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HomeBollywoodCreator Of Controversial 'James At 15' Was 91

Creator Of Controversial ‘James At 15’ Was 91

Dan Wakefield, a prolific author and journalist who made television history when he created and wrote the controversial late-1970s drama James at 15 only to resign when NBC executives bristled over an episode’s depiction of teenage sexuality, died yesterday at a hospice facility in Miami. He was 91, and had been in declining health in recent months.

His death was announced by his attorney, Ken Bennett, to the Indianapolis Star. Wakefield was born and raised in Indianapolis.

In addition to James at 15 and various novels, Wakefield’s credits include the screenplay for the 1997 film Going All The Way, starring Ben Affleck and Jeremy Davies, based on his 1970 novel of the same name. The 1979 divorce drama Starting Over starring Burt Reynolds, Jill Clayburgh and Candice Bergen, written by James L. Brooks and directed by Alan J. Pakula, was based on Wakefield’s 1973 novel.

Born May 21, 1932, in Indianapolis, Wakefield began his professional career as a newspaper reporter in his hometown, then, after graduating from New York’s Columbia College in 1955, he wrote for such magazines as Harpers, The Atlantic Monthly and The New York Times Magazine.

He published his first non-fiction book, Island in the City: The World of Spanish Harlem. in 1959, with subsequent non-fiction books including All Her Children: The Making of a Soap Opera (1975) and How Do We Know When It’s God ? (1999), among many others.

Lance Kerwin, Kate Jackson ‘James At 15’ (1977)

Everett Collection

In addition to Going All The Way and Starting Over, his novels included Home Free (1977) and Selling Out (1985).

Wakefield was hired by NBC to develop and write the 1977 TV-movie and 1977-78 series that would become James at 15 (later James at 16), an early network attempt to meld the family drama of tamer fare like The Waltons with the more candid, socially aware content beginning to find its way to television. The series focuses on teenager James Hunter (Lance Kerwin) and the tribulations he confronts when his family moves from Canada to Boston.

Candice Bergen, Burt Reynolds, ‘Staring Over’ (1979)

Everett Collection

In an episode that would make headlines when it aired on February 9, 1978, James (by that point 16) lost his virginity to a Swedish exchange student (played by Kirsten Baker). Although the episode was considered groundbreaking at the time, Wakefield soon resigned from the show, saying he’d been pressured by NBC executives to tone down a direct reference to birth control, and to have James experience after-the-fact remorse. The series was canceled soon after Wakefield’s departure.

Wakefield leaves no immediate family survivors. He moved from Indianapolis to Miami following a stroke last year to be closer to his goddaughter Karina Corrales.

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