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John Richard Briley
(June 25, 1925 – December 14, 2019)
Briley was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and served in the United States Army Air Forces, 1943–46, reaching the rank of captain. At the University of Michigan, he gained a BA in 1950 and an MA in English 1951. He married Dorothy Louise Reichart in 1950, and they had four children. He worked in public relations for General Motors before rejoining the air force in 1955. He was posted to RAF Northolt airbase at South Ruislip near London, where he was director of orientation activities and started writing. In 1960, he earned a PhD in Elizabethan drama from the University of Birmingham, left the air force and became a staff writer with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer at Elstree Studios in Borehamwood. He left MGM in 1964. He also had an uncredited part in the 1965 comedy Situation Hopeless... But Not Serious.
Screenwriting Gandhi …
Briley's 1972 script for Pope Joan had attracted the interest of Richard Attenborough, although Attenborough was ultimately not involved in that project, and the film was critically panned. Several scripts for Attenborough's Gandhi project had been rejected, and Robert Bolt was scheduled to rewrite his own earlier draft when he suffered a stroke. Attenborough then turned to Briley. Briley shifted the focus of the narrative away from the point of view of the British colonists to that of the Indian independence movement. He originally opposed Ben Kingsley in the title role, favouring John Hurt, but was later glad that Attenborough had gone with Kingsley. Briley envisaged more emphasis on the relationship between Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, but Kingsley's towering performance came to dominate the finished film. Briley claims he and Attenborough were personally satisfied with the movie and unconcerned about any critical and commercial success. In the event, Briley's original screenplay won the Oscar and the Golden Globe. Attenborough later said of Briley, "He's a difficult bugger, a bit of a prima-donna, but the bastard's brilliant". In Briley's Ocscar acceptance speech, Briley praised Attenborough, and gave elegant praise to Gandhi's life and legacy. … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phMIJ96Ja10
Later life …
In 1985, Briley began developing a musical about Martin Luther King, writing the book and lyrics and acting as co-producer, originally for American Playhouse. He left the project in February 1989 after contract negotiations broke down. A different version opened in London in 1990. Briley attempted to obtain an injunction, claiming he had paid the King family $200,000 in personality rights.
In 1987, Briley again teamed up with Attenborough for Cry Freedom, about the South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko. Briley had disagreements with Donald Woods, the journalist whose books formed the basis of the script. Briley viewed the nonviolence of the Black Consciousness Movement as principled, whereas Woods felt it was a tactical decision. Although Woods feared Briley lacked an awareness of the complexities of political debate among black South Africans, those shown a preview of the film felt it was realistic.
In 1993, Briley switched agents from International Creative Management to the William Morris Agency. In 1998, he was a founding partner of "the Film Makers Company", a venture intended to encourage film production in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and was planning to relocate to there. He was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Big Bear Lake International Film Festival in 2000. He died on December 14, 2019, aged 94.