"I always maintained what I hoped was a very loving set -- a very calm and quiet set. My essence of what I learned and what I loved as a director was working with actors, working with the writers on the script, and essentially working with actors to interpret and to stage and to make changes as necessary.... It was a wonderful way to work."
About This Interview
In his four-hour Archive Interview, Delbert Mann (1920-2007) talks about studying at Yale Drama School and his transition to television following his service in the Air Force during World War II. He speaks of his days during the war and his further inspiration to pursue theater after seeing various productions at the Old Vic in London. He talks about joining NBC in the summer of 1949 as a floor manager and describes working as a director for the first time on the series Theater of the Mind. Mann relates 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 speaks 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. He describes his celebrated production of "Marty," written by Paddy Chayefsky, originally produced for Philco and later made into an Academy Award-winning feature film. He comments on several of the actors he worked with in television including, Grace Kelly, E. G. Marshall and Laurence Olivier. Lastly, he discusses several of his most notable made-for-television movies including David Copperfield and All Quiet on the Western Front. B-roll consists of photos from Philco-Goodyear Playhouse, Jane Eyre, Producer's Showcase: "Our Town," David Copperfield and All Quiet on the Western Front. Morrie Gelman conducted the interview on May 20, 1997 in Los Angeles, CA.
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).
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.
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)
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
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.
Wuthering Heights, New York City Center, 1959.
A Quiet Place, 1956; Speaking of Murder, 1957; Zelda, 1969; The Glass Menagerie, 1973.
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.