MANN, DELBERT

U.S. Director-Producer

Like many directors of television's "golden age," Delbert Mann came from a theatrical background. While studying political science at Vanderbilt University, Mann became involved with a Nashville community theater group where he worked with Fred Coe, who went on to produce the Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse. He received an M.F.A. in Directing from Yale School of Drama and then worked as a director/producer at the Town Theatre (Columbia, South Carolina) and as a stage manager at the Wellesley Summer Theater. When he first went to New York, Mann worked as a floor manager and assistant director for NBC.

In 1949, Mann began directing dramas for Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse, where he was one of a stable of directors that included Vincent Donahue, Arthur Penn, and Gordon Duff. During the 1950s, Mann also directed productions for Producers' Showcase, Omnibus, Playwrights '56, Ford Star Jubilee, and Ford Startime. Although he worked almost exclusively on anthology series, Mann also directed live episodes of the first domestic situation comedy, Mary Kay and Johnny.

Mann is perhaps most often identified with the Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse (and subsequent film) production of Paddy Chayefsy's Marty, which has been thought by many of today's critics to be one of the most outstanding original dramas produced by Fred Coe and the Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse. Although it did not receive outstanding reviews when it first aired, it was one of the first television plays to receive any major press coverage and more than one line in a reviewer's column. When Mann directed the film version of Marty two years later, he was awarded the Oscar for Best Director, and the film won the Cannes Film Festival and Oscars for Best Picture, Actor, and Screenplay. The film was nominated but did not win Oscars for Best Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, and Art Direction.

Many of Mann's works tackled social issues, such as the plight of the elderly in Ernie Barger is Fifty. However, the director contends that, at the time, the plays were not thought of in terms of their social issues--they were stories about people and "just awfully good drama."

Mann's theatrical training was a tremendous influence on his television work. Cameras are fairly static and actors are staged within the frame. At Coe's direction, close-ups were used only to emphasize something or if there was a dramatic reason for doing so. The static camera is particularly effective in the Marty dance sequence, which Mann filmed with one camera and no editing. Actors were carefully choreographed to turn to the camera at the exact moment when they needed to be seen. Combined with the crowded, relatively small set, the static camera focused the audience's attention on the characters and their sense of uneasiness in the situation. Chayefsky has credited the success of The Bachelor Party to Mann's direction noting that, through simple stage business and careful balancing of scenes, Mann was able to illustrated the emptiness of life in the small town and the protagonist's increasing depression.

Many of Mann's works are period pieces based on the director's own love of history, which he tried to recreate accurately. But historical context serves as background to the personal relationships in the story. The Man Without a Country, produced during the height of anti-Vietnam protests, is a patriotic story of love of country and flag intended to stir a sense of nationalism during the Civil War and, simultaneously, the intimate story of one man's oppression.

Mann shifted to filmmaking in the 1960s but periodically returned to television to pursue more personal, people-oriented stories in made-for-television films. Productions such as David Copperfield and Jane Eyre allowed him to, once again, tell stories of personal relationships in an historical setting.

Mann returned to his live television roots for the productions of All The Way Home (1981) and Member of the Wedding (1982) for NBC's Live Theater Series. These productions differed from live television in the 1950s in that they were staged as a theatrical production in a theater rather than a studio and were filmed with a live audience in order to show their reaction to the piece.

Mann has been nominated for three Emmy awards for directing: Our Town (1955, Producers' Showcase, 1955), Breaking Up (ABC special, 1977), and All Quiet on the Western Front (CBS special, 1979).

-Susan Gibberman

DELBERT MANN. Born in Lawrence, Kansas, U.S.A., 30 January 1920. Educated at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, B.A. 1941; Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, M.F.A. Married Ann Caroline Gillespie, 1942; three sons and one daughter. Served as First Lieutenant in U.S. Air Force during World War II: B-24 pilot and squadron intelligence officer, 1944-45. Worked as director of Town Theater, Columbia, South Carolina, 1947-49; stage manager, Wellesley Summer Theater, 1947-48; director, Philco-Goodyear Playhouse, 1949-55; began film directing career with Marty, 1954; freelance film and television director, since 1954. Honorary degree: L.L.D., Northland College, Ashland, Wisconsin. Former member, board of governors, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences; former co-chair, Tennessee Film, Tape and Cinema Commission; former president, Directors Guild Educational Benevolent Foundation, Cinema Circulus; former lecturer, Claremont (California) McKenna College; board of trustees, Vanderbilt University, since 1962. Member: Directors Guild of America (president, 1967-71). Address: 401 South Burnside Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90036, U.S.


Delbert Mann
Photo courtesy of Delbert Mann

TELEVISION SERIES

1949 Mary Kay and Johnny
1949 Lights Out
1949-55 Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse
1950 The Little Show
1950 Waiting for the Break
1950 Masterpiece Theatre
1954-56, 1957, 1959 Omnibus
1955 Producers Showcase
1956 Ford Star Jubilee
1956 Playwrights 56
1958 DuPont Show of the Month
1958-59 Playhouse 90
1959 Sunday Showcase (also producer)

MADE-FOR-TELEVISION MOVIES

1968 Heidi
1968 Saturday Adoption
1970 David Copperfield
1971 Jane Eyre
1972 She Waits (also producer)
1972 No Place to Run
1973 The Man without a Country
1974 The First Woman President (also producer)
1974 Joie (also producer)
1975 A Girl Named Sooner
1976 Francis Gary Powers: The True Story of the U-2 Spy Incident
1977 Breaking Up
1977 Tell Me My Name
1978 Love's Dark Ride
1978 Tom and Joann
1978 Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery
1978 Home to Stay
1979 All Quiet on the Western Front
1979 Torn Between Two Lovers
1980 To Find My Son
1981 All the Way Home
1982 Bronte
1982 The Member of the Wedding
1983 The Gift of Love
1984 Love Leads the Way
1985 A Death in California
1986 The Last Days of Patton
1986 The Ted Kennedy Jr. Story
1987 April Morning (also co-producer)
1991 Ironclads
1992 Against Her Will: An Incident in Baltimore (also co-producer)
1993 Incident in a Small Town (also co-producer)
1994 Lily in Winter

FILMS

Marty, 1954; The Bachelor Party, 1956; Desire Under the Elms, 1957; Separate Tables, 1958; Middle of the Night, 1959; The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, 1960; The Outsider, 1960; Lover Come Back, 1961; That Touch of Mink, 1962; A Gathering of Eagles, 1962; Dear Heart, 1963; Quick Before It Melts (also producer), 1964; Mister Buddwing (also producer), 1965; Fitzwilly, 1967; Kidnapped, 1972; Birch Interval, 1976; Night Crossing, 1982.

OPERA

Wuthering Heights, New York City Center, 1959.

PLAYS

A Quiet Place, 1956; Speaking of Murder, 1957; Zelda, 1969; The Glass Menagerie, 1973.

FURTHER READING

Averson, Richard, and David Manning White, editors. Electronic Drama: Television Plays of the Sixties. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press, 1971.

Hawes, William. The American Television Drama: The Experimental Years. University, Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1986.

Kindem, Gorham, editor. The Live Television Generation of Hollywood Film Directors: Interviews with Seven Directors. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1994.

Minor, Worthington. Worthington Minor (interviewed by Franklin Schaffner). Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1985.

Nudd, Donna Marie. Jane Eyre and What Adaptors Have Done To Her. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, 1989.

Shales, Tom. "When Prime Time Meant Live: NBC and Delbert Mann Revive a Golden Age." Washington Post, 20 December 1982.

Skutch, Ira, with foreward by Delbert Mann. Ira Skutch: I Remember Television: A Memoir. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1989.

Snider, Gerald Edward. "Our Town" by Thorton Wilder: A Descriptive Study of Its Production Modes. Ph.D. Dissertation, Michigan State University, 1983.

Squire, Susan. "For Delbert Mann, All the Problems of Live TV are Worth It." New York Times, 19 December 1982.

Stemple, Tom. Storytellers to the Nation: A History of American Television Writing. New York: Continuum, 1992.

Sturcken, Frank. Live Television: The Golden Age of 1946-1958 in New York. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1990.

Wicking, Christopher, and Tise Vahimagi. The American Vein: Directors and Directions in Television. New York: Dutton, 1979.

Wilk, Max. The Golden Age of Television: Notes from the Survivors. New York: Dell, 1977.

 

See also Chayefsky, Paddy; Coe, Fred; Golden Age of Television Drama; Goodyear Playhouse; Omnibus; Philco Television Playhouse