (National General, 1973), screenplay.
  • Somebody Killed Her Husband (Columbia, 1978), screenplay.
  • The Wild Geese (Allied Artists, 1978), screenplay.
  • The Sea Wolves (Lorimar, 1980), screenplay.
  • Whose Life Is It Anyway? (M-G-M, 1981), screenplay by Rose and Brian Clark.
  • The Final Option (M-G-M/United Artists, 1983), screenplay.

SELECTED TELEVISION

  • The Bus to Nowhere (1951), script.
  • 12 Angry Men, Studio One (CBS, 1954), script.
  • The Expendable House, Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse (NBC, 1955), script.
  • The Sacco and Vanzetti Case, Armstrong Circle Theatre (NBC, 1960), script.
  • The Defenders [series] (CBS, 1961-1965), creator and scriptwriter.
  • Dear Friends (CBS, 1967), script.
  • The Zoo Gang [series] (NBC, 1975), creator and scriptwriter.

BOOKS

  • Six Television Plays (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1956).
  • Dear Friends: A Play (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1968).
  • The Thomas Book (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972).

BIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY

Reginald Rose was born in New York City and attended City College. After graduation, he worked at a series of odd jobs: receiving clerk, window cleaner, and camp counselor. He then served in the United States Army in World War II, completing his service as a first lieutenant.

After the war, Rose returned to New York City, where he worked first for the publicity department of Warner Bros. studio and then as a copywriter for a small advertising agency. In 1951 he sold his first teleplay, The Bus to Nowhere, then went on to write numerous television scripts in the 1950s and 1960s, including 12 Angry Men, for which he won an Emmy award. He created, supervised, and wrote many episodes of the successful television series The Defenders (1961-1965), for which he received Emmy awards in 1962 and 1963.

Rose's early years as a television writer shaped and colored his entire career. During his emergence in the 1950s, a golden age for original television drama which nurtured many fine writers, including Paddy Chayefsky , Robert Alan Aurthur, and Rod Serling , Rose tailored his craft to the particular strengths of the medium. His scripts were topical and controversial; he used narrow, often indoor settings, and he centered conflicts on small but crucial individual moral choices. As a writer of motion pictures, Rose has continued to produce the kind of social, timely, personal dramas he created for television. Rose's main subjects are crime; juvenile delinquency; the problems of children and adolescents; and contemporary social issues, including bigotry, poverty, and urban blight. He has treated these problems in a variety of forms--Westerns, war movies, urban and courtroom dramas--but however exotic or prosaic the setting and whatever the form, at its best Rose's work is powerful, committed, intense; at its worst it is didactic or descends from drama into sociology.

Rose's first screenplay was for Crime in the Streets (1956), about teenage gang members who plan but do not carry out the murder of an old man who has slapped their psychotic leader, Frankie (John Cassavetes). The film ends in a confrontation between Frankie and the younger brother (Sal Mineo) of another gang member who talks Frankie out of the crime by professing love and concern for his brother. Compared by many critics with The Blackboard Jungle (1955) and Rebel Without a Cause (1955), the film shows Rose's weaknesses as a writer in the script's didactic emphasis on the social causes of juvenile delinquency and the saving power of love.

Rose's second film, Dino (1957), is a variation on the same theme. Dino (Sal Mineo) is a young man who returns from reform school and is entreated by his younger brother to lead the neighborhood gang in holding up a gas station. Dino agrees; he is angry and bitter, the victim of a brutal father and a slum childhood. But with the love of a neighborhood girl (Susan Kohner) and the understanding of a settlement worker (Brian Keith), Dino begins to change. Finally, determined to save his brother from making the same mistakes he has made, Dino refuses to go through with the holdup and asks the settlement worker to help himself and his brother in building a better life. Critical response to the film was mixed. Some critics, while acknowledging that the material was somewhat threadbare, applauded Rose's treatment of juvenile delinquency and of the regeneration of a young criminal. Other critics accused the film of being slick and formulaic.

In marked contrast, the screenplay for Rose's next film, 12 Angry Men (1957), shows to greatest advantage his strengths as a writer and presents in a persuasive way some of the concerns unconvincingly dealt with in Crime in the Streets and Dino. Sidney Lumet directed the film, which has become Rose's most acclaimed and best-known work. Adapted from Rose's earlier teleplay, the movie is about a jury that must reach a verdict in the trial of a teenager accused of murdering his father. The jury becomes deadlocked because one juror (Henry Fonda) refuses to vote guilty with the others. He insists that the other jury members reconsider the evidence, articulate the reasons for their opinions, and examine their own consciences. In a methodical way, he analyzes the prosecution's arguments so that the evidence of the boy's guilt, all circumstantial, falls away piece by piece. As he does so, the other members of the jury are forced to confront their hasty judgments and prejudices.

12 Angry Men focuses on important social issues with clarity and restraint, makes these issues personal ones through complex characterization, and brilliantly matches the technical aspects of the film to its subject matter and themes. As in Rose's previous work, the film deals with social injustices--the boy on trial is the victim of a brutal father and sordid environment. The film also deals with the conflict between young and old; the boy is accused of murdering his father and is tried by a jury of men who are old enough to be his father. One of the virtues of the film is that it does not present the problem as an abstract issue but through dramatic confrontations between the jurors, one of whom (Lee J. Cobb) hates all young people because of his anger at his own son. Another juror (Ed Begley) hates the Puerto Rican boy because of his own prejudice. Perhaps the best feature of the movie is its matching of technique to theme. With virtually all the action confined to the jury room, the film has an unnerving claustrophobic quality. The ninety-five minutes that the film runs is the length of time it takes the jurors to reach a verdict. 12 Angry Men was a great critical success, earning Academy Award nominations for best picture and best screenplay.

Rose's next film script, Man of the West (1958), is a complex, psychological Western. Based on the novel The Border Jumpers by Will C. Brown and directed by Anthony Mann, the film is about Link, a bandit (Gary Cooper) who, having reformed and become a respectable family man, is entrusted by his community with a large sum of money to use in hiring a schoolteacher. On the train to Fort Worth to find the teacher he meets a dance-hall singer, Billie Ellis (Julie London), and an old gambler, Sam Beasley, for whom he takes responsibility when the train is robbed and they are left stranded. A nearby cabin in which they seek shelter proves to be a hideout for Link's old gang, headed by his crazed uncle, Dock Tobin (Lee J. Cobb). In order to protect himself, Billie, and Sam, Link pretends to rejoin the gang and volunteers to take charge of a bank robbery in a nearby town. As he is forced to spend time with his old cronies, Link is disturbed to find himself becoming more and more like them, reverting to his old, violent ways. He is finally driven to action when a gang member named Coaley (Jack Lord) forces Billie to strip and later shoots at Link but kills Sam instead. Link kills most of the gang members before having a final gunfight with Tobin, whom he also kills. In the end Link plans to leave Billie, who has fallen in love with him, and return to his family and community.

Man of the West returns to several of Rose's previous themes--the relationship between generations in a family (Tobin and Link) and the need for the individual to make his own moral decisions. As Link confesses to Billie that he has been just as evil and vicious as the other members of Tobin's gang, he affirms, "One day I grew up. There comes a point where you either grow up or you rot like that bunch." This statement points to another of Rose's themes--that the criminal can reform if given the opportunity to assume responsibility and to earn people's trust.

Rose's next film, Man in the Net (1959), is a steamy melodrama, a murder mystery in which an executive-turned-painter (Alan Ladd) takes his alcoholic, promiscuous wife (Carolyn Jones) to a small town in Connecticut. When she is murdered shortly after their arrival, he is accused of the crime. The whole town believes him guilty except a group of children who hide him in a cave and help him solve the case and exonerate himself. Not surprisingly, critics found the script lacking in credibility, and the film was neither a critical nor a financial success. The film does demonstrate again Rose's thesis that an innocent man may be trapped in a net of circumstantial evidence and that people should suspend their judgments until offered clear proof of guilt. Its strongest features are Rose's charming and natural characterizations of the children who come to the aid of the accused man.

Television scripts and other projects kept Rose away from motion pictures following Man in the Net; it was fourteen years before another film was made from a screenplay by Rose. His sympathetic treatment of children--his understanding of their needs and motivations--is the focus of the 1973 film, Baxter! , based on Kin Platt's novel The Boy Who Could Make Himself Disappear. The story of an adolescent boy (Scott Jacoby) rejected by his divorced parents, the film follows the boy on a traumatic move from Los Angeles to London, where he establishes relationships with three different people who help him. The strength of the film is characterization, particularly of the boy Roger Baxter, whose sharp wit and self-mockery reveal his hurt and his need for love and understanding. He finds his needs temporarily fulfilled by his caring speech therapist (Patricia Neal) and by a pair of lovers, Chris Bentley and Roger Tunnell (Britt Ekland and Jean-Pierre Cassel), who reach out to this lonely boy. When Chris dies of pneumonia, the boy Roger withdraws into catatonia but begins to emerge as the grieving Roger Tunnell turns to him to share his grief and his essential faith in life. The film is one of Rose's better efforts; it could have become maudlin, but it remains moving and absorbing.

Rose's next film, Somebody Killed Her Husband (1978), is a slight, screwball comedy created as a vehicle for Farrah Fawcett. An unhappy housewife (Fawcett) meets an unpublished children's book writer (Jeff Bridges) who is employed as a toy salesman in a department store. They fall in love, but no sooner does their affair begin than they find her husband murdered. Knowing they will be suspects, they conceal the murder and set out to find the killer. Critics found the film implausible and contrived, and it was a failure with audiences as well.

Having failed with this rare attempt at comedy, Rose returned to drama with The Wild Geese (1978), based on a novel by Daniel Carney. Four soldiers of fortune (Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Hardy Kruger, Roger Moore) are hired to lead a force into Africa and rescue a recently overthrown president. After they reach the president, the men are betrayed and abandoned by their employer. The Wild Geese is a lengthy and detailed film, an attempt to create an epic adventure movie. It was not a financial success in the United States but did very well in Europe, and a follow-up film was planned that would reunite the creative team of The Wild Geese: Rose, director Andrew V. McLaglen, and producer Euan Lloyd. The Sea Wolves (1980), based on the novel The Boarding Party by James Leasor, is about a British cavalry unit brought out of retirement during World War II and sent to destroy a German radio base in India. The film was unable to repeat the success of The Wild Geese; a financial failure overseas, it was held out of American release for over a year and then received very limited distribution.

In 1981 Rose worked with playwright Brian Clark in adapting Clark's Whose Life Is It Anyway? for the screen. In this film, sculptor Ken Harrison (Richard Dreyfuss) is paralyzed from the neck down as a result of an auto accident. After learning of his condition, Harrison asks to be discharged from the hospital and sent home, where he is certain to die. When his doctor (John Cassavetes) refuses, Harrison takes the case to court and is finally granted the right to leave the hospital. Though highly praised by critics, Whose Life Is It Anyway? was not a financial success; perhaps audiences were kept away by the unpleasant subject matter.

Rose next wrote another action film for Euan Lloyd, but he made certain the film had an underlying political message. The Final Option (1983) suggests that the nuclear disarmament movements in Europe have been infiltrated and manipulated by terrorists who are in turn manipulated by foreign governments. A special British task force sends an agent (Lewis Collins) to act as an undercover operative in one antiwar group. At a political gathering in London, the group takes hostages, including the American secretary of state (Richard Widmark), and then demands that an atomic bomb be detonated in Scotland to demonstrate the horrors of nuclear war. The agent must find a way to communicate with his superiors and free the hostages before the terrorists' thirty-six-hour deadline elapses. The Final Option was criticized both for implausibilities in the script and for Rose's heavy-handedness in moralizing; like The Sea Wolves it was distributed in the United States a year after its European release and was a financial success on neither continent.

Rose's work is noteworthy for his willingness to take on difficult social issues and to deal with the darker aspects of human psychology, for his deep commitment to social justice, for his in-depth characterizations and sharp, compact scenes. Yet his writing shows an unwillingness to probe beyond a certain point: his desire to see justice done sometimes creates happy endings that are unconvincing, and his general optimism seems unjustified. In an overall view of Rose's screenplays, one must ask whether he tries to appease his audience in limiting the complexity of the issues he asks them to consider. As Rose himself describes it, "In all my work, ... my main purpose has always been to project my own view of good and evil--and this is the essence of controversy."

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1200006380