Saturday, October 10, 2009

Stuart Kaminsky 1934-2009

I just got home, and just received word that Stuart Kaminsky died on October 9. I don't know any more than that, except I know he struggled with Hepatitis C for a number of years--he was a CO and a medic in the Korean War, and I think he may have contracted the disease then--but I'm not sure. Stu was a prolific writer, and an important mentor for many writers, including me. No one understood the history of the noir form better, but his many different series covered many aspects of the genre. His Rostnikov books were so carefully researched that when he finally made it to Moscow, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the Mayor of Moscow came to meet him personally to praise Stu for his deep understanding of a city that he'd never visited.

Please add your own recollections of Stu here. I understand that the funeral will be in St Louis on Monday. Stu's energy was so phenomenal that it's hard to believe he isn't just around the corner, ready to turn in two or six more manuscripts.
The that has a bit more news than I was able to give.


Barbara D'Amato said...

Ah, Sara. I am so sad about this I don't have much to say. He was a wonder.

Libby Hellmann said...

When I was given the opportunity to edit Chicago Blues, I wrote emails to everyone I knew who was from Chicago or wrote about Chicago. Stuart got the email along with 60 others. FIVE days later, I got a story, which ended up being the first story in the anthology, and was nominated for an Edgar. When I asked him how he could have written a story so quickly that was so good, he laughed and said, "I was just inspired..." Would that we all have a little of his inspiration. And talent. He will be sorely missed.

Mike Dennis said...

I met Stuart in 2002, Sara. It was in Sarasota, and he told me the following story.

In the early 1980s, he was approached by representatives of the great Italian film director Sergio Leone. It seems Leone was preparing to do a massive film about Jewish gangsters in New York City, following them from their youth in the 1910s to old age in the 1960s. It would be called "Once Upon A Time In America" and would star Robert DeNiro, James Woods, and Tuesday Weld.

The project was sprawling in its scope, but Leone had a firm grip on it. He wanted Stuart to add some dialogue to the film, so they met one day to discuss it.

Through an interpreter, Leone mentioned he wanted Stuart to write in the American gangster idiom. He handed Stuart a copy of the script, and much to Stuart's amazement, it contained only camera direction and a few ideas (in broken English) as to what the characters might say in each scene. There was not one word of actual dialogue.

Stuart wrote every word of dialogue for that film, which became one of my all-time top 5 favorites (director's cut only--do NOT see the chopped-up studio version), and it lasted over three hours! He received credit at the end of the movie ("Additional Dialogue: Stuart Kaminsky"), while several individuals, all with Italian surnames, none of whom spoke English, were credited up front as the "Screenwriters".

Sara Paretsky said...

Mike, thanks for adding that lovely anecdote. Stuart was amazingly productive and energetic in many genres--and his work was always of impeccable quality.

Anonymous said...

My father was certainly a great writer. I was always afraid he would earn the respect of his contemporaries posthumously, but his Grand Master award from the Mystery Writers of America thankfully proved me wrong.

It should come as a surprise to no one that he was also a great father. He used to show me Sergio Leone movies in our basement on a film projector when no one had VCR's let alone TIVO. He took me to an all-night James Bond film Festival at the Coronet Theater when I was ten or eleven years old. He was never too busy to try help me with my problems, and he was a very affectionate man.

Sara, or anyone else who would like to know more about him or the circumstnces of his death are more than welcome to contact me at

- Peter Kaminsky