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									        “Lucky Man”

Delbert Mann, A Biographical Essay

         By Stephen Doster
“Lucky Man”                                                                                      Page 1

      Some men decide what they want to do with their lives at an early age. Others realize

their callings later in life. Delbert Manns’ revelation occurred in one split moment while

piloting a B-24 above the skies of Nazi Germany.

      “My decision that life is awfully short and that one had better ‘seize the day’ was

made on a morning in August 1944. I had had breakfast that day with a bombardier of

another crew, a boy from Texas whom I barely knew. We got to talking about what we

might want to do if we were lucky enough to survive the war. He said, ‘I think I’d like to

be a poet.’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t know, but I think I’d really like to go into the theatre.’

We agreed to talk further at a later time. It was a special low-level mission, bombing by

three-plane elements, hitting small crossroads and bridges to prevent German

reinforcements from being moved up against Patton’s Third Army. In briefing, I saw

where my friend’s plane was in the element directly ahead of ours. We had just turned

onto our bomb run, and I was watching his plane over the target perhaps a thousand yards

ahead. I saw it take a direct hit just before ‘bombs away.’ The ship blew up. There were

no parachutes. At that moment, and I remember it so distinctly, I made a decision.

Succeed or not, I simply had to at least try to do what I really wanted to do. The Group

lost only one plane that day. Ten men. One of them wanted to be a poet. I have only

recently learned that his name was Rufus Burns. Who knows what he might have


      Several decades before that eventful day, his father, Delbert Martin Mann, Sr.,

returned from another war, World War I, to earn a degree in sociology at the University

of Kansas. There, he taught, scrimped and saved for a Ph.D. he would never earn due
    “The Papers of Delbert Mann,” Edited by Sara Harwell, Vanderbilt University, The Jean and Alexander
    Heard Library, 1993, Harwell, 1993, pp. 8-9.
“Lucky Man”                                                                                      Page 2

to what were cryptically described as illnesses and disasters of various kinds.

     On a cold day in Lawrence, Kansas, January 30, 1920, Delbert Mann, Jr. was born to

Delbert, Sr. and Ora Mann. Both parents were educators, and, as such, were open to new

ideas, new concepts, and ways of thinking – habits inculcated into Delbert that would

serve him well later in life. Though he adored his mother, it was his father whom he

revered, acknowledging Delbert, Sr., “a very gentle and sensitive man,”2 as a guiding

hand that influenced his decisions and actions throughout his life. The Great Depression,

nine years later, put the elder Mann’s Ph.D. hopes out of reach for good. Instead, he

accepted a succession of teaching jobs that relocated the family over the course of the

ensuing decade first to Bucknell, then the Universities of Chicago and Virginia, and

finally Scarritt College located in Nashville, Tennessee.

     Scarritt, now a part of Vanderbilt University, was at that time a Methodist training

school for missionaries and social workers. Mann’s father remained there from 1931

until his retirement in 1958, also teaching courses at Peabody College, a women’s school

for teachers, and Vanderbilt.

     Mann’s mother taught as well and was an active social worker in Nashville, teaching

courses in sociology. She later became an executive for the state of Tennessee

Department of Welfare. His younger sister would become a schoolteacher, while his

older sister became a doctor.

     Mann’s interest in the theatre began in 1935 as a freshman at Hume-Fogg High

School in Nashville where he observed an upper classmate named Dinah Shore perform

    Letter to Bob McGuire, February 15, 1982. Special Collections and University Archives, The Jean and
    Alexander Heard Library, Vanderbilt University, Box 92.
“Lucky Man”                                                                           Page 3

as Jo in Little Women. At Hume-Fogg he would meet another major influence in his life,

a drama teacher named Inez Bassett Alder, who taught public speaking and debate for

grammar schools throughout Nashville.

      “Mrs. Alder was the one who inspired Delbert to get into this drama business,” recalls

high school and college classmate Andromedia Noel. “He first started out as an actor.

Why she picked him out, I don’t know. He was this pink-cheeked, tall, skinny boy. So it

wasn’t for his physical appeal. But she saw something in him.” 3

      Alder staged ambitious productions including Shakespeare and plays based on

classical literature by Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo, as many of Mann’s own later

television and movie productions would be. In his senior year, Mann became president

of the Dramatic Club.

      In 1937 he entered Vanderbilt University where he became active in the student

newspaper, The Hustler, student council, and intramural sports. Here he would meet

three more people who had a profound influence on his life and career. At the time,

Vanderbilt had no fine arts department or theatre organization, but there was an active

local community theatre led by a young and inspiring director named Fritz Kleibocker, a

Yale Department of Drama graduate.

      Kleibocker proved to be another major force in Mann’s life along with Fred Coe, a

classmate who would lead the way in theatre and television and serve as a life-long


      “For the four years that I was in college,” Mann recounts, “I spent most of my waking

    Interview with Andromedia Noel, November 14, 2006.
“Lucky Man”                                                                                       Page 4

hours at the community theatre, mostly acting, some work backstage… It was the best

thing that happened to me.” 4 In addition to stage productions, Mann participated in local

radio dramas – his first experience with the broadcast media.

      He also met a young lady in the registration line the first day of college, a Nashville

native named Ann Caroline Gillespie. Elizabeth and Risley Lawrence, two Vanderbilt

classmates remember those halcyon days. “I was very intimate with Ann Caroline,” says

Elizabeth, “because I lived with her, her mother, and her aunt. Her father was not


      It was during these years that Caroline Anne and Delbert Mann, both editors for the

school paper, began a courtship during which they slowly but steadily fell in love.

      “Where Ann Caroline lived,” Risley recalls, “there was a porte-cochere over the side

of the house. The driveway would go under it. I’d have a date with Elizabeth and take

her out in one car. Del would have a date with Ann Caroline and take her out in another

car. We would race to see who could get under the porte-cochere because it was a very

protected area, and you were pretty well hidden in there.”

      “The thing was,” Elizabeth adds, “we wanted to be the last car, because there was a

little necking going on before we said goodnight [laughs]. If we were in the last car, they

couldn’t see us neck!”5

      Mann graduated from Vanderbilt with a Bachelor’s degree in political science and

economics with the intention of going to the State Department or the Foreign Service.

He, like many people of his day (and today), considered the theatre a precarious and

    Oral history Research Office, Columbia University, Delbert Mann interview, March 1959, pp. 4-5.
    Interview with Elizabeth and Risley Lawrence, November 16, 2006.
“Lucky Man”                                                                                     Page 5

hazardous, even perhaps slightly shady occupation. For him, the stage would be an

avocation, as it was for so many of his fellow community theatre actors.

     The college years of relative tranquility came to an abrupt end with America’s entry

into World War II. At 6 foot 3 inches and 137 pounds, Mann failed several physical

exams and was classified 4-F, keeping him temporarily out of the service. In the

meantime, he took the best-paying job he could find, earning $25 a week in the mailroom

of the General Shoe Corporation, now known as Genesco. At the same time, Ann

Caroline found employment with the Nashville Banner newspaper as the paper’s second

female reporter. On January 13, 1942, after five years of courtship, they were married.

     Determined not to be drafted as a “ground-pounder” by Uncle Sam, Mann and Ann

Caroline began a campaign of milk shakes and high-calorie foods to fatten him up. The

morning of the Air Corps physical, he loaded up on bananas and water. As a result, he

passed muster and entered the service in November 1942 as a member of the Eighth Air

Force stationed at Norwich northeast of London near the English Channel.

     “I am quite sure,” he would write in his memoirs, “looking back on it, that the reason

I wanted to go into the Air Corps in 1942 was seeing Wings in 1929, a movie about flyers

in World War I.”6 Coincidentally, while teaching at the University of Kansas, Mann’s

father flunked a student named Charles “Buddy” Rogers, a Kansas boy, who would go on

to star alongside Clara Bow in Wings.

     By 1943, the attrition rate for bomber crews was so high that the odds a flight crew

would complete 25 missions were slim. The “Mighty Eighth,” in particular, suffered the

    Delbert Mann Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, The Jean and Alexander Heard
    Library, Vanderbilt University, Box 92, p. 1.
“Lucky Man”                                                                               Page 6

highest casualty rate of the allied forces.7 Fortunately for Mann, by the time he arrived as

a pilot, the German Luftwaffe had been decimated. However, dense flak from anti-

aircraft guns on the ground was still a deadly force. In addition, the flying fortresses

required brute strength at times to move the control column and rudder pedals when an

engine went out, and midair collisions in low-visibility weather were a constant hazard.

Above 20,000 feet, where the bombers routinely operated, temperatures dropped below


      Like most bomber pilots, Mann had his share of close calls, being “thoroughly

peppered” by anti-aircraft fire over Hamburg, limping home from Munich with two

engines out, and losing comrades left and right over the course of many missions.

      “What really convinced him to go into the theater was flying B-24s in World War II,”

Risley Lawrence recounts. “He saw his buddies shot down all around and survived them.

He made a vow right then – ‘If I get out of this, I’m going to do what I want to do!’” 8

      After 35 missions, including D-Day where he saw the entire invading force spread out

over the English Channel below, and flights over key German targets, Mann finished his

tour of duty in September of 1944, returning to the US in the summer of 1945 after a

short stint in Intelligence.

      On the slow ride back to the states aboard the Queen Mary, Mann had time to reflect

on the past and, more importantly, on his future.

    The New Georgia Encyclopedia, Mighty Eighth Air Forced Museum, www.georgiaencyclopedia.
    org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-2692. Accessed November 20, 2006.
    Lawrence interview.
“Lucky Man”                                                                                        Page 7

      “I was urged into that [acting] by a lot of people who loved the Playhouse, spent all of

their waking hours there, while they had jobs that they could just barely abide or didn’t

like or had no interest in,” he remembers. “A lot of them were people with a lot of talent

for theatre, sort of dreaming their lives away saying, ‘I wish I’d had the opportunity to go

into the theatre. That’s what I really wanted to do. I could have been good at it.’ And a

lot of them could have made a success of it, I’m sure; there were two or three people with

a lot of talent. In a way, that is my premise in Bachelor Party. Seeing these people who

ate their hearts out all their lives, some of them getting along fairly well in years, always

thinking, ‘I should have tried. I’d be able to live with myself if I’d tried and failed, but

not even to try it, that’s something else.’”9

      However, Mann realized that he didn’t have the ability or the personality to make it as

an actor. But his community theatre experience, inspired by Fritz Kleibocker, had given

him a new avenue of interest – directing. The next decade would be a learning process

for him – a process he was well prepared for by virtue of being raised by two educators

from whom he learned to appreciate new ways of thinking.

      He had made a promise to himself to enter the theatre if he survived the war. Now,

he would have to make good on that promise.

      Ann Caroline Mann backed up Delbert’s desire to pursue a career in theatre 100%.

Both his parents and hers, on the other hand, didn’t look so favorably on his decision.

But while he was serving in Europe, forces were at work back in the US that would help

smooth his way. Fred Coe, his old college and Playhouse chum, had gone to Yale for

    Oral history Research Office, Columbia University, Delbert Mann interview, March 1959, p. 9.
“Lucky Man”                                                                         Page 8

two years to study theatre at Fritz Kleibacker’s urging. During the war, Coe directed the

Town Theatre in Columbia, South Carolina before moving on to New York City where a

newfangled medium called television was on the ascent.

   Mann, following in his mentor’s footsteps, spent two years at Yale, doubling up on

theatrical courses and helping to stage plays at Yale and Wellesley College where he

learned various aspects of stage management. After finishing his coursework, and with

Fred Coe’s recommendation, he was hired as the director of the Town Theatre in

Columbia in 1947. Here, and for the next decade, he would learn the true meaning of

Eric Hoffer’s maxim, “In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find

themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

   Mann’s education in running a theatre began in earnest where, for very little money,

he produced six plays in two years, running ten performances of each. He was fortunate

enough to have the freedom to choose the plays and cast them in addition to fulfilling any

need designing and constructing sets, arranging stage lighting, building a dimmer board,

and selling tickets. It was backbreaking work earning about $200 a month, but he was

“in the theatre” at last and considered it a wonderful job.

   In the spring of 1949, Mann contacted Fred Coe in New York about possible job

openings there. By now, the Manns had the first of four children, and while community

theatre had been an adventure, there were practical considerations to think about, like

paying bills and planning for a growing family.

   Coe was at that time a five-year veteran in television. By summer, Mann was

working at NBC and looking for an apartment while Ann Caroline stayed in Nashville
“Lucky Man”                                                                                          Page 9

with their son. He roomed in a rundown hotel “hot as the hinges” while spending 18

hours a day working in the air-conditioned NBC studios.

      Here, Mann’s education began anew. Before coming to New York, he had never

even seen a television show. Now, he was on the ground floor, standing in the

background asking questions, learning all he could about camera angles, close-ups,

lenses, studio sound and lighting, and the like. Within a few months he was a floor

manager on Howdy Doody and directing Theatre of the Mind, a half hour show that

dramatized a psychiatric problem for 15 minutes followed by a panel of experts who then

discussed that problem for 15 minutes.

      Here, again, Mann’s timing was impeccable. Within a few months the network was

hiring additional directors and floor managers for fall shows.

      As he recalls, “I got in just before the door closed. There were several boys who

came in, in the same capacity that I did, just a matter of a few months after I joined the

network, who – four and five years later – were still waiting for promotion to director,

simply because by then there was no opportunity. When they closed the door, it closed

with a bang, and I got in just ahead of it.”10

      Several of the directors hired by the network were from the film industry. But the

pressures of live television proved too much for them. Coming from a theatrical

background, Mann was more than prepared for the constant last-second adjustments that

are part and parcel of live broadcasts.

      “I always compared the pressure of a live control-room to the pilot’s seat in a B-24

     Oral history Research Office, Columbia University, Delbert Mann interview, March 1959, p. 18.
“Lucky Man”                                                                                     Page 10

– both scared the hell out of me!” he writes.11

      “There are different problems associated with directors who move from theater into

live television or from movies into live television,” observes Paul Young, Director of

Film Studies at Vanderbilt University. “For a theatrical director, the most difficult

problem would be determining how to set up the scene for television and use multiple

cameras so that it wouldn’t look staged – as if television was supposed to imitate the

Proscenium Arch on the theatrical stage. One would have to figure out ways in which to

incorporate cinematic techniques, like the close up, as a way of accentuating a particular

reaction or a particular line of dialogue. Someone coming to television from film would

have to deal with the fact that you can’t later reconstruct a performance out of really good

footage from 15 different shoots – it’s a live performance, and therefore you have a very

different relationship to the audience and to the material in front of the camera. You’ve

got to figure out a way to balance between the power you used to have as a film director,

piecing together the best of the best from multiple days of shooting. With live television,

you have to rehearse and get it right with one shooting.”12

      After learning the mechanics of television production, Mann, at Coe’s instruction,

learned the subtler aspects of telling a story through the camera lens – changing camera

angles to capture an expression or moving in for a close-up to emphasize a particular line.

It’s an art not mastered by every director, even today. Television, for the first time,

created an intimacy between audience and actor. Coe was a great believer in close-ups,

primarily because of the small, 10 – 12 inch screens of most television sets at that time.

     Letter to Bob McGuire.
     Interview with Paul Young, Director of Film Studies, Vanderbilt University, November 15, 2006.
“Lucky Man”                                                                                    Page 11

Through Coe, Mann learned to use the camera to tell a story dramatically.

      Before long, at Fred Coe’s request, Mann was directing Philco Television Playhouse

productions, completing his journey from local community plays to nationwide live

television dramas that, ironically, allowed for a more intimate entertainment experience

through the camera than in a small auditorium. The pattern was the same as at the Town

Theatre – strike the set, read a new script, rehearse, build a new set, rehearse some more,

shoot the live performance, then start all over – albeit in a more compressed time frame,

much like the early days of silent films when a leading actor or actress might appear in a

dozen or more films a year.

      Productions included adaptations of classic literature like Sense and Sensibility,

Othello and Dostoevsky’s The Gambler, which Mann was no stranger to through his

work with classics at Hume-Fogg, the Nashville Community Theatre, and the Town

Theatre. It would be a trademark of his in film as well.

      In 1949, Mann directed five Philco Playhouse shows in addition to three Theatre of

the Mind and one Lights Out production. By 1950, he was directing 22 plays featuring

current stars and future notables such as E. G. Marshall, Hume Cronyn, Grace Kelly,

Leslie Nielsen, and Cloris Leachman.14

      Soon, Coe sought made-for-television dramas. One of the frequent contributing

writers was a man named Paddy Chayefsky. One day Chayefsky came up with the idea

for an original script inspired by a ballroom poster that read, “Girls, dance with the man

who asks you. Remember, men have feelings too.” Originally written about a shy,

reclusive girl who comes to a dance club, he changed the main character to an average,

     Delbert Mann, Looking Back, Directors Guild of America, Los Angeles, 1998, pp. 355-356.
“Lucky Man”                                                                                          Page 12

not-so-handsome man in his thirties still living with his mother. A third of the way

through the first draft, Mann telephoned Chayefsky to say he needed a replacement script

for one that had fallen through – and he needed it that week. The result, a rush job, was

Marty, a three-act play that would star Rod Steiger.

      By Friday morning, the cast sat in a small rehearsal room reading the first two acts.

A common problem directors faced was getting a cast “up” too quickly during the week.

If the actors peaked too soon in their enthusiasm and performance during rehearsals, the

live production could fall flat.15 With Chayefsky’s new script, however, Mann

encountered an altogether different problem – one he hadn’t previously experienced.

      “By the time it [the first reading] was finished,” he recalls, “several of the cast and

staff, including the director [Mann], found it difficult to contain their emotions.

Something in Marty’s longing and pain had hit a personal chord in everyone. We knew

we had a script of enormous potential in our hands.”16

      Mann’s theatrical background paid off working with Steiger, who had trouble

containing his emotions in certain scenes. With Fred Coe’s help, he convinced Steiger to

tone down the intensity and “Let the audience cry for you.”

      May 24, 1953, the night of the broadcast, Steiger and the cast performed flawlessly,

and the viewing audience responded. Studio phones began to ring before the show went

off the air – some in tears saying, “That’s the story of my life. Thank you.”

      But, unlike so many other made-for-television scripts up to that time, Marty didn’t

vanish from the public’s eye as the final credits rolled off the screen. Chayefsky

     Interview with early live television director, John Rich on Fresh Air, National Public Radio, broadcast
     November 13, 2006.
     Delbert Mann, Looking Back, Directors Guild of America, Los Angeles, 1998, p. 61.
“Lucky Man”                                                                               Page 13

convinced Mann to accompany him to Hollywood to shop Marty around as a movie


     At that time Burt Lancaster and Harold Hecht owned an independent film company,

Hecht, Hill, Lancaster. Hecht, a Bronx boy, immediately identified with the central

character. And though warned by some that Marty, the movie, wouldn’t earn a nickel, he

agreed to back the project. Chayesfky, who had previously had bad experiences with

Hollywood directors, insisted that Mann direct this film. Mann’s expenses would be

$10,000 plus transportation costs.

     In one respect, Mann was now following in the footsteps of his father, who had

journeyed through positions at five universities over the course of a decade when Delbert

was a child. Since coming home from the war, Mann had taken theatre courses at Yale,

run the community theatre in South Carolina, directed television in New York, and now

was set to embark on a whole new genre.

     In 1954, having never set foot on a film set, Mann headed to California. Any other

person may have been intimidated at the prospect. After all, he was now entering

territory uncharted even by his mentor, Coe. He had seen movie directors fail at live

television. Now, it was his turn to prove he could transition from television to film. On

the other hand, he had nothing to lose. He had succeeded in theatre and live television.

Ever the learner, Mann would now try his hand at moviemaking, which has been

appropriately described as “colossally complex, constantly frustrating, a torment that

engenders frenzy and despair.”17

     Benjamin Schwarz, “Orson Agonistes,” The Atlantic Monthly, September 2006, p. 106.
“Lucky Man”                                                                          Page 14

   Hecht advised Mann to visit the set of Vera Cruz, a Western starring Gary Cooper

and Burt Lancaster being shot on location in Mexico. The director, Bob Aldrich,

graciously showed him the ropes, an example Mann would follow years later. His other

teacher on location was a fellow Southerner named Meta Rebner (Wilde), the script

supervisor. Mann went to school yet again, timing scenes, watching script, and making

notes to match the action from scene to scene for the director to use later. As with

television, he asked questions about lighting, film stock, camera lenses, and shooting film

out of continuity, something he had never had to do before.

   Nor had Mann ever had to deal with factors beyond his control outside of the theatre

or television studio – crowds, weather, and background sounds. Since Marty, the movie,

would be a relatively low-budget affair, and Hecht, Hill, Lancaster had other ongoing

projects, Mann was left alone to cast the actors, develop the script – which had to be

expanded from a 48-minute television drama to a feature length film – and shoot the

picture as he pleased.

   What both Chayefsky and Mann agreed upon was that Marty would be cast with

“real” people, wearing little or no makeup, shot almost like a documentary to achieve as

much authenticity and realism as possible. By then Mann had developed his own

directing technique, which called for authenticity in every part of production, down to the

knobs on dresser drawers and buttons on actors’ shirts. Chayefsky had been burned by

movie studios before and didn’t want his script to be glamorized or “Hollywoodized.”

That meant shooting outdoor scenes in New York City, not on a movie back lot made to

look like a city street. Steiger was his first choice to play Marty, but Hecht correctly

thought audiences wouldn’t pay to see the same show they had already seen for free on
“Lucky Man”                                                                           Page 15

television. He recommended Ermes Effron Borgnino, a second-generation Italian who

went by the stage name Ernest Borgnine and who had earned a reputation playing the

villain in From Here to Eternity starring Frank Sinatra.

   Even though Mann had worked previously with Borgnine, he was not convinced that

he had the depth, the tenderness and the simple honest emotion require for Marty. But

when he and Chayefsky caught up with the actor on location in Death Valley and had him

read from the script, they immediately knew they had their leading man.

   Still under obligation to produce Playhouse television shows, Mann went to work on

Marty, bringing to the film many of the same techniques he had developed to create

realism in his Playhouse productions. His “static” camera brought the viewer into close,

intimate contact with the actors, a technique that would become Mann’s signature. The

final result would change his life. Without Mann’s knowing it, the Hecht-Lancaster

Company held private screenings of Marty. Mann’s former high school classmate, Dinah

Shore, by then a Hollywood insider, sent him an effusive telegram that only hinted at the

response to come from the general public. Marty would go on to win the Cannes Film

Festival award for best picture and the Bambi, the Berlin Festival’s top honor.

   After its release on April 11, 1955, the public and critical acclaim was just as

enthusiastic. Before the dust settled, the film would go on to win the 1955 Academy

Awards for best picture, best actor, and best director – an astonishing feat for a first-time

movie director. It was also the first original television drama made into a film that won

the award. It had gone up against heavyweight movies that came out that year – Mister

Roberts, Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing, East of Eden, and Rebel Without A Cause –

and won. The film nobody thought would make a nickel made money hand-over-fist.
“Lucky Man”                                                                        Page 16

The TV director who had to be reminded that scenes could be re-shot instead of being

printed after the first take – who had been coached on the basics of film production only a

year before – was walking away with the biggest prize in Hollywood. Borgnine took

home the top honor over Sinatra, James Dean, James Cagney, and Spencer Tracy. Some

of Hollywood’s legendary directors, including Elia Kazan, a former Broadway stage

director, watched from the sidelines as the best director trophy went to Mann.

   But for Mann, there was no time to savor the moment. Just as he had done in

Columbia and New York – “rehearse a show, do it, strike it, and then start the next one”14

– he was eager to tackle the next project.

   Marty would prove to be Mann’s magnum opus. It would serve as a springboard for

more projects that focused on social issues, including movies such as Bachelor Party,

another Chayefsky script about five men on a marathon pub crawl who reflect on their

lives and marriages, and The Unforgiven, a film on which he served as the first director,

that made a statement about modern day race relations under the guise of miscegenation

among whites and Indians in the old west.

   “The 1950s, in terms of film, were a period of intensification of the Cold War,” notes

Sam Girgus, a professor of Film Studies at Vanderbilt University. “Very little was

stirring about racial concerns other than films like The Searchers and The Unforgiven. In

the ‘50s there was a strong social consciousness in films and the people who made them –

an influence that came out of the New York experience. There were all kinds of

wonderful productions on Philco Playhouse, and Studio 1. Television had a
“Lucky Man”                                                                                     Page 17

transformative social aspect to it.”18 And, Mann, along with Kazan, of Studio 1 fame,

brought that transformative experience to the big screen.

            “Delbert was very much taken with the power and the opportunities of film as a

serious and significant medium,” says long-time friend John Poindexter, Former Vice-

Chancellor of Alumni and Development at Vanderbilt. “He took the power and the

opportunities film afforded very seriously.” 19

          “Delbert’s mother and father were very much concerned about social issues,”

recalls Miriam Cowden, another close friend and former high school and college

classmate of Mann. “His parents were quite an influence on him.” 20

          Mann admits that there may be a connection between his father being a sociology

professor and the fact that he’s done so many films dealing with sociological problems.

“The climate I’ve grown up in and worked in formulates what I’m interested in and how I

see things,” he wrote. “Each one of the scripts has a point to make about people living

together, getting along together, their problems in this, and their attempted resolutions.”21

          Having begun his career as an actor, he was well prepared to handle the inevitable

conflicts that often arise on a set. During the filming of That Touch of Mink, one of Doris

Day’s top grossing films, he handled with aplomb her insistence on having her face

filmed exclusively from the left side from the camera’s point of view. The only problem

was that Cary Grant, her co-star, also favored his left side. In one pivotal scene, they

were to appear side-by-side in an automobile. When Day saw the stand-ins take their

     Interview with Sam Girgus, Professor of English and Film Studies, Vanderbilt University, November 15,
     Interview with John W. Poindexter, November 10, 2006.
     Interview with Miriam Cowden, November 13, 2006.
     Oral history Research Office, Columbia University, Delbert Mann interview, March 1959, pp. 51.
“Lucky Man”                                                                           Page 18

positions for the lighting setup, she promptly turned and left the set in tears. In the end,

the incident was resolved without either party being offended. (Grant, ever the

gentleman, conceded to Day’s wishes). In another instance, Mann’s diplomatic skills

were pushed to the limit during a stage production starring Vivien Leigh, who was on the

backside of her career and suffering from severe depression.

      Those who have worked with him are generally lavish with praise. Patricia Neal

referred to him as “a heavenly man,” while Walter Matthau described Mann as “sensitive

and intelligent; a rare combination for a director.” Angela Lansbury called him “a

gentleman of our business.”22

          There is a photograph of Mann on location during the filming of Dear Heart in

the Old Penn Station in New York City during the fall of 1963. 23 It freeze-frames, in one

moment in time, a man at the height of his powers. Mann, with a high forehead giving

way to sandy, wavy hair, sits in his director’s chair with one foot casually propped up on

a camera dolly. He is surrounded by sound, light, and camera crews. In the background

a crowd of onlookers crane their necks, perhaps to catch a glimpse of a movie star. From

the side, he could be mistaken for a famous actor, possibly William Holden. One

bystander carries an upscale department store sack; another clutches a mink coat. A

Coca-Cola clock tower behind them indicates that the time is 1:25 in the afternoon.

Mann is talking, probably discussing the day’s shoot. But the face is that of a listener, an

observer, a kind face. It’s the photograph of a man who has something to say with the

     The Papers of Delbert Mann, pp. 120, 121, 18.
     The Papers of Delbert Mann, cover and p. 87.
power to pick and choose how and when to say it – a man who has taken the risks and

worked for next-to-nothing to pursue his true calling, now enjoying the fruits of his labor.
“Lucky Man”                                                                                      Page 19

          Though caught up in the perpetual whirlwind of television and film projects,

Mann was ever aware of the world at large, particularly the Civil Rights Movement

sweeping America at the time. Several incidents, which he never mentions in his

memoirs, underscore his commitment to his fellow man – just like his father’s – and are

illustrative of Mann’s character.

          The first occurred in 1962. When offered a position on the Vanderbilt University

Board of Trust, Mann responded in writing about two items of paramount importance to

him – maintaining Vanderbilt’s scholastic integrity and enrolling minority students. “As

to integration of the university,” he wrote, “I want to see our Alma Mater a school of

which I can be proud in every way. This may mean taking the difficult but hard and right

way. Vanderbilt must be a part of the times in which it exists. This means it must have a

form of integration. Its wonderful facilities must be open to students of quality and

ability, regardless of race, color or creed.”24

          Forty-five years later, Vanderbilt still ranks at the top of Southeastern Conference

schools and among the top in the country in terms of SAT and ACT scores.25 The

university also ranks fourth among the nation’s top schools in the percentage of African

Americans who comprise the freshman class.26 While Mann can in no way claim credit

     Letter to Eric Wilson, April 6, 1962. Special Collections and University Archives Department, Jean and
     Alexander Heard Library, Vanderbilt University.
     Survey, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, November 2006.
for either of these achievements, his position and influence as a long-time member of

Vanderbilt’s Board of Trust has contributed to steering courses of action regarding

integration and athletics that the university has chosen – or not chosen – to pursue.
“Lucky Man”                                                                         Page 20

          John Poindexter, who served as Secretary of the Board of Trust meetings for

several years, remembers that Mann never shied away from speaking up for his beliefs

during meetings. “He feared that a big emphasis on winning games would diminish the

thrust of what he considered a traditional Vanderbilt education,” Poindexter says. “On a

number of occasions, in the presence of some of those men who would say, ‘The finest

lessons of my life I learned on Curry Field,’ I saw his eyebrows rise as if to say, ‘Poor

fellow.’ He held his position rather firmly while maintaining a high degree of diplomacy.

He was in no sense a ‘me-too’ board member. I think his speaking about integration was

important. He was a strong voice. The chancellor at that time had inherited a Board of

Trust that was decidedly Old-South conservative, made entirely of men. It had been an

old boys club for a long time. He [Mann] didn’t single-handedly bring about integration,

but his voice was an important conditioner, and Chancellor Heard knew that he could

count on Delbert to make a soulful and sincere statement at an opportune time. He

worked very quietly, systematically, and, I believe, effectively for the causes in which he

was particularly interested.”27

          Another board member, Miriam Cowden, remembers Mann’s effectiveness during

what could be described as a changing of the Board of Trust guard during the 1960s.

“Delbert had a great influence on the board. I do know that he was interested in

     Poindexter interview.
minorities. He spoke about certain issues, and because of his background he could do

that very easily. I think he was an enabler for the chancellor to move ahead with issues

like integration. And I think the board changed along with the South.” 28
“Lucky Man”                                                                                    Page 21

          In 1961 Mann pushed for the inclusion of blacks into the UCLA chapter of the

Kappa Alpha fraternity, writing to the Episcopalian chaplain there, “I do not believe it

[the Kappa Alpha Order] so far has accepted colored students. I trust that it will do so,

for segregation in any form is repugnant to me.” 29

          Six years later, in 1967, though he vehemently disagreed with Stokely

Carmichael’s views, Mann defended Vanderbilt Chancellor Heard’s decision to allow

Carmichael’s lecture to Vanderbilt students to take place, which some in the community

wrongly blamed for being the cause of riots that broke out around Nashville several

weeks later. “He must be faced. He must be understood,” Mann wrote. “And what

better way than to see him in person, to hear him, to question him, to learn about him?…

Do you honestly think a single Vanderbilt student was contaminated and corrupted by

hearing this demagogue?… I would find it hard to believe that hearing him advocate hate

and violence did anything but provide some insight into him and some understanding of

him. Isn’t that what education is for? And isn’t that the American way?”30

          In 1967 Mann began a five-year term as president of the Director’s Guild of

America – the first guild president who had come from the world of television. He was

instrumental in drafting a pledge “never again to participate in any way in the

     Cowden interview.
     Letter to Father Edward Crother, Episcopal Chaplain, UCLA, December 1, 1961. Special Collections
     and University Archives Department, Jean and Alexander Heard Library, Vanderbilt University.
     Letter to Mrs. Howard Huggins, April 29, 1967. Special Collections and University Archives
     Department, Jean and Alexander Heard Library, Vanderbilt University.
shaping of any entertainment that celebrates senseless brutality, aimless cruelty, pointless

and violent death,”31 which he and other guild members signed.

          And in the summer of 1973 when future baseball Hall-of-Fame member Hank

Aaron was closing in on Babe Ruth’s home run record, taunts and death threats followed
“Lucky Man”                                                                                  Page 22

his every move. That summer the slugger received another message, this one a letter

from a busy Hollywood director. Aaron replied: “Dear Mr. Mann, I want you to know

how very much I appreciate the concern and best wishes of people like yourself. If you’ll

excuse my sentimentality, your letter of support and encouragement meant much more to

me than I can adequately express in words. It is very heartwarming to know that you are

in my corner.”32

           “Delbert and Ann Caroline were both what you would now call ‘liberals,’” says

Andromedia Noel. “He was very broad-minded.” 33

           Mann, himself, attributes his sense of fair play for all people regardless of race or

creed to his father. “Dr. John Ferguson held my father’s funeral,” he writes. “He had

selected a poem by Leigh Hunt. That poem so spoke of my father who was a man who

loved his fellow men.” 34

     Letter from Mrs. David R. Lawrence, President, Marin Motion Picture & Television Council, July 1,
     1968. Special Collections and University Archives Department, Jean and Alexander Heard Library,
     1969. Vanderbilt University.
     Tom Stanton, Hank Aaron and the home run that changed America, New York : William Morrow, 1960,
      p. 14.
     Noel interview.
     Correspondence with author, November 28 th, 2006.

           Miriam Cowden observes that Scarritt College, where Mann’s father taught for

almost three decades, has “always been very much into the integration of people of all

races and nations.”35
“Lucky Man”                                                                                   Page 23

          In his own way, Mann fulfilled Scarritt College’s objective of being a training

school for missionaries and social workers, using his position as a television and film

director to address social issues on the big and small screens while using his influence

privately wherever possible to further the school’s – and his parents’ – ideals.

          During this period of his life, tragedy would visit the Mann family when Delbert

and Caroline Ann’s daughter, Susan, was killed in a car accident with her boyfriend.

          “Their car went off a cliff,” Elizabeth Lawrence recalls. “She was only 23. They

scattered her ashes over the Pacific Ocean. Delbert wrote a beautiful piece – ‘To Die Is

To Live.’”36

          “Her death affected him most seriously,” Risley adds. “His wife was a very

religious person, and that helped her through it better than Del.” 36

      For Mann, the crush of filming responsibilities provided one outlet. Over the course

of three decades, he directed 17 films, 37 made-for-television movies, one opera, and

four stage plays.37 Another measure of his character may be deduced by examining the

caliber of motion picture stars who gravitated to his sphere of influence. Renowned for

his “talent as a director” and “excellent taste”38 in his productions, the galaxy of film

     Cowden interview.
     Lawrence interview.
     See Appendix 1, Television, Film, and Theatre Credits.
     How To Direct For Television, Edited by William I. Kaufman, Hastings House, Publishers, New York,
     p. 80.

luminaries whose orbits coincided with Mann’s reads like a Who’s Who of Hollywood’s

icons – Grace Kelly, Henry Fonda, Lauren Bacall, Sir Laurence Olivier, Deborah Kerr,

Charlton Heston, Fredric March, Rita Hayworth – to name just a few. 39

          Some men’s lives are so full, so productive, that their salad days are inordinately
“Lucky Man”                                                                                      Page 24

long. Such is the case with Delbert Mann, who continued to direct until the early 1990s.

But in 1991, his wife contracted Alzheimer’s, a period Mann describes as seven years of

hellish torment.

          “It was our 50th class reunion when we began to notice that she was forgetful and

carried a little pad with her everywhere she went to write down notes,” Risley Lawrence

remembers. “That seemed strange because she had such a good mind. She was such a

good writer. She wrote a newsy, folksy column for a newspaper in California. Her name

was Ann Mann, so she called it ‘A. Mann’s World.’”40

          “But as I said when she was diagnosed,” Mann wrote in his memoir, Looking

Back, “we had fifty years of a perfectly wonderful marriage so I must not complain. I

have been so very blessed.”41

          In his memoir, Mann reflects on the “Golden Age” of television, of which he was

a part. He attributes its downfall in part to what he calls, “the completely un-American,

guilty-before-being-proven, guilt-by-association blacklist” which “generated mistrust,

panic and fear.”42

          In 1997, the Directors, Writers, Screen Actors, and Television and Radio Artists

     The Papers of Delbert Mann, Harwell, pp. 51 – 119. See also Appendix 3, Partial List of Actors &
     Actresses Mann Directed.
     Lawrence interview.
     Delbert Mann, Looking Back, Directors Guild of America, Los Angeles, 1998, p. 353.
     Looking Back, p. 130.
guilds brought together members and stars of the day to produce an evening titled

Hollywood Remembers the Blacklist, to publicly acknowledge past wrongs. Mann was

asked to come out of retirement to direct the show’s recording for archival purposes.

          Feeling that technology had passed him by, he reluctantly agreed to do the show.

“As the show day progressed, I slowly realized that I could still do it,” he wrote. “Pull all
“Lucky Man”                                                                            Page 25

the technical aspects of the show together, work with the cameraman to record the events,

select the shots and put them on the screen just like a live telecast of so many years ago.

It was a fantastic feeling to know that I could still do it. It made me know that I still had

some youth left.”43

          Most men approaching their 87th birthday – who rely on a cane for support and a

fulltime caretaker – are content to enjoy life’s pleasures, reminisce about past triumphs,

and leave complex endeavors such as film projects to a younger generation. Not so with

Delbert Mann. Almost sixty years after accepting the position as director of the Town

Theatre in Columbia, South Carolina, he still has his eyes set on the next play, the next


          “Let me tell you about his indomitable spirit,” says Elizabeth Lawrence, who

spoke to Mann in November of 2006. “What he’s planning to do is come back to

Nashville and direct a movie tentatively titled The Rescue of Fisk University.”44

          Regardless of the many projects Mann has worked on or will be a part of, his

name will always be inextricably linked to something he did at the age of 35, and for

good reason.

     Looking Back, p. 353.
     Lawrence interview.

          “I think you could argue that something like Marty is historic in its ability to take

an ordinary character and make a hero out of him,” says Girgus. “It was unusual in its

time, but has certainly become a standard today to have a hero who is much more human

and accessible. The classic Hollywood ‘everyman’ figures, like Jimmy Stewart or John

Garfield who played ordinary Americans, still had a certain kind of charisma and charm
“Lucky Man”                                                                        Page 26

and power that undermined the authenticity of what made them common. Whereas, the

humanity and ordinariness of Ernest Borgnine in Marty is unmistakable. That’s very

significant. And Mann was able to do that without making the character pathetic or

maudlin and was able to introduce a redemptive element and quality into the


          That is Mann’s ostensible legacy. And Mann, himself, considers his early film

technique “a fairly limited one,” lacking the scope of a Shane or Giant. However, a

closer examination reveals a prolific body of work that is always tasteful and refined,

never demeaning, often enlightening, and ever thought-provoking – a body of work

spanning five decades and media ranging from theatre, live television, film and opera to a


          But when asked which period of his life he considers to be the most personally

fulfilling, Mann doesn’t mention the theatre. He doesn’t talk about the Golden Age of

television or winning an Oscar for Marty. Instead, he invariably recalls his time in the

Air Corps.46 “I still look back on those days, frightened as I was, when we were flying

over Madgeburg, Lubeck, Kiel, Hamburg, Munich, Karlsruhe and all the rest, as perhaps

the most important of my life.”47
     Girgus interview.
     Correspondence with author.
     McGuire letter.
          “If you remember the film Saving Private Ryan…” he once said, “at the Omaha

Beach Cemetery in Normandy, when the old man comes up looking for a gravestone…

and he says, ‘Tell me that I’ve been a good man. Tell me I’ve had a good life.’ In

essence what he was saying was a thing that has often crossed my mind, which was the

same sort of thought. ‘Why did I survive and someone else didn’t? Why did Rufus
“Lucky Man”                                                                                       Page 27

[Burns] get it and I escaped?’ I hope I have made something of my life to make that

worthwhile – his sacrifice. Tell me I’ve had a good life. Tell me I’ve been a good man.48

I have been the most fortunate of people – a great life, friends, a wonderful wife and

family. I am a lucky man.” 49

           Lucky? When one considers the inordinate number of improbable encounters

allotted to one man over the course of his lifetime, “luck” somehow doesn’t seem to be

the appropriate word. Fortunate, perhaps. Blessed, certainly.

           Off the set, Mann has used his influence, as John Poindexter puts it, to “quietly,

systematically and effectively” pursue social matters of personal interest. His work

behind the camera, in the capacity of éminence grise, has allowed him to address social

issues via a palette of great writers and gifted actors projected on a wide canvas. It is

through the medium of film that his voice – and those of everyone who impacted Mann’s

life, including a poet who never returned from war – will be heard for generations to


     Delbert Mann, Excerpt from oral history interview, April 20, 1999. Special Collections and University
     Archives Department, Jean and Alexander Heard Library, Vanderbilt University.
     McGuire letter.

                                            Appendix 1
                               Television, Film, and Theatre Credits

Source: http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/M/htmlM/manndelbert/manndelbert.htm

Television Series

1949 Mary Kay and Johnny
1949 Lights Out
1949-55 Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse
“Lucky Man”                                                          Page 28

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
“Lucky Man”                                    Page 29


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


1959 Wuthering Heights, New York City Center


1956 A Quiet Place
1957 Speaking of Murder
1969 Zelda
1973 The Glass Menagerie
“Lucky Man”                                                        Page 30

                                     Appendix 2

                                 “Abou Ben Adhem”
                                   by Leigh Hunt

              Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
              Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
              And saw, within the moonlight of his room,
              Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
              An angel writing in a book of gold,
              Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
              And to the presence in the room he said,
              'What writest thou?' - The vision raised its head,
              And with a look made of all sweet accord,
              Answered 'The names of those who love the Lord.'
              'And is mine one?' said Abou. 'Nay, not so,'
              Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
              But cheerly still; and said 'I pray thee then,
              Write me as one that loves his fellow-men.'

              The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
              It came again with a great wakening light,
              And showed the names who love of God had blessed,
              And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.
“Lucky Man”                                                                   Page 31

                                      Appendix 3
                  Partial List of Actors & Actresses Mann Directed

Source: ”The Papers of Delbert Mann,” Edited by Sara Harwell, Vanderbilt University,
The Jean and Alexander Heard Library, 1993.

Lauren Bacall                  Charlton Heston                Raymond Massey
Pearl Bailey                   Rock Hudson                    Patricia Neal
Humphrey Bogart                Burl Ives                      David Niven
Ernest Borgnine                Grace Kelly                    Kim Novak
Michael Caine                  Deborah Kerr                   Walter Matthau
Jackie Cooper                  Burt Lancaster                 Sir Laurence Olivier
Tony Curtis                    Angela Lansbury                Lee Remick
Doris Day                      Charles Laughton               Cliff Robertson
Henry Fonda                    Vivien Leigh                   George C. Scott
Glenn Ford                     Tommy Lee Jones                Maxmilian Schell
James Garner                   Jack Lemmon                    Rod Steiger
Lillian Gish                   Sophia Loren                   Dick Van Dyke
Cary Grant                     Fredric March                  Susannah York
Julie Harris                   Eva Marie Saint
Rita Hayworth                  E. G. Marshall

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