It was 20 years ago today that screenwriter, novelist Stirling Silliphant died in Bangkok, Thailand. I remember sitting in my office at the Bureau of National Affairs in Washington, DC seeing the news on the AP wire. I was shattered. I didn’t know him, never met him, but he was a huge influence, mainly through the route 66 TV series that he wrote for CBS from 1960 to 1964. That series has been called the best ever written for television.
I couldn’t work the rest of the day. I called up Fred Blosser a fellow Silliphant fan. We’d followed his work since the sixties. He had a long career with lots of ups and downs, including winning an Oscar, but nothing he wrote later ever equaled his 66 output. He had complete creative control on that series.
In 1999, three years after he died I made a trip to the UCLA Charles Young Library and gained access to some of the 35 boxes of material he had donated before expatriating to Thailand. It was there, in that library, holding his actual manuscripts in hand, that I realized it all starts with a man putting words on paper. In my own humble way, I decided to try and do what he did. I was late to the game, but I’ve managed to turn out a few things that I feel he would recognize were his influences.
In one episode of 66 one of his characters said of her short-lived marriage: “How can anything so brief, be so enduring?” So it is with Stirling’s four brief years on route 66. His words, his thoughts, his emotions endure, and so do we.Thanks for making us believe that, somehow, it’s all worth it, Stirling.