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As one of the most highly acclaimed screenwriters of the 1930s and 40s, Dudley Nichols (1895-1960) helped elevate the screenplay to a serious literary form and raised the status of screenwriters in Hollywood. Born in Wapakoneta, Ohio, he attended the University of Michigan from 1914-1917 and worked in the university’s radio laboratory as a student assistant. Both this position and two years of subsequent Navy service developed Nichols’ technological skills: he invented a new type of electronic discharger for commercial radio companies and a new method for electrical protection of minesweepers. The U.S. Navy used Nichols’ method to sweep up 50,000 mines in the North Sea at the end of World War I, and he received a Distinguished Service Medal in 1920. Starting out at the New York Evening Post and then switching to the New York World, where he worked alongside other notables like Dorothy Parker and Heywood Broun, Nichols spent ten years in New York as a columnist, court reporter, and theatre critic. Despite professing no knowledge of film, Nichols was invited to Hollywood in 1929, when writers were being recruited to help with the new talking pictures. He wrote over sixty screenplays, including Bringing Up Baby (1938), Stagecoach (1939), and The Bells of St. Mary's (1945). Nichols became the first person to turn down an Academy Award in 1936, rejecting his Best Screenplay Adaptation for The Informer due to conflicts between the Academy and the Screen Writers’ Guild, which he helped found. He served as the Guild’s president from 1938-1939.
A letter from Dudley Nichols to Evelyn Scott, 1926