Gill Dennis, Screenwriter on 'Walk the Line,' Dies at 74
The Hollywood Reporter
By Mike Barnes
May 15, 2015
Gill Dennis, who co-wrote the screenplay for the acclaimed 2005 Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, has died. He was 74.
Dennis, who also penned Walter Murch’s Return to Oz (1985) and did the teleplay for the 1996 TNT Western Riders of the Purple Sage, starring Ed Harris and Amy Madigan, died recently at his home in Portland, Ore., according to the American Film Institute. No other details were immediately available.
With fellow students Terrence Malick, David Lynch, and Caleb Deschanel, Dennis was a 1971 graduate of the AFI Conservatory’s first class, serving as an intern on the 1970 Sam Peckinpahfilm The Ballad of Cable Hogue. He returned to the school in 1997 as a master filmmaker-in-residence and recently taught the incoming class in September.
He also oversaw screenwriting workshops in Ireland, Portugal, Scotland and Australia.
For Walk the Line, Dennis teamed with director James Mangold to adapt Johnny Cash: The Autobiography, published in 1997. The drama earned five Oscar nominations, with Reese Witherspoon winning for best actress for her portrayal of June Carter.
Dennis interviewed Cash for three weeks before filming; during one session, he asked the country superstar to draw the floor plan of the house where he grew up in Arkansas.
“He sketched with a palsied hand and I watched,” Dennis said in a profile story that was published in April. “I wanted to know everything — where the sun came into the house in the morning, where he listened to the radio and where he slept.”
“He’s the best writer who doesn’t like words,” Deschanel said in the piece. “He has an understanding of how things work and finds the right way of telling you something without saying it. That’s the best way to tell a story.”
A native of Charlottesville, Va., who attended Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh and served in the U.S. Army, Dennis worked as an uncredited writer with Murch on The Black Stallion (1979). He wrote and directed Without Evidence (1995), starring Angelina Jolie, and penned the screenplay for On My Own (1991), starring Judy Davis.
He also wrote the Showtime miniseries Home Fires, named as one of the top 10 television events of 1987 by Time magazine.
Dennis played “Man With Cigar” in Eraserhead (1977), written and directed by his pal Lynch, but his scene was left on the cutting room floor.
Dennis was married to actress Elizabeth Hartman, who received an Oscar nomination in 1966 for portraying the blind teenager who becomes romantically involved with Sidney Poitier’s character in A Patch of Blue. Suffering from depression, she jumped to her death in 1987, a few years after their divorce, at age 45.
Dennis wrote and directed the 1973 film Intermission, in which Hartman starred.
Survivors include his wife, Kristen — a daughter of Peckinpah — and two sons.
Born: 1941 Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S.A.
Died: 5/15/2015 Portland, Oregon, U.S.A.
Gill Dennis’ westerns – screenwriter:
In Pursuit of Treasure – 1972
Riders of the Purple Sage (TV) – 1996
The Ranch - 2007