Uncapie Says Good Bye To Jack B. Sowards, WRATH OF KHAN Scripter
Published at: July 10, 2007, 9:02 a.m. CST by merrick
Hey, I'm Uncapie...
Gifted storyteller and screenwriter, Jack Sowards, passed away of Lou Gehrig's Disease at 78.
He was my mentor. He was my friend.
Born in Texarkana, Arkansas on March 18, 1929, Jack was one-of-a-kind.
As a child, he was involved in all things most boys like. Climbing trees, running through fields, swimming in the local lake and excelling at sports. Even playing tennis with his buddy; a future multi-billionaire, named Ross Perot.
But, one summer he contracted a rare lung disease and was bedridden for almost a year.
He discovered books and writing.
After, high school, he enlisted in the army and participated in the Berlin Airlift making sure that the destitute and poor had food during the Allied reconstruction in 1949.
After his service was up, he enlisted in the Navy because he wanted to see more of the world.
Three years later, he entered the U.S. Air Force and became a chief mechanic on F-86's. Some of the aircraft he worked on were used in the film, "The Hunters" with Robert Mitchum and Robert Wagner.
With enough service to his country behind him, he wanted to see the United States next.
He became a field worker picking crops wherever the job took him. Sometimes it was vegetables, cotton or wheat. He learned a lot about the United States and its people.
His journey led him to Hollywood and supported himself as a photographer and a furniture mover with a then unknown actor who would inspire many of us in a film called, "Robinson Crusoe On Mars." That actor was Paul Mantee.
He'd hang out at the soda fountains at the now defunct and legendary Schwab's Drugstore and Googie's taking turns buying cokes and burgers with the other actors named James Dean and Dennis Hopper.
Through Dennis, Jack decided to try out for a part in the San Diego Playhouse production of, "Othello." He got the part of "Iago" and played along side Dennis and another up-and-coming actor named, Michael Forrest to rave reviews.
Critics loved his delivery and the constant rubbing of his left hand with his right thumb when he was plotting evil was thought to be a great device on stage. But, with Jack, there was always a story. Dennis Hopper had run his rapier through Jack's left hand during rehearsals and he needed stitches because of it. Rather than bandage it up and tell the stage manager for fear of losing the job, he threw a little make-up on it and continued with all the performances. It wasn't that he was rubbing his hand as a plot device; it was because it hurt like hell!
After the play ended, so did the money coming in. With a wife and a baby on the way, Jack went back to moving furniture.
But, as luck would have it, he ran into the late producer/director Burt Topper who needed an actor to film two movies at American International Pictures.
Those two films were "Tank Commandos" shot on the old M-G-M backlot European town sets and "Hell Squad" filmed out in the Mojave desert.
Jack portrayed radioman, "Private Todd" who was the whiner in a group of tough G.I.'s sent in to destroy a bridge. The total budget of the film was $75,000.00 shot in eight days.
Sowards on a video cover.
In "Hell Squad," he was a German soldier posing as an American because he could speak a smattering of German. Not only did he act, he also did many of the special effects. That was a budget of $50,000.00 shot in five days.
It was at this time, he decided to be a writer. He wrote five scripts for television and only one was purchased for the series, "Daniel Boone" starring Fess Parker.
But, one was all he needed. He had talent and people recognized it.
He then wrote for "Bonanza," "The Bold Ones" and the "High Chapparal" with a smattering of other scripts that were bought for tv shows, but were never filmed.
I was fortunate to read his script for "Combat!" and it would have been one of the best episodes next to "Hills Are For Heroes." Jack Sowards had the gift of writing.
Years later, the acting bug would bite him one last time where he played the town cop on the TV series, "Peyton Place" while writing movies-of the-week such as "Deliver Us From Evil," "Death Cruise" and a western called, "Desperate Women." He was also nominated twice for an Emmy for his work.
He then became story editor on "Streets Of San Francisco," "Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer" and "B.L. Stryker."
He taught screen writing classes at Santa Monica College and UCLA. This is where I met him and he taught me to write. I was the only one who got an A in a class of twelve.
Years later, he would always joke with me saying, "Of course I gave you an 'A.' I felt sorry for you for writing that bullshit 'Battlestar Galactica' script."
Swell. I think he just used to do it to get a kick out of me turning red of embarrassment.
It was last week though, his daughter presented me with a short story I wrote that I had long forgot about in his class. Out of all the years he had taught screen writing and all the scripts and short stories he had to grade; mine was the only one he saved. It was a very heartfelt moment. It now rests in a frame over my desk.
I asked what he was working on next. "Its a space western. You'll like it." But, he'd never tell me what it was.
It was "Star Trek II: the Wrath Of Khan." The best, by far, of all the "Trek" movies and it was typed on a computer that Jack had built himself when the Commodore 64 was thought of state-of-the art.
Jack went peacefully with his wife holding his hand. His family was there when it happened and I am very proud that I am a part of them.
He was a good man.
To sum up Jack Sowards, I quote a line from "Star Trek II: the Wrath Of Khan:"
"You will always be my friend, as I am yours."