If ever a screenwriter demonstrated an aptitude for taking pulpy, schlocky material and elevating it to the level of art, Jack B. Sowards was he. Time and again, on numerous and disparate assignments, this process became Sowards' unofficial, undeclared motif. Born in Texarkana, AR, Sowards enlisted in the Marines as a young man (in 1947) and studied drama at the University of Texas at Austin. His premier assignments were uniformly small acting roles in inconsequential war features such as Hell Squad (1958) and Tank Commandos (1959), but in the following decade, Sowards unveiled an aptitude for screenwriting and established himself as one of the hottest properties on that circuit. He evinced particularly strong finesse via his authorship of episodes of Bonanza and The Streets of San Francisco through the early '70s, then authored a series of made-for-television features, the best of which was undoubtedly Cry Panic (1974), done for producer Aaron Spelling. A now-forgotten suspenser in the Hitchcock vein (which also recalled Fritz Lang's Fury), the premise involves a seemingly ordinary man (John Forsythe) who becomes unwittingly waylaid in a corrupt Southern town and accused of murder, en route to a job interview in California.
Sowards' best-known accomplishment, however, is unquestionably his authorship (screen story and screenplay) of a little movie called Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). This sophomore (though not by any means sophomoric) entry in the venerable Trek franchise cleverly combined elements of warm human drama, biblical themes, cold-blooded gross-out horror, and sharp, subversive humor to -- again -- raise the series and the sci-fi genre to new and theretofore unseen heights. In so doing, it both pulled from a classic episode of the series and paved the way for future big-screen Star Trek installments, after the disappointing first entry nearly decimated the possibility. Sci-fi aficionados have been deeply grateful ever since.
In the last years of his life, Sowards taught film and television at UCLA. He died on July 8, 2007, at age 78, from complications of ALS and COPD.
~ Nathan Southern, All Movie Guide