Alice Arlen, a member of prominent American journalism families and a highly acclaimed author who cowrote the screenplay for the hit 1983 movie “Silkwood,” died at 75 at her Manhattan home on Monday after a long illness, her family said.
She was the niece of Newsday founder and longtime publisher Alicia Patterson and had just finished a biography of the publisher that is scheduled for release later this year.
Arlen also wrote a 1966 biography of her great-aunt, Eleanor Medill Patterson, owner and publisher of the Washington Times-Herald (which was bought by The Washington Post in 1954).
Arlen was born in Chicago on Nov. 6, 1940, to prominent attorney Jay Frederick Reeve and Josephine Medill Patterson, a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and sister of Alicia.
A graduate of Radcliffe College, Arlen roomed there with Frances FitzGerald, who later won a Pulitzer Prize for her book on Vietnam, “Fire in the Lake.”
After graduating in 1962, Arlen married James Hoge, a Chicago Sun-Times reporter who later became that paper’s publisher, and then publisher of the New York Daily News. They divorced and she married New Yorker writer Michael J. Arlen in 1972.
In addition to her work on “Silkwood,” Arlen wrote the screenplay for the 1985 Louis Malle film, “Alamo Bay,” about the conflict between local residents and immigrants from Vietnam over shrimp fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.
Her other screenwriting credits included “The Weight of Water” in 2002 and the TV movie, “A Thief of Time,” based on the Navajo police novel by Tony Hillerman.
She teamed with her friend Nora Ephron for “Silkwood,” a Mike Nichols film about Karen Silkwood, who died under suspicious circumstances in 1974 while investigating conditions at the Oklahoma plutonium factory where she worked.
Ephron, who died in 2012, had said in an interview that Arlen was “very brilliant at screenplays and at structure . . . [we] had a huge amount of fun doing it.”
They were nominated in 1984 for an Oscar for screenwriting direct for the screen, but lost to Horton Foote for “Tender Mercies.”
The actress Candice Bergen, who had known Arlen since the 1960s, said she was “a unique woman. She had a fantastic brain, was modest and had a big heart, and those do not always go together. . . . For all her intellectual accomplishments, she was so unself-aggrandizing.”
While much of Arlen’s writing drew public notice during her life, her family said this week that she was quietly active in land preservation and promoting the work of journalism.
She and her family donated land in Dubois, Wyoming, where they had a ranch, for the U.S. Forest Service to use as a refuge for bighorn sheep, and donated $1 million to the Nature Conservancy to create a community and visitor site in the area.
She ran the Alicia Patterson Foundation for several years and supported the work of journalists such as Gail Sheehy, David Burnham, Robin Wright, Leonard Downie and Orville Schell, her family said.
“She felt charity was something that should be done in the background,” Margaret Engel, director of the foundation, said in an interview.
Former Newsday reporter Bob Keeler interviewed many members of the Patterson family for his 1990 history of Newsday, and FitzGerald told him there was a similarity between Arlen and Alicia Patterson.
“They both had redhead temperaments, if there is such a thing,” FitzGerald said.
The upcoming book on her aunt — “The Huntress: The Adventures, Escapades and Triumphs of Alicia Patterson: Aviatrix, Sportswoman, Journalist, Publisher” — was cowritten by her husband.
Arlen is also survived by daughters Alicia Adams of Los Angeles, Jennifer Arlen of Manhattan, Caroline Arlen of San Luis Obispo, California, Elizabeth Arlen of Durango, Colorado, and Sally Arlen of Babylon; sons James Patrick Hoge of Oakland, California, and Robert Hoge of Los Angeles; brothers Joseph Albright of Jackson, Wyoming, and Adam Albright of Bend, Oregon; and sister Dinah Albright Rojek, of Meriden, New Hampshire.
Funeral details were not made public.