Esteemed Director Delbert Mann Dies
David Copperfield, All Quiet on the Western Front,
Philco-Goodyear Playhouse and More
Los Angeles, CA — Delbert Mann, the director of the classic television productions of writer Paddy Chayefsky’s Marty and The Bachelor Party as well as their feature film adaptations, died Sunday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Mann, who had been suffering from pneumonia, was 87.
A native of Lawrence, Kansas, Mann grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, where his father taught sociology at Scarritt College. Mann graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1941. Following service as a bomber pilot in World War II, he attended Yale University’s School of Drama.
In 1947 he met producer Fred Coe, with whom he would establish a prolific collaboration in the era of live television, when he succeeded him at the Town Theatre, a community playhouse in Columbia, South Carolina.
Two years later, Mann moved to New York to work with Coe in television. In all the two did more than a hundred episodes of Philco-Goodyear Playhouse, a live broadcast that aired on Sunday nights. Marty and The Bachelor Party, both of which originally aired in 1953, were among the series’ most distinguished productions.
Marty was the story of a Brooklyn butcher who considered himself too average and unattractive to find love. His life is changed when he meets Clara, an equally shy but sweet woman with whom he begins a tentative, touching romance.
In the television version the leads were played by Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand, respectively. The 1955 movie adaptation won four Oscars: best picture, best director for Mann, best screenplay for Chayefsky and best actor for Ernest Borgnine in the title role. The film received four other nominations, including best supporting actress for Betsy Blair, who played Clara.
Marty also took the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival.
Mann’s big-screen adaptation marked an innovation in the manner and pace in which theatrical films were shot. By implementing techniques from his television experience, Mann shot the movie in just sixteen days, with three more for re-shoots. A typical schedule at the time was forty-five days.
In 1957, Mann brought similar methods to the theatrical film adaptation of The Bachelor Party, about five friends who get together for a night of revelry prior to one of them getting married.
This trajectory of a television production successfully migrating to the movies was indicative of a shift from the two mediums as autonomous rivals to a more complementary, synergistic relationship.
Mann continued to make feature films, including Separate Tables, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, That Touch of Mink, Dear Heart, Fitzwilly and Bronte.
While his movie career thrived, Mann continued to work in television, which, he said, provided him with a stimulus and creative fulfillment that he did not always receive from making movies.
His notable television credits include numerous literary adaptations, among them Heidi, David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, The Man Without a Country and All Quiet on the Western Front.
Mann’s production of Heidi drew the scorn of sports fans across the nation on November 15, 1968, when NBC cut away from the climactic moments of a closely fought New York Jets-Oakland Raiders football game to begin the broadcast at its scheduled time. As a result, millions of viewers did not see Oakland score two touchdowns to achieve a last-minute victory, 43-32. The notorious incident has been a part of TV lore ever since.
In addition to his Oscar for Marty, Mann earned numerous other awards. He was also nominated for three Primetime Emmys and served as president of the Directors Guild of America and earned
Mann’s wife, Ann Caroline, whom he married in 1942, died in 2001. A daughter, Susan, died in an automobile accident in 1976. He is survived by three sons, Fred, David and Steven, and seven grandchildren.
Services are scheduled for November 16 at Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church, as of press time.
Archive of American Television talks with Delbert Mann
In May 1997, journalist Morrie Gelman interviewed Delbert Mann for the Archive of American Television
During his discussion with Gelman, Mann talked of his studies at Yale Drama School and his transition to television following his service in the Air Force during World War II. He spoke how his war days made him realize the temporality of life and how he was further inspired during that time to pursue theater upon seeing various productions at the Old Vic in London.
Mann recalled joining NBC in the summer of 1949 as a floor manager and described working his first show as a director shortly thereafter on the series Theater of the Mind. He related how his experiences as a pilot during the war prepared him for television, comparing piloting a B-24 to sitting in the hot seat of a live television show.
He spoke in great detail about working with producer Fred Coe and their association on Philco-Goodyear Playhouse, one of the preeminent live television anthologies of the day. Plus, he described his celebrated production of Marty, written by Paddy Chayefsky, originally produced for Philco and later made into an Academy Award-winning feature film.
In addition to speaking of the actors he worked with in television, such as Grace Kelly, E. G. Marshall, and Laurence Olivier, he also talked of his many notable made-for-television movies like David Copperfield and All Quiet on the Western Front.
The complete interview is available for viewing at the AAT office, located on the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences plaza in North Hollywood. You may also view this four-part interview here at Google Video. Contact the Television Archive at (818) 754-2800 for more information.
To learn more about this life and works of this American Archive of Television personality online, please visit the Archive of American Television Update blog.