“A Place in the Sun,” starring Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift and Shelly Winters garnered six Academy Awards in 1951’s, and 1957’s “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” with William Holden, Jack Hawkins and Alec Guinness garnered seven awards, including Best Picture.
And McAlester-born Michael Wilson received an Academy Award for each of these movies for Best Writing-Screenplay. Wilson also received non-winning Academy Award nominations for 1952’s “5 Fingers”, 1956’s Friendly Persuasion and 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia.
Wilson was born in McAlester on July 1, 1914. He graduated from the University of California Berkeley in 1936 with a BA in Philosophy. He furthered studied in France during 1937–38. Primarily a short story writer during the 1930s, he supported himself by teaching English and through occasional work on a low budget Western movie (his early film work consisted mainly of William Boyd Westerns). With the advent of World War II, Wilson served as a lieutenant in Marines in the South Pacific, and upon his return, began his screenwriting career in earnest. His early work in film included “The Men in Your Life (1941), “Bar 20” (1943),” Border Patrol” (1943),” Colt Comrades” (1943) and “Forty Thieves” (1944).
In 1947 U.S. Congress formed the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and began an investigation into the Hollywood Motion Picture Industry. During this time Wilson was co-producing a film “Salt of the Earth” about New Mexico zinc miners which the HUAC dubbed “dangerously subversive.” Although he had just won an Academy Award for “A Place in the Sun” Wilson was blacklisted in 1952 by Hollywood studios for the next 13 years. Wilson’s wife Zelma shared some years later that her husband was very opposed to the Korean War and it was those political views and opinions that placed a spotlight on him. Some sources do list Michael and Zelma Wilson as members of the American Community Party from 1938 until early 1956. Following the Hollywood blacklist the Wilsons moved to France where Michael continued to write under assumed names. This work included screenplays for “The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955), “Friendly Persuasion” (1956), “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957), “The Two-Headed Spy” (1958) and “Tempest” (1958). After the blacklist was lifted, he wrote the screenplays for “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), “The Sandpiper” (1965), “Planet of the Apes” (1968) and “Che!” (1969)
Michael Wilson died of a heart at the age of 63 on April 9, 1978 in Ojai California. There are 26.5 linear feet (53 boxes) of his papers at University of California at Los Angeles.
Wilson was posthumously awarded the 1958 “Kwai” Oscar in 1985. He was also nominated for 1962’s “Lawrence of Arabia,” but did not receive that credit until 1995. When “The Friendly Persuasion” was released in 1956 there was no screenwriter credit, and it wasn’t until 1996 that Wilson’s name was added.