Screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart Gives Provocative Athenaeum Speech

Douglas Day Stewart CM ’62 could have a movie made about his dynamic and tumultuous life story. 

But there would be no need: The famous screenwriter has already written four
movies that draw on his personal experiences, along with several other scripts’
worth of unpublished material. Known for his films such as The Blue Lagoon and An Officer and a
Gentleman
, Stewart returned to his alma mater on Feb. 24 to speak at the Marian Miner Cook
Athenaeum about the life of an artist. He also provided a roundtable discussion
for students interested in the film industry. 

However, the audience and
Athenaeum organizers were not expecting the words that came out of his
mouth.

Stewart called the Claremont McKenna College of his time
“a bastion of racism, chauvinism, and homophobia.” 

“I was sort of an outcast, and as an artist I did
not feel completely welcomed,” he said at the Athenaeum event.  

Taking electives at Scripps College and Pomona College let him pursue his academic interests, he added. 

Ben Tillotson CM ’14 and Andy
Willis CM ’15, the student fellows of the Athenaeum, wrote a letter to both TSL and the CMC Office of the President in
response to the presentation. 

“Mr. Stewart was brought to Athenaeum under the
pretext of being a successful screenwriter—something that is atypical for CMC
alumni,” Tillotson and Willis wrote. “However … Mr. Stewart
embodies some of the very worst aspects of the ‘typical’ CMC stereotype. Mr.
Stewart spoke very harshly about his time at CMC because of its ‘macho culture’
and lack of emphasis on the arts. However, he bragged about exploits like
breaking another student’s nose in a boxing match in the middle of North Quad.”

Stewart said that his life turned around the
summer before his sophomore year during a visit to Italy that involved a car crash,
manslaughter charges, and an escape to the United States. This story inspired a film that will be released this
upcoming year.

Although it may excite Hollywood, Tillotson and Willis wrote that Stewart’s presentation of the story was the “most disturbing part of his whole talk.” 

After graduating from CMC, Stewart joined the
Navy and later earned his master’s degree at Northwestern University with a Schubert
Playwriting Fellowship. Instead of pursuing theater, though, he began to write episodes for westerns and TV shows like Bonanza.

“I probably went into screenwriting
because I was a pragmatic Claremont businessman,” Stewart said. 

The screenwriter’s big break came with the Emmy-nominated made-for-TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. After this success, he was approached to write Blue Lagoon, a hit film famous for casting 16-year-old Brooke Shields in a role that required extensive nudity.  

The following year saw the release of An Officer and a Gentleman, a film that is based on a romance Stewart had in the Navy. Stewart’s next film, Thief of Hearts, was a flop, and his streak of hits ended.

A few years passed until Stewart remade The Scarlet Letter. In his version, which starred Demi Moore, he changed the ending of the Hawthorne story to add more romance to the story.

“I was always looking for a love story in my own life and wanted very badly to find true love, as corny as it sounds coming out of a man’s mouth,” Stewart said. “I wanted to see that come true. Therefore, I had to make it happen in fiction before I could make it happen in life.”

It may seem ironic that Stewart’s films
often appeal to women seeking romance films, given the attitude toward women he expressed in his speech.

“We also found him to be very misogynistic,” Tillotson and Willis wrote. “He spoke about each of his five marriages
over the course of his talk. With the exception of his current wife, he did not
refer to these women by name. Instead, he referred to them as ‘Pretty
Girlfriend,’ ‘Factory Girl,’ ‘Hot Actress,’ and ‘Stoney Joany,’ respectively.
He also described an ex-mother-in-law as a “lesbian built like a
linebacker.'” 

Some students found Stewart’s frankness—at least regarding his career—refreshing. 

“I was impressed with Stewart’s willingness to share his honest
opinion of both his creative inspirations and his insight into the cruel realm
of Hollywood politics,” Douglas Peterson CM ’15, an attendee, wrote in an email to TSL. “His overall appreciation of his life’s work, despite the
adversity he’s faced from Hollywood’s culture, left me inspired to pursue my
own creative endeavors with renewed vigor.”

Stewart emphasized his view that
“we are all artists.”

“When we look at ourselves as
artists, whether we are writers or sell real estate, then we are embracing our
art and doing our best work,” he said. “But a lot of times people put
artists off as a separate tribe. Maybe it’s because they are afraid of the
chaos of the artistic mind in themselves.” 

“We hope that CMC does not continue its relationship with Mr. Stewart,” they wrote. 

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