Nunnally Johnson

Active - 1933 - 1967  |   Born - Dec 5, 1897   |   Died - Mar 25, 1977   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Musical, War, Romance

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Starting out as a reporter in his native Georgia, Nunnally Johnson worked his way up the journalistic ladder to the New York Herald Tribune. A prolific writer, Johnson contributed fiction to such periodicals as The New Yorker and The Saturday Evening Post; one of his Post stories was adapted for the screen as the 1927 Clara Bow vehicle Rough House Rosie. Unlike other Manhattan-based writers, Johnson was attracted to film work. When his proposal to write movie criticism for The New Yorker was turned down by editor Harold Ross in 1933, Johnson decided to move to Hollywood, where he immediately found work as a screenwriter. Well known for his laconic, biting wit, Johnson became a close friend of several other well-known Tinseltown quipsters, notably Groucho Marx. His movie career was briefly jeopardized in the late 1930s when, under a pseudonym, he wrote a less than flattering Saturday Evening Post profile of powerful gossip columnist Louella Parsons. The crisis passed, and Johnson remained incredibly busy, particularly at 20th Century-Fox, where from 1935 onward he toiled as both screenwriter and associate producer.

Among the many films benefitting from Johnson's expertise was 1940's The Grapes of Wrath, which co-starred Dorris Bowden, a budding leading lady who gave up her career to become Johnson's wife. In partnership with onetime Fox executive William Goetz, Johnson formed International Pictures in 1943, turning out such projects as Woman in the Window (1944) and The Stranger (1946) until International merged with Universal in 1946. Johnson returned to Fox as a producer, handling many of the best early CinemaScope efforts, notably 1953's How to Marry a Millionaire. He turned to directing in 1954 with the literate murder mystery Black Widow; though not terribly proficient visually, he had a sharp ear for intelligent, scintillating dialogue, as proven by such films as The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit (1956). Johnson's best directorial efforts include the pioneering multiple-personality drama Three Faces of Eve (1957) and the sprightly all-star comedy Oh, Men, Oh Women (1957). While sweating through a difficult location shoot during the making of The Angel Wore Red (1960), Johnson suddenly decided he was too old and too wealthy to continue knocking himself out as a director, and he returned exclusively to screenwriting. Two years after his last film, The Dirty Dozen (1968), Johnson announced his formal retirement ("I simply put on my top hat and tails -- and retired"); a collection of his letters to and from famous friends was published posthumously in 1981.

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