James R. Webb

James R. Webb (October 4, 1909 – September 27, 1974) was an American writer. He won an Oscar in 1963 for How the West Was Won.[1]

James R. Webb
Born(1909-10-04)October 4, 1909
DiedSeptember 27, 1974(1974-09-27) (aged 64)
Resting placeLos Angeles National Cemetery
OccupationWriter, Screenwriter
AwardsBest Original Screenplay
1963 How the West Was Won


Early Life

Webb was born in Denver, Colorado, and graduated from Stanford University in 1930. During the 1930s, he worked both as a screenwriter and a fiction writer for a number of national magazines, including Collier's Weekly, Cosmopolitan and the Saturday Evening Post.[2]

Early Screenplays

Webb's early screenplays were written for Republic Pictures. He did a series of films starring Roy Rogers and directed by Joseph Kane: Nevada City (1941), Bad Man of Deadwood (1941), Jesse James at Bay (1941) and South of Santa Fe (1942) with Roy Rogers. He also did Rags to Riches (1941) directed by Kane.

World War Two

Webb was commissioned an army officer in June 1942 and became a personal aide to General Lloyd R. Fredendall who was commander of the II Corps (United States). Webb accompanied Fredendall to England in October 1942 and participated in the invasion of North Africa in November 1942 when the Second Corps captured the city of Oran. The Second Corps then attacked eastward into Tunisia. In February 1943 the German army launched a counterattack at Kasserine Pass which repulsed the Second Corps and nearly broke through the Allied lines. The Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower relieved Fredendall of command in March 1943 and sent him back to the United States where he became deputy commander of the Second United States Army at Memphis, Tennessee.

Webb returned to the United States with Fredendall and later served in the European Theater.

Post War Career

Webb left the Army after the war and returned to Hollywood, California, where he continued his work as a screenwriter. He returned to Republic for California Firebrand (1948).

In 1948 he sold a story to Universal, Going, Going, Gone and was going to write the script but no film resulted.[3] A story of hisFugitive from Love, was filmed as Woman in Hiding (1950).[4]

Warner Bros

Webb signed a contract for Warner Bros for whom he wrote the Westerns Montana (1950) with Errol Flynn, Raton Pass (1951), and The Big Trees (1952) with Kirk Douglas.[5]

He also wrote Close to My Heart (1951) based on his own novel, Operation Secret (1952), The Iron Mistress (1952) for Alan Ladd, The Charge at Feather River (1953) a 3-D film, and Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954).

Webb had a big hit with two films for Burt Lancaster and Robert Aldrich: Apache (1954) and Vera Cruz (1954). He wrote episodes of The Millionaire and Cheyenne and Illegal (1955) with Edgar G. Robinson.

Post Warner Bros

Lancaster hired Webb to do Trapeze (1956). He also wrote The Big Country (1958) and Pork Chop Hill (1959).

Webb received acclaim for his script for Cape Fear (1962) and especially How the West Was Won (1962). Webb won an Oscar for the latter.[6]

Mirisch Brothers

Less well received were Kings of the Sun (1963) for the Mirisch Brothers and Cheyenne Autumn (1964) for John Ford. He wrote an early draft of Chinese Finale that became 7 Women, Ford's last film, but Webb is not credited in the final movie.[7]

Webb wrote the English language version of Guns for San Sebastian (1968) and did a script for Patton.[8]

He did some historical epics: Alfred the Great (1969), for MGM; Sinful Davey (1969) for John Huston and the Mirisches; and The Hawaiians (1970), for the Mirsches.

His last credits were sequels to In the Heat of the Night, both for the Mirsches: They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970) and The Organization (1971).

In March 1974 the American Writers Guild awarded him the Morgan Award for services to the guild.[9]

He died on September 27, 1974, and was buried in Los Angeles National Cemetery. He was survived by a wife, a son and a daughter.

Partial filmography


  1. "JAMES WEBB DIES; SCREENWRITER, 64". The New York Times. September 29, 1974. p. 57.
  2. Film Writer James Webb; Won Oscar The Washington Post 29 Sep 1974: B6.
  3. Movie Expeditions Find Goals in Italy, Africa; Opera Songbird Signed Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 15 Nov 1948: A6.
  4. MOVIELAND BRIEFS Los Angeles Times 19 May 1949: B11.
  5. Patricia Neal, Dennis Morgan In Star Roles The Christian Science Monitor 20 Apr 1951: 5.
  6. Patricia Neal, Poitier, 'Tom Jones' Win Main Awards in Oscar Contest The Washington Post, Times Herald 15 Apr 1964: C10.
  7. LOCAL VIEW: UNDERSEAS TENSION: Novel on Nuclear Sub Bought -- 'Infidelity' -- Ford's 'Finale' By A.H. WEILER. New York Times 12 July 1964: X7.
  8. Miss Moore, Wagner to Star Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times 4 Feb 1967: 16.
  9. 'TIGER' TOP DRAMA: Writers Guild Awards Given Los Angeles Times 23 Mar 1974: a8
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