From ‘Made it, Ma – top of the world!’ in 1949’s White Heat to ‘Morning, Angels’, ‘Morning, Charlie’, in the quintessential 1970s series Charlie’s Angels, Ivan Goff enjoyed the longest Hollywood screenwriting career to out of any Australian to date.
Goff was born in Perth in 1910, the son of two concert musicians. At 15, he began writing for a local newspaper, but soon became dissatisfied by the isolation he felt. "Living in Australia made me crazy," he later said in an interview. "It took a month for a book to get to Australia, a year for a play and forever for an idea.
Goff eventually moved to England and in 1933 he published a recollection of his voyage, No Longer Innocent. Goff worked in several jobs, including as a bookie, while trying to break into journalism. He eventually found work with the Daily Mirror, which in the mid-1930s sent Goff to Los Angeles as the paper’s Hollywood correspondent. He decided to settle there, and became a staff writer at Republic Studios, where his work included uncredited contributions to several of the westerns in The Three Mesquiteers series, and a Gene Autry vehicle, Sunset In Wyoming (1941). He also wrote a comedy at Warner Bros., My Love Came Back (1940).
During the war Goff joined the Army Signal Corps where he found himself making wartime propaganda shorts at the former Astoria Studios in Long Island, New York. There he met Ben Roberts, a fellow writer who had also worked at Republic. One day over lunch Roberts told Goff of an idea he had for a short story that lacked an ending. Goff came up with an ending and suggested that they turn it into a play instead of a short story. Working at night over a period of 13 months, they completed the play, which was called Portrait in Black and had a short run on Broadway in 1947.
At the end of the war, Roberts and Goff decided to remain as a team, and wrote Prejudice (1949), a short feature about anti-Semitism made by the Protestant Film Commission. They also wrote a screenplay based on a Ben Hecht story, The Shadow, which was never filmed, but which attracted the interest of Warner Bros. who hired them to rewrite a murder mystery, Backfire (1950). Their work on that film impressed the studio enough to sign them to a five-year contract.
Although Goff and Roberts considered themselves primarily comedy writers, Warners saw them as action men and assigned them to rewrite another script, a gangster story called White Heat (1949). White Heat was based on a story submitted to the studio by Virginia Kellogg, which had been inspired by a real-life robbery. Goff and Roberts turned Kellogg’s story inside out, making it a semi ‘Greek tragedy’ about a gangster with a mother complex. James Cagney agreed to star and the result was an electrifying classic that still holds up today. Kellogg was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Story, but, under Academy rules of the time, Goff and Roberts weren’t.
From the Australian Writers' Guild.