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Summer 1999
Mr. Hunter's Opus
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For more than 20 years, Lew Hunter has been mentor emeritus to the budding screenwriters of Tinseltown.

By Kim Kowsky '86

It's an eccentric, but beloved ritual that we aspiring screenwriters look forward to every quarter: Lew Hunter, our professor, cheerleader, mentor and muse, totes a duffel bag full of exotic, palm-sized figurines into his class and sets them up around the room's perimeter. The 137 figurines, collected in Hunter's world travels, all tell a story. There's the Russian boy holding a fish and gesturing with his free hand about "the one that got away." Or the figure of the Taj Mahal, built by a sultan in honor of the wife who gave birth to his 14th child.

The display, Hunter tells us, demonstrates to us screenwriter wanna-bes our place in the history and panorama of storytelling traditions. "You are here," he says, "because you are storytellers, too."

It's heady stuff for us lowly and insecure students who would give our left arms for the privilege of joining the ranks of the "schmucks with Underwoods," as Jack Warner once described screenwriters. And that was how he talked about the successful ones.

To us hopeful scribes, whose futures largely depend on our ability to persevere in the face of relentless rejection, calling us storytellers is just one of the uncountable acts of kindness and generosity that we will miss from Hunter.

Hunter, who friends say has the "energy of 10 men," is officially taking a long-overdue sabbatical next year in which he plans to finish three books he is currently writing about screenwriting and mentoring. He will continue to serve as a part-time faculty member of the University of Paris-Sorbonne, as a professor at the Croatian Summer Film Academy and a script resource for the Greater African Script Fund.

Hunter and his wife, Pamela, are also moving to Superior in Hunter's home state of Nebraska, where they will be converting an eight-bedroom historical mansion into a writer's retreat. When Hunter returns to UCLA, he plans to scale back his teaching duties to just one quarter a year in a gradual effort to retire.

"I love it here. I bleed blue and gold," says Hunter, cochair of the Screenwriting Program in the School of Theater, Film and Television (TFT) since 1988. "But I've been thinking about how many more fruitful ticks I have on the mental clock before it goes south, and I've been wanting to fulfill them in a less structured environment."Hunter is himself one of Hollywood's great characters. At 63, he has the boyish, good looks of Glen Campbell, a voice as sonorous as John Huston's and a homespun, Nebraska farm- boy persona that belies his political savvy and salesmanship ability.

His career as a writer and network executive spans four decades. His list of Hollywood hotshots who will return his calls include Disney CEO Michael Eisner, TV mogul Aaron Spelling, Sony president John Calley, producer Peter Guber and Emmy Award-winning writer/producer Steve Bochco. Yet, Hunter still drives around with copies of unsold scripts ("still available," as he prefers to call them) in his trunk.

"Don't let that farm-boy stuff fool you," says screenwriting cochair Richard Walter. "He has a cunning, capable grasp of university politics.


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