Nine Famous Non-Screenwriters Who Wrote Exactly One Screenplay

The Last of Sheila, written by Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim

This was the original concept for an earlier list, which evolved into Nine Famous Authors Who Only Wrote One Screenplay. Nevertheless, this is an equally interesting group of people, who embody the idea that we all have at least one screenplay in us. In these cases, exactly one.

  1. ANTHONY PERKINS, The Last of Sheila (1973). Yes, Norman Bates wrote a screenplay. What's surprising is that this murder mystery, packed with the biggest stars of the time (James Coburn, Dyan Cannon, Raquel Welch, etc.), feels like the work of a veteran dramatist: it is expertly plotted and full of juicy twists. Why Perkins didn't act in the film – he could have easily played the role that went to Richard Benjamin – is anyone's guess.
  2. STEPHEN SONDHEIM, The Last of Sheila (1973). Sondheim, of course, is a prolific lyricist and composer. (In the early 1950s, he was also a staff writer for the TV sitcom Topper.) But The Last of Sheila is his only screenplay – and no, it's not a musical. The film was apparently inspired by the elaborate treasure hunts that Sondheim and co-writer Perkins would host for their famous friends. (It's believed that the two men were lovers at the time.)
  3. ANNE BANCROFT, Fatso (1980). The Oscar-winning actress not only wrote exactly one movie, she directed it, too. Fatso was a romantic comedy vehicle for portly actor Dom LeLuise, a close friend of Bancroft and her husband Mel Brooks. Despite Bancroft's best efforts – she also costarred in the film – Fatso was a flop.
  4. ARTHUR PENN, Alice's Restaurant (1969). Then there are those cases where well-known filmmakers try their hand at a single screenplay. It's not hard to picture Penn, who in the late '60s was Hollywood's hottest director thanks to Bonnie and Clyde, getting stoned with songwriter Arlo Guthrie and adapting Guthrie's anti-war song-poem into a would-be counterculture classic.
  5. ELIA KAZAN, America America (1963). Kazan, director of such landmark films as A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront, penned this epic about a young Greek trying to emigrate to the United States, based on his own uncle's adventures.
  6. DANNY BOYLE, 127 Hours (2010). It's curious that Boyle, such an inventive filmmaker (he also helmed Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting and so on), has only this one produced screenplay to his name. He and Slumdog scenarist Simon Beaufoy adapted Aron Ralston's memoir.
  7. JOHN HOUSEMAN, Jane Eyre (1943). John Houseman's one of those guys like Peter Ustinov, Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud who were once so ubiquitous and powerful – yet who are remembered by my generation only as elderly character actors. (In Houseman's case, I know him mostly for his much-lampooned Smith Barney commercials: "They make money the old-fashioned way: they earrrn it.") But in between producing film and theater, discovering Orson Welles, and running Julliard's school of drama, Houseman also wrote this version – with Aldous Huxley! – of Charlotte Brontë's oft-filmed tale.
  8. BILL MURRAY, The Razor's Edge (1984). America's favorite slob has several TV writing credits on his resume – including, no surprise, a few episodes of Saturday Night Live – but his sole screenwriting credit came with this adaptation of the Somerset Maugham novel, in which he starred as a WWI vet seeking spiritual enlightenment. Murray's bid to be taken seriously bombed hard.
  9. TINA FEY, Mean Girls (2004). Is it too early to dismiss Fey's screenwriting career? Probably. But it's odd that this prolific funnywoman, who was SNL's head writer for 7 years and of course created 30 Rock, has just this one feature screenplay to her credit, with no more on the docket.