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Czenzi Ormonde a private person, prolific writer

This photo of Czenzi Ormonde is on the back cover of
This photo of Czenzi Ormonde is on the back cover of "Laughter from Downstairs," a novel she wrote in North Idaho in 1948. (Idaho / The Spokesman-Review)
Carl Gidlund Correspondent

A North Idaho novelist, short story author and screenwriter has passed out of our lives, yet few of us even knew she was here.

Czenzi Ormonde of Hayden, who wrote two novels, countless magazine pieces and several screenplays, died July 24 of complications from a broken hip. She was 98.

Although she spent most of the last 57 years here, she had few North Idaho friends because, according to her only son, Nick Ormande, “She was a very private person.”

Nick, Czenzi and her second husband, Art Heinemann, a Disney artist, were vacationing at the Desert Hotel in Coeur d’Alene in March 1947 when they fell in love with the area.

They bought a small farm off Ohio Match Road, then added to it over the years, even after Heinemann died here in 1960. It now covers 280 acres consisting of a tree farm, sawmill, gardens, greenhouse and fishing ponds.

Through the years, she commuted between North Idaho and Hollywood, writing in both places.

A Tacoma native of Dutch and Bohemian parents, Czenzi moved to Los Angeles in her teens, where, in 1926, she married furrier Frederick Ormande. He died 11 years later.

She worked in several motion picture studios’ secretarial pools and began developing her writing talent.

Czenzi sold her first short story to the Argonaut, a San Francisco-based magazine, in the early ‘30s. Over the years, she continued to produce fiction — Nick estimates about 50 short stories — for outlets that included the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, Liberty and Cosmopolitan.

A series of short stories in Cosmo became the basis for her first novel, “Laughter from Downstairs” published in 1948. It is a charming semi-autobiographical tale of a three-generation Bohemian family living in the Northwest, told from the perspective of a 9-year-old girl.

Czenzi noted on the book’s dust jacket that “parts of it were written with the aid of a flashlight tied on the end of a belt before the advent of electricity” at her North Idaho farm.

The Kraft Television Theatre adapted two of her “Laughter from Downstairs” stories for teleplays in the late 1940s.

Czenzi’s obvious gifts eventually gained her promotions to screenwriting.

Nick says his mother was working as a secretary and chauffer to Alfred Hitchcock, who never learned to drive. In 1950, “Hitch” had contracted with mystery writer Raymond Chandler to write a screenplay based on the novel “Strangers on a Train.”

Chandler and Hitchcock had a falling out and, at the director’s request, Czenzi rewrote the script for the Academy Award-nominated thriller. It was released in 1951 and remains a late-night television fixture.

In 1996, she was contracted to help write the script for “Once You Meet a Stranger,” a TV screenplay starring Jacqueline Bisset that was based on “Strangers on a Train.”

Other motion pictures for which Czenzi received full writing credits were “Step Down to Terror” and “1001 Arabian Nights.”

“Terror,” also known as “The Silent Stranger,” was produced in 1958. The thriller starred Rod Taylor, Marlon Brando’s sister Jocyln, and Colleen Miller, an actress from Yakima.

“1001 Arabian Nights” was a full-length animated comedy released in 1959. In it, Jim Backus voiced the leading character, Mr. Magoo.

According to her son, Czenzi also was a secretary to author Ben Hecht, worked for producer Samuel Goldwyn, contributed to Ernst Lubisch’s “Ninotchka” starring Greta Garbo, and to the Jack Benny picture, “To Be or Not To Be.”

She was a researcher, he says, for the 1939 epic “Gone With the Wind,” and other research, for Biblically-themed movies, led to her second novel, the 1954 “Solomon and the Queen of Sheba,” which she wrote in her North Idaho farm home.

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