It has always bothered me that Christopher Fry did not get more credit for the work and writing he did on BEN HUR. [The studio] brought Fry in (after Gore Vidal) to work on making the language more appropriate to the times. As you know, the Writers Guild gave Karl Tunborg the full screenplay credit for BEN HUR. What attention do you think other writers who work on a film should get?
BEN HUR came out in 1959. It would be comforting to think that in the 40+ years since then, the process of determining who should get credit for writing a screenplay would have been perfected. Unfortunately, it’s just as controversial as ever.
Screen credits are a huge, sticky mess that pits writers against writers. In fact, there is currently a major debate within the WGA about a proposed redraft of the Screen Credits Manual, the guidebook used by every arbitration panel. If you’re curious, you can read more about the issue in "A Credit Forum" at the WGA website.
In particular, one of these changes would have probably benefited a rewriter like Christopher Fry, since it addresses how much "story" credit a screenwriter gets when incorporating elements from a novel (like BEN HUR).
I’ve been through several arbitrations, one of which got ugly. I’ve also rewritten scripts for which I haven’t sought credit. In both cases, I truly believe there needs to be some sort of "Additional Writing" credit to acknowledge writers who have contributed to the script. It’s frustrating that a screenwriter can spend six months working on a film without having his name in the final credit scroll, while the caterer’s assistant is there for the world to see.