Nicholas Nayfack

Active - 1949 - 1957  |   Born - Jan 27, 1909   |   Genres - Drama, Western, Crime, Adventure, Science Fiction

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Biography by Bruce Eder

A highly talented but tragically short-lived producer, Nicholas Nayfack helped shepherd a brace of important movies at MGM during the late '40s and mid-'50s. The nephew of movie industry giants Nicholas Schenck and Joseph M. Schenck, Nayfack was born in New York City in 1909. He entered the movie business in the 1930s, and by 1937 was an associate producer at 20th Century-Fox. He moved over to MGM in 1939, initially as a member of the business affairs department, where he worked principally in negotiating contracts during the final flourishing era of the studio's fortunes. In 1949, Nayfack became a producer, making his mark early on with the notably dark topical drama Border Incident (1949), directed by Anthony Mann in the latter's MGM debut. Mann later credited Nayfack with bringing him the script for Devil's Doorway (1950), a groundbreaking western drama that helped define Mann's approach to the drama and re-define the treatment of Native Americans on-screen; Nayfack and Mann's enthusiasm for the project spilled over to the studio management, who authorized the casting of Robert Taylor, still a major star in 1950, in the lead role. These films, unusual subjects whose stories and tone made them stand out with audiences and critics, set the pattern for the bulk of Nayfack's career. His subsequent releases included the film noir No Questions Asked (1952), the newspaper drama The Sellout, and the boxing picture Glory Alley (both 1952). He fared well with the crime drama Rogue Cop (1954), but Nayfack's biggest success came in the then-unusual field of science fiction, with Forbidden Planet (1956), which became not only a huge hit, but a genre-defining classic. Alas, Nayfack died of a heart attack in early 1958, at age 49, and so never got to see Forbidden Planet achieve serious acceptance and long-term critical acclaim, or the "classic" status to which it rose in subsequent decades.

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