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An American writer who went to England to work for the U.S. Air Force in the mid-1950s and stayed on after his tour, John Briley is best known for writing the screenplay for "Gandhi," the 1982 epic which earned him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Briley's first writing was actually in public relations for General Motors in his native Michigan. It was not until after her rejoined the Air Force in 1955 and was sent to England for five years as director of orientation at a base there that he took up writing full-time. Briley was a staff writer with MGM in Elstree, England, from 1960-64, through which he earned his first screenplay credit when he co-authored the adaptation the Norman Collins novel "Invasion Quarter" (1961). In 1972, he wrote "Pope Joan," which starred Liv Ullmann in the fact-based story of a woman who disguised herself as a man and became head of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1978 came "The Medusa Touch" with Richard Burton as a man who wills the death of others. But few of Briley's screenplays became acclaimed films before "Gandhi" (1982), which he followed with "Enigma" (1983), a thriller starring Martin Sheen as an agent out to stop five crack assassins from killing five Soviet dissidents. In 1987, Briley wrote the script for "Cry Freedom," the story of a South African newspaper editor who is moved by Steven Biko to lobby against apartheid and then must free the country. Briley also produced with Richard Attenborough, who had hired him to write "Gandhi." The following year, Briley wrote "Sandino," about the Nicaraguan leader who fought American imperialists in the 1930s, and in 1992 came "Christopher Columbus: The Discovery."
Briley has written occasionally for TV, including the BBC series "Hits and Misses" (1962) and "The Airbase" (1965), derived from his own experiences in the Air Force. He has had two plays produced on the British stage, "Seven Bob a Buck" (1964) and "So Who Needs Men!" (1976), and has also written two novels.
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Rose to rank of captain in US Air Force
Earned first screenplay credit, co-writing "Invasion Quartet"
Wrote for British series, "Hits and Misses"
Had first play produced, "Seven Bob a Buck"
Wrote screenplay for "Gandhi"
Wrote and produced "Cry Freedom"
Credited with the screenplay for "Christopher Columbus: The Discovery"
Penned the script for "Molokai: The Story of Father Damien"