Screenwriter Kurt Luedtke, Oscar Winner for ‘Out of Africa,’ Dies at 80

Dave McNary
·2 min read

Kurt Luedtke, who left journalism for Hollywood and won an Academy Award for his “Out of Africa” screenplay, died Sunday in Michigan after a long illness. He was 80.

The Michigan native died at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, the Detroit Free Press reported. He had worked at the newspaper starting in 1965 and was part of the paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the deadly 1967 riots in that city. He became its executive editor before departing at the age of 33 to pursue a career as a screenwriter.

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Luedtke was able to sell Orion Picture his idea about a liquor warehouse owner whose life is almost destroyed by a reporter relying on an anonymous source. The film became Sydney Pollack’s “Absence of Malice,” starring Paul Newman, Sally Field, Melinda Dillon and Wilford Brimley, leading to Academy Award nominations to Newman for actor, Dillon for supporting actress and Leudtke for original screenplay.

Luedtke teamed with Pollack again and wrote the screenplay for 1985’s “Out of Africa,” based on the Isak Dinesen books written by Karen Blixen about her life in Kenya in the early 20th century. Starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep,”Out of Africa” won seven Oscars in 1986, including best adapted screenplay for Luedtke, best picture, and best director for Pollack.

Luedtke partnered with Pollack for a third time for 1999’s “Random Hearts,” starring Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas, and adapted the thriller from the Warren Adler novel.

He also worked on early versions of the script for Stephen Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” and on “Rain Man” with Pollack before it became Barry Levinson’s project. Despite his success in the industry, the screenwriter declined to move to California, preferring to reside in Michigan.

Luedtke is survived by his wife Eleanor, whom he married when both were at the Miami Herald prior to his joining the Free Press.

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