Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Director Delbert Mann Passes On

Delbert Mann, who directed both the teleplay "Marty" and the movie based upon it, passed Sunday at the age of 87 from pneumonia.

Mann was born January 30, 1920 in Lawrence, Kansas. His father took a job teaching sociology at Scarritt College in Nashville and moved the family there while Mann was still young. Mann attended Vanderbilt University, and worked at the Nashville Community Playhouse. There he met Fred Coe, who go onto become a legendary television producer and with whom Mann often collaborated. Mann graduated from Vanderbilt with a degree in political science in 1941. During World War II he served in the Army Air Corps, piloting B-24 bombers. Following the war he earned a master's degree at the Yale School of Drama.
Mann directed regional theatre for a time before moving to New York to take a job as a floor manager at NBC in 1949. It was that same year that he received his first director's credit, for an episode of the anthology series Lights Out. He would go on to direct several episodes of Goodyear Television Playhouse, including "October Story," "Printer's Measure," and "The Rabbit Trap." In 1953 he made his name with an episode of Goodyear Television Playhouse entitled "Marty." Written by Paddy Chayefsky, it received much acclaim and is still highly regarded today. That same year he directed "The Bachelor Party," also by Paddy Chayefsky, to wide acclaim. Among the other episodes of Philco Television Playhouse that Delbert Mann directed were "The Life of Vincent Van Gogh," "The Pupil," and "Play Me Hearts and Flowers."

It was with his most acclaimed television presentation that Mann entered motion pictures. He directed the 1955 adaptation of Marty. The movie won Mann the Oscar for Best Director, Ernest Borgnine the award for Best Actor in a Lead Role, and Paddy Chayefsky the award for Best Writing, Screenplay. Despite his success with the film, Mann continued to work in television. He directed episodes of Producer's Showcase (including an adaptation of Our Town), Four Star Jubilee, Sunday Showcase, and Playhouse 90.

As the Fifties progressed,however, the anthology series of late Forties and early Fifties began to die out. Perhaps as a result, Mann increasingly turned towards directing motion pictures. He directed the 1957 adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky's The Bachelor Party, Desire Under the Elms, and Separate Tables all late in the decade. It was with the Sixties, however, that Mann came into his own as a movie director. He directed two classic Doris Day films, Lover Come Back (whose screenplay, by Stanley Shapiro and Beverly Hillbillies creator Paul Henning, earned an Oscar nomination for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay - Written Directly for the Screen) and That Touch of Mink. He also directed the films A Gathering of Eagles and Fitzwilly.

Although successful as a filmmaker, Mann's first love was television. After an absence from the medium for around eight years, Mann returned to it with a production that was more famous for interrupting a football game than anything else. Delbert Mann's version of Heidi was among the best adaptations of that novel ever made, but it would become best known as the movie for which NBC preempted a football game between the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets in 1968. Football fans were not happy and let NBC know this fact in droves. The rest of Mann's career would be spent in television. He would direct such telefilms as an adaptation of David Copperfield, an adaptation of Jane Eyre, The Girl Named Sooner, an adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front, Ironclads, and Incident in a Small Town. After 1968, he only returned to feature films a few times, directing the films Birch Interval, Night Crossing, and Brönte.

With roots on the stage, Mann also directed on Broadway. He directed the 1956 play Season of Murder and the 1969 comedy Zelda. He also directed productions of A Quiet Place and The Glass Menagerie. He also served as the president of the Director's Guild of America from 1967 to 1971 and served on the board of governors of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Delbert Mann was a director whose greatest talent seemed to be his work with his actors. Perhaps because of his background in theatre, Mann was able to obtain great performances from such actors as Ernest Borgnine, Carolyn Jones, and Rock Hudson. Whether teleplays or movies, his work was always character driven. If movies such as Marty and Lover Come Back still hold up today, it is largely becasue of the performances Mann received from his performers and his focus on themes that remain timeless.

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