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Alec Coppel Alec Coppel i(A46221 works by)
Born: Established: 17 Sep 1907 Melbourne, Victoria, ; Died: Ceased: 22 Jan 1972
United Kingdom (UK),
Western Europe, Europe,

Gender: Male
Departed from Australia: 1927
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Alec Coppel was born Alexander Coppel in Melbourne, the son of Maurice Coppel, a Melbourne-born financier, and Elizabeth Coppell, nee Affleck. He had a brother Albert and a sister Sarah Amelia.

He attended Wesley College, where he was involved in the Wesley College Dramatic Society: a newspaper report from 1925 notes,

'Special praise is due to those boys who took the parts of female characters in the plays presented by the Wesley College Dramatic Society, in the Playhouse. There was a large attendance, and the clever handling of the different situations was enjoyed by the audience. In "Help, Help," by Mr. Sewell Collins, the principal parts were played by Alec Coppel and Grant McIntyre, supported by James Blake and John Busat, who also took a leading part in Miss Gertrude Jennings's piece, "In the Cellar." The chief characters in Mr. A.A. Milne's "Wurzel-Flummery" were portrayed by Alec Coppel and Walter Scott.'

Source: 'Wesley Dramatic Society', The Argus, 26 August 1925, p.15.

In 1927, he went to England, intending to study medicine at Cambridge, but did not complete his studies, and instead began to write.

From the earliest days of his professional writing career, Coppel worked across multiple formats: his earliest produced play (Short Circuit) appeared onstage in 1935, and his first screenplay was filmed in 1937. This prepared the way for a career that exploited the possibilities of the many formats available to writers, as Coppel turned novels into plays, plays into radio scripts and films, films into novels, and short stories into television.

His first major success was the comic thriller I Killed the Count (1937), which was a West End success and played extended seasons in Australia and the United States. The play is typical of the textual intricacies that mark Coppel's career. Coppel novelised it in 1939, and adapted it for film twice himself (in 1948 and 1956). It was also adapted twice more by other writers: once for film (in 1939) and once as part of the anthology television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents (in 1957).

Between 1937 and 1940, Coppel had a number of other plays staged in London and on the English provincial theatre circuits, as well as writing films.

Coppel returned to Australia in 1940, to work as a theatrical director in Melbourne (directing Marie Ney in a series of pieces for J.C. Williamson Theatres). In Australia, he struck up a friendship and business partnership with actor Kathleen Robinson: the two co-founded Whitehall Theatrical Productions, which staged their plays in the Minerva Theatre, Sydney.

Coppel worked as director and producer for Whitehall Productions for three years, from 1941, staging a wide range of plays (see Stephen Vagg for more details). He also continued to write: one of the plays he staged was his own Mr Smart Guy (1941)–which, in his typical fashion, he adapted for the screen (in 1951) after he returned to the UK. He also produced works on a smaller scale during this period: the radio drama A Rum Affair, for example, was broadcast on the ABC in 1940.

His other involvements with Australian radio in this period included contributions to the long-running Macquarie Radio Theatre (which aired Sunday nights, 8pm, on 2GB): he was appointed to the position of producer for the series in late 1941, and newspaper articles announcing his appointment described him as 'the man who as dramatist and producer has been responsible for the rebirth of the Australian theatre over the past 12 months' (Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 17 December 1941, p.12).

Coppel severed his ties with Whitehall Theatrical Productions in April 1944, and shortly thereafter returned to England, where he returned to writing playscripts and novels, but also increased his involvement with the film industry.

He wrote a succession of thrillers and crime-comedies for British film producers and the burgeoning television industry, many of them based on his own plays (as with Two on the Tiles, filmed in 1951 and adapted from a 1939 play Believe It or Not) and novels (as with Mr Denning Drives North, filmed in 1952 from a 1950 novel).

His most successful film (or, at least, his most successful film unaccompanied by controversy) came in 1953: the Alec Guiness vehicle The Captain's Paradise, which made Coppel the first Australian writer to be nominated for an Oscar (for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story). Typically of Coppel, he later turned the story into a play.

In 1958, while Coppel was working in the United States, came the biggest film with which he was associated: Vertigo. But Coppel was the middle of three script-writers (all playwrights, and the other two American writers) to work on that project, and he had to lodge a protest with the Screen Writers Guild to gain a writing credit for the script, which would otherwise have been credited solely to Samuel A. Taylor.

Hollywood was also the site of Coppel's biggest success since I Killed the Count: the humourous thriller The Gazebo had been first produced onstage in New York, and was to enjoy an extended run in London in 1960. In the interim, it was filmed as a successful comedy starring Glenn Ford and Debbie Reynolds. (So successful was The Gazebo that it was later to be filmed once in West Germany and twice in France.)

Coppel's final credits were for the so-called 'sex comedies' The Bliss of Mrs Blossom (1968) and The Statue (1971).

He died in early 1972.

Most Referenced Works


  • Coppel is credited, along with J.B. Williams, with the 'scenario' for the 1940 film adaptation of A.J. Cronin's novel The Stars Look Down, but the actual screenplay is credited to Cronin and Williams.

  • In late 1946, Australian newspapers credited Coppel with a forthcoming dramatisation of Caryl Brahms and S. J. Simon's ballet-themed thriller novel, A Bullet for the Ballet (see, for example, the Sydney Morning Herald, 19 December 1946, p.15): the dramatisation was said to have been staged in London, and a televised version was broadcast on the BBC in late December 1947 (see, for example, the Times, 27 December 1947, p.2), but Coppel's name cannot be definitively connected to this adaptation.

  • In 1954, Coppel allegedly undertook a re-write of the script for Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (though it is unclear which stage of writing the script was at), but he was not credited for his contribution.

  • In the early 1960s, Coppel wrote an adaptation of Harry Kurnitz's play A Shot in the Dark (then running on Broadway and itself an English-language version of Marcel Achard's L'Idiote): the film was eventually made by Blake Edwards as a Pink Panther film (under the same title), after extensive re-writes and with no association with Coppel.

    See Sam Wasson, A Splurch in the Kisser: The Films of Blake Edwards, Wesleyan University Press, 2010, p.88.

  • Other films with which Coppel was associated include the following:

    Beau Brummel (1954), written by Karl Tunberg based on a play by Clyde Fitch, directed by Curtis Bernhardt, and starring Stewart Granger and Elizabeth Taylor. Stephen Vagg suggests that Coppel was involved in this film, but he is not credited.

    Boy on a Dolphin (1957), written by Ivan Moffat and Dwight Taylor from a novel by David Divine, directed by Jean Negulesco, starring Alan Ladd, Sophia Loren, and Clifton Webb. Stephen Vagg cites 1955 news reports that indicate Coppel worked on an early draft, but he is not credited on the final film.

    The List of Adrian Messenger (1963), written by Anthony Veiller from a story by Philip MacDonald, directed by John Huston, starring George C. Scott, Dana Wynter, and Clive Brook. Stephen Vagg suggests that Coppel was involved in an early draft of this script, but he is not credited on the final film.

    The Statue (1971), written by Denis Norden, directed by Rod Amateau, starring David Niven, Virna Lisi, and Robert Vaughan. Said to be based on a play by Coppel called Chip, Chip, Chip, but there is no indication that this play was ever produced.

  • Coppel is credited with 'story' for a number of films and television dramas. The use of 'story' in this context is ambiguous: it may refer to the scenario of the film, but in some instances it seems to refer explicitly to a short story published elsewhere. Coppel did publish short stories (see, for example, 'Guests for Dinner'), but nothing has so far been traced of any short stories that might have inspired these works.

    The following is a list of films and television episodes for which Coppel is credited with 'story':

    Woman Hater (1948), screenplay by Nicholas Phipps and Robert Westerby, directed by Terence Young.

    'The Exile' (1952), episode 36 of season 1 of anthology television series Tales of Tomorrow, screenplay by Edgar Marvin.

    'Circumstantial' (1957), episode 1 of season 1 of anthology television series Alcoa Theatre, screenplay by Leonard Freeman, directed by Andrew McCullough .

    'The Diplomatic Corpse' (1957), episode 10 of season 3 of anthology television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, screenplay by Robert C. Dennis, directed by Paul Henreid.

    'Together' (1958), episode 15 of season 3 of anthology television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, screenplay by Robert C. Dennis, directed by Robert Altman.

    Three episodes of The Four Just Men (1959-1960), a television series based on the novels of Edgar Wallace: episodes 1.2 ('The Prime Minister'), 1.6 ('The Beatniques'), and 1.27 ('The Man in the Royal Suite').

    'The Dark Pool', episode 29 of season 1 of anthology television series The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, screenplay by William D. Gordon, directed by Jack Smight.

    'One Step Down', episode 6 of season 1 of Kraft Suspense Theatre, screenplay by William D. Gordon and Barry Trivers, directed by Bernard Girard.

Awards for Works

form y separately published work icon The Captain's Paradise ( dir. Anthony Kimmins ) London : London Films , 1953 Z896644 1953 single work film/TV Romantic comedy in which Alec Guinness lives in a fool's paradise with two different wives: one in Gilbraltar who caters to all his domestic needs and one in Tangier who fulfils every wildly exotic desire. But the feathers fly when they learn of each other.
1954 nominated International Awards Academy Awards Best Writing, Motion Picture Story
Last amended 9 Sep 2013 15:11:40
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