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Biography

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Overview (2)

Born in New York City, New York, USA
Died in Kingston, New York, USA  (pneumonia)

Mini Bio (1)

Playwright and author of sophisticated screenplays, a graduate of Bard College and Columbia University Law School. Howard Koch started out as a practicing lawyer in Hartsdale, New Jersey, but soon found himself dissatisfied with his career choice and began to write plays on the side. His first two efforts flopped on Broadway (respectively in 1929 and 1933). Nonetheless, Koch continued, undaunted, and had his first critical success with "The Lonely Man", produced at the Blackstone Theater in Chicago in 1937. On the strength of this work he was engaged by John Houseman to write dramatic material for Orson Welles' "Mercury Theater on the Air" radio program (his starting salary was $75 for roughly sixty pages of script). Koch re-wrote H.G. Wells sci-fi story "War of the Worlds" as "Invasion from Mars" for the famous Halloween broadcast that "panicked America". It had such an effect on the public that the "New York Times" ran the headline "Many Flee Homes to Escape 'Gas Raid From Mars'".

The following year Koch moved to Hollywood and was signed to a screenwriting contract by Warner Brothers (1939-1945). He achieved lasting fame through his felicitous collaboration with brothers Philip Epstein and Julius J. Epstein in adapting Murray Burnett's adaptation of the obscure play "Everybody Comes to Rick's" to the now classic Casablanca (1942). The Epsteins concentrated on the dialogue while Koch worked out the dramatic continuity. The three subsequently shared the 1943 Academy Award for Best Screenplay (Koch sold his Oscar at auction in 1994 for $184,000 in order to fund a granddaughter's school tuition). Before and after "Casablanca", Koch worked on a variety of other subjects, turning out polished screenplays for Errol Flynn's hugely entertaining swashbuckler The Sea Hawk (1940), an adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's steamy melodrama The Letter (1940), the patriotic flag-waver Sergeant York (1941) and the George Gershwin biopic Rhapsody in Blue (1945). His own personal favorite was his script for Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), a tender story of unrequited love set in Vienna.

Koch's reputation was sadly tarnished as a result of his work on Mission to Moscow (1943), the account of Joseph E. Davies, a former US ambassador to Russia. Although he was not particularly happy with this assignment, Koch was coerced into it by studio boss Jack L. Warner, who, in turn, was under pressure from the U.S. government to produce a picture that showcased the efforts of the Soviet Union in the fight against Nazi Germany. However, in 1947, at the height of the Red-baiting hysteria stirred up by senator Joseph McCarthy, Warner testified as a "friendly" witness before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), charged with "rooting out" Communist influence in the motion picture industry. Warner named Koch and other "liberals" as being Communist sympathizers, using the pro-Russian content of "Mission to Moscow" as "proof". This resulted in Koch becoming one of the so-called "Hollywood Nineteen" and finding himself being blacklisted by the industry in 1951. Unable to earn a living, he had little choice but to leave the country. Like other writers and directors in the same position, he moved to England where he continued to write screenplays under a pseudonym ("Peter Howard"). Returning to the US five years later, he bought a property near Woodstock, NY, and resumed writing plays for regional productions (as well as occasional film scripts).

In his memoirs, "As Time Goes By", Koch recalled how, early in the casting process, the stars of "Casablanca" were slated to be Dennis Morgan (!), Ann Sheridan and Ronald Reagan (in the Paul Henreid role of Victor Laszlo). Our appreciation of the classic film would have been rather different . . .

- IMDb Mini Biography By: I.S.Mowis

Spouse (2)

Anne Green (? - ?)
Lucy (? - ?)

Trivia (4)

He was on the blacklist of presumed Communists, but he and his wife were able to continue writing by moving to England and using pseudonyms.
Was the original writer/adapter of the famed Orson Welles' Halloween "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast. But it was Welles;' idea to change it to a radio reel.
In December 1994 he auctioned off his Oscar for Casablanca (1942) for $248,400 to help pay for a granddaughter's graduate studies.
Earned a law degree from Columbia University before turning to writing plays in the late 1920s. Progressed to writing radio scripts, and then screenplays.

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