May 24, 1976 12:00 PM

Movie producer Bob Radnitz and screenwriter Joanna Crawford have always had a perfect relationship, except for one thing. “Getting married was our only mistake,” explains Radnitz. So Bob and Joanna divorced six years ago and started separate houses, separate careers and separate lovers—and have hit it off swimmingly ever since.

“We never broke up sexually,” Bob says. “It was more a matter of two careers. Joanna still attracts me physically, as well as being one of the most brilliant ladies and best writers around.”

As affairs now stand, Bob lives in the Malibu beach house they shared during their four years of marriage, while Joanna has moved into a three-story house in Hollywood Hills. While they sleep together from time to time, Bob’s other steady dates include an actress, a model, a nurse and a college student. Joanna sees an architect and has “lots of platonic friends.” And when Bob and Joanna are together? Says Bob bluntly, “We’re like two Bantam cocks—we’re hot.”

At the same time, Radnitz and Crawford’s careers are steaming up too. Long Hollywood’s most respected producer of children’s films that appeal equally to adults, Bob, 51, hit his biggest success with 1972’s Sounder. Joanna’s second novel, Primrose, was a Literary Guild selection last year, and her script about America’s first female union organizer will be a CBS-TV special. But the real confirmation of Radnitz and Crawford’s success in the no-bands-land of open divorce is that they’re working successfully together.

For Joanna, 34, the unusual divorce frees her from a domineering husband but gives her a valuable friend. “Our relationship is healthier now,” she thinks. “He can’t control me the way he did when we were married. He used to shut me in a room to write, and we could only see his friends, not mine. I let him do it to me. I had to leave him to grow up.”

An earlier coming of age also happens to be the subject of Birch Interval, their second husband-and-ex-wife collaboration (they made an earlier film while married). The film, which Bob produced with Joanna’s screenplay from her autobiographical novel, is being praised by critics for its rare sensitivity compared to the usual sugar-and-schlock of kids’ movies. Joanna drew from her own childhood in Pennsylvania’s Amish country. Her father, who raised Tennessee walking horses, and schoolmarm mother encouraged her writing skills, and by the time Joanna was 15 she had finished an unpublished novel. A brief teenage marriage to a Marine Corps officer left her with a daughter, Arionna, now 18, and a passion “to be a writer and to go to Hollywood.” She made it to California, but wound up supporting her literary habit with bit parts and modeling Jantzen bathing suits.

Bob fell into films as an asthmatic kid from Great Neck, N.Y. who escaped from loneliness with Saturday movie binges in Manhattan. (Stanley Kubrick still calls Radnitz “the only person who has seen more old movies than I have.”) He prepped at Connecticut’s Gunnery School and went to the University of Virginia, where he stayed on to teach English lit after graduation until he mustered courage to try Hollywood.

Once there, Radnitz worked his way up from the mailroom and script departments. In 1960 he persuaded 20th Century-Fox to finance his first feature, A Dog of Flanders, which he produced cheaply on location in Holland and Belgium (a practice he’s followed ever since in award-winning movies like Misty and Where the Lilies Bloom).

Bob met Joanna after she wrote him a 12-page letter (“She is one of the great practitioners of that lost art of letter writing,” he says) to persuade him to cast her in his third film, The Island of the Blue Dolphins. She lost the part but, to the surprise of both, won a husband. “I never wanted to get married,” Bob remembers of their wedding ceremony (held mostly for his mother’s benefit). “Joanna needed some kind of rock. We both thought it could work.” But, as Joanna tells it, “I got married because of Arionna. On one side I’ve always been a free spirit, but on the other a conventional mother. It wasn’t good for my daughter to see men sleeping over all the time.”

Both Radnitz and Crawford say they now have the life-styles they want. Bob is a practicing hedonist who, with his Caesar haircut, knotted bandanna and half-opened shirt, comes on like the stereotypical Hollywood producer. He’s a tennis junkie who rarely gets out of his whites, even at work. The idea of marriage remains anathema. “When I’m with the ladies I give them all my time and attention,” Bob allows. “But then I have to go off and be by myself.” Despite the demands of his unfettered private life, Radnitz is hard at work on two new films bankrolled as a part of his long-term deal with Mattel Inc., the toymakers. The family hour has made Radnitz newly marketable for TV, and next season ABC will broadcast his first made-for-TV movie, Mary White, a dramatization of William Allen White’s editorial on the death of his daughter in a riding accident.

Joanna recently landed a screen-writing plum, a one-month quickie cranking out Dino De Laurentiis’ King Kong in Africa, the cost-cutting spinoff of the new King Kong sequel. “I’m stronger than I used to be with other people,” she now believes. “But with Bob I sometimes revert to little girl lost.” He is pressing her for a new screenwriting project. Does that mean another marry-go-round is possible? Not a chance. “I still have fantasies about the peace and calm of marriage,” Joanna admits. “But my hunch is that writers shouldn’t be married. We want everything, and that’s too much to ask of another person.”

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