‘Laura’ — The Making of a Film Noir Classic, Part 46

Jay Dratler

Joseph “Jay” Dratler in a photo from the cover of his 1947 novel “The Pitfall,” listed on EBay at Buy It Now for $245.


Joseph “Jay” Dratler, who received the first screenwriting credit on “Laura,” is a somewhat obscure figure today — even finding a photo of him is difficult — so it’s worth exploring his life, at least briefly.

In addition to “Laura,” he is known for the Twentieth Century-Fox picture “Call Northside 777” (also with “Laura” screenwriter Jerome “Jerry” Cady).

”Call Northside 777” Script, Part 1 | “Call Northside 777” Script, Part 2

His novels included “The Pitfall,” “The Judas Kiss” and “Dr. Paradise,” and he wrote scripts for popular TV shows such as “Perry Mason,” “Naked City,” “Burke’s Law” and “The Addams Family.” In his final years, he wrote the play “The Golden Warriors” about the Trojan War, which was presented at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York shortly after his death.

The Making of “Laura” Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19 | Part 20 | Part 21 | Part 22 | Part 23 | Part 24 | Part 25 | Part 26 | Part 27 | Part 28 | Part 29 | Part 30 | Part 31 | Part 32 | Part 33 | Part 34 | Part 35 | Part 36 | Part 37 | Part 38 | Part 39 | Part 40 | Part 41 | Part 42 

James Ellroy to script remake of ‘Laura’

Dratler was born Sept. 14, 1910, and died of a heart attack Sept. 25, 1968, at the British-American Hospital in Mexico City, according to his Los Angeles Times obituary. He had moved from Los Angeles to Puebla, Mexico, three weeks before his death,  according to the New York Times.

He was a prolific writer of stories, screenplays, novels and occasional stage works (sometimes using the pen name George Comora) who attended the University of North Carolina (Class of 1932) from 1928 to 1931. His obituaries in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times say that he attended the University of Vienna and the Sorbonne, but this cannot be independently confirmed.

Dratler’s family and his early life are a puzzle for the conscientious researcher. We first find him in December 1929, at the age of 19, returning from college to visit his parents at 68-07 Amstel Boulevard in Arverne, N.Y. A 1927 issue of the Rockaway Beach Wave lists P. Dratler at 68-07 Amstel Blvd., and presumably this is his sister, Pauline.


Joseph Jay Dratler, Class of 1932, dies; Carolina Alumni Review, 1968.



Passenger records confirm that Dratler returned to the U.S. from Cherbourg, France, on Oct. 29, 1931, on the Europa, listing his address as 6807 Amstel Blvd., Arverne. He apparently made a second trip to Europe, arriving with his wife, Berenice, in New York from Antwerp, Belgium, on June 3, 1935, and listing his address as an apartment house at 14 Washington Place, N.Y.

The 1940 census lists him as living with his wife, Berenice, in Los Angeles. 14071 Roblar Road, Sherman Oaks.

14071 Roblar Road
14071 Roblar Road, Sherman Oaks, the home of “Laura” screenwriter Jay Dratler, via Google Street View.

After returning from his second trip to Europe, Dratler was employed by Knight Publications, working with several others to translate Manfred Schneider’s German novel “Goya” (1936) a fictionalized biography of the artist; and by Longmans, Green and Co. on “Zeppelin” (1937) by Capt. Ernst A. Lehmann — who died in the Hindenburg disaster —  “adequately translated from the German,” according to the New York Times.

Manhattan Side Street
A first edition of “Manhattan Side Street” listed at $150 by L.W. Currey Inc.




Dratler’s only pre-Hollywood novel, “Manhattan Side Street”  (1936), also published by Longmans, received a tepid review in the New York Times: “This is a first novel and, while gentle and sincere, of no particular meaning. Mr. Dratler writes with his thumbs and labors along in a most correct but quite clumsy compositional style.”

The July 1936 American Mercury review was more charitable, saying: “Mr. Dratler has written a careful and illuminating study of the people who inhabit America’s side streets.”

To be continued.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1944, Books and Authors, Film, Hollywood and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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