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Lorenzo Semple

Scriptwriter

Scriptwriter

Born: March 27, 1923; Died: March 28, 2014

Lorenzo Semple, who has died aged 91, was a screenwriter famous for work at two extremes: the self-conscious camp of television shows such as Batman and films such as Flash Gordon and the tension and post-Watergate paranoia of 1970s thrillers such as Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View.

His most famous work was Batman, on which he was head writer. Semple was not a fan of the original comic books and did not take them seriously so when he was asked to write the show by producer William Dozier, he decided the only way to do it was tongue-in-cheek.

It was a huge hit, running for three series and attracting guest appearances from big stars, all of them keen to camp it up, including Vincent Price, Liberace, Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Collins and Eartha Kitt. Semple's version of Batman was supergood and straight-laced, which gave the writer the chance to employ some of the hilariously straight dialogue at which he excelled. He would give Batman lines such as "only a criminal would disguise himself as a licensed guard yet callously park in front of a fire hydrant".

Semple was born in New York into a family that had a theatrical background. His uncle was the playwright Philip Barry and Semple was inspired to follow him. He went to Yale and served for a while as an ambulance driver during the Second World War before finishing his studies at Columbia University.

He began writing short stories and plays, two of which were performed on Broadway.

This led to writing for television including The Green Hornet, another series about a crime fighter.

This in turn led to Batman, which ran for 120 episodes from 1966 until 1968, and inspired a movie version, which Semple also wrote. By the time the series ended, Semple's ambitions had turned to films and he was handed a wonderful project in Papillon, a thriller starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman as two criminals languishing in a French penal colony in the 1930s. The movie is widely regarded as being McQueen's best film.

Other film work followed, usually far darker in tone than Semple's work on television. There was The Drowning Pool, a thriller starring Paul Newman, The Parallax View with Warren Beatty, and the political drama Three Days of the Condor starring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway. Semple also wrote the screenplay for the 1976 remake of King Kong, which was a hit but was hated by the critics.

In 1980, he wrote a film that was much closer to the aesthetic of Batman. It was a version of Flash Gordon with Max von Sydow as Emperor Ming and the script was full of the campy one-liners Semple wrote for Batman. At one point, Gordon's girlfriend Dale Arden says: "Flash, Flash, I love you, but we only have 14 hours to save the Earth!"

Semple went on to write Sean Connery's last Bond film Never Say Never Again, but after that, his film career began to slow down. In recent years, he had found new popularity in Reel Geezers, a series of online shows in which he and his friend, agent Marcia Nasatir, reviewed films.

He is survived by his wife, three children and six grandchildren.

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