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Bruce Jay Friedman, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of mermaid classic Splash, dies at 90

By Josh Grossberg
Bruce Jay Friedman

Bruce Jay Friedman, the novelist and Oscar-nominated screenwriter who made Tom Hanks fall in love with a fish in the fantasy rom-com classic, Splash, died Wednesday at his home in Brooklyn. He was 90.

His son, Josh, confirmed Friedman's death to The New York Times, saying his father had suffered from neuropathy, but that no cause has been determined.

With his deadpan humor and wry, satirical takes on male neuroses, especially Jewish ones, Friedman was best known for writing Splash, the 1984 Ron Howard-helmed hit that made a star out of a young Tom Hanks. The film followed his character, wholesale fruit and vegetable salesman Alan Bauer, as he falls in love with a mermaid, Madison, played by Daryl Hannah.

While Friedman originated the story and wrote the first draft, the screenwriting team of Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz came aboard for later rewrites and the trio shared screen credit as well as an Academy Award nomination for their work.

Friedman's other film credits include 1980's popular Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor buddy romp, Stir Crazy, as well as 1983's Dan Aykroyd vehicle, Doctor Detroit.

Stir Crazy

Aside from writing for the big screen, the Bronx native was equally acclaimed as a novelist, short fiction writer, and playwright.

Friedman's first book, Stern (1962), was a comedic look at New York Jews who escape to the genteel suburbs where they find themselves confronted by bigotry. A Mother's Kiss (1964) focused on a Jewish mother who pulls out all the stops to get her Brooklyn teen into an agricultural college in Kansas, and then follows him out there.

His short story, A Change of Plan, was adapted by playwright Neil Simon into 1972's Charles Grodin dark comedy, The Heartbreak Kid, directed by Elaine May (and later remade by the Farrelly Brothers with Ben Stiller). While his The Lonely Guy's Guide to Life served as the basis for the 1984 Steve Martin comedy The Lonely Guy.

Born April 26, 1930, Bruce Jay Friedman grew up in the Bronx and, after getting rejected from Columbia University, headed out to the Midwest where he studied journalism at the University of Missouri.

Among Friedman's other writings are novels The Dick (1970), About Harry Towns (1974), Tokyo Woes (1985), and Violencia! A Musical Novel (2002), plays Scuba Duba (1967) and Steambath (1970), and short works like Black Angels: Stories (1965).

He also acted, appearing in small roles in three Woody Allen films: Another Woman (1988), Husbands and Wives (1992), and Celebrity (1998).

Friedman is survived by his wife Patricia O'Donohue, three sons, a daughter, and three grandchildren.

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