November 15, 1890|
New York, New York
|Died||March 10, 1957
Woodland Hills, California
Samuel Ornitz (November 15, 1890 – March 10, 1957) was an American screenwriter and novelist from New York City; he is notable as one of the "Hollywood Ten" who were blacklisted from the 1950s on by movie studio bosses during the era of McCarthyism due to being held in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify. In his later years, he wrote novels, including Bride of the Sabbath (1951), which became a bestseller.
Early life and education
Born in 1890 in New York City, New York to an immigrant Jewish family from Eastern Europe, Ornitz attended public schools and Hebrew School. His father became a successful dry goods merchant who wanted his sons to go into business with him. From an early age, Ornitz became interested in socialism, giving street talks at the age of 12. He also was interested in writing.
Unlike his brothers, Ornitz was not interested in following their father into business. Wanting to fix social problems, he started at age 18 as a social worker for the New York Prison Association (1908–14). He next worked for the Brooklyn Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (1914–20).
His first literary success was his debut novel Haunch, Paunch and Jowl (1923), an "anonymous autobiography" about his Jewish roots, which gained national notice. It contains an early use of stream-of-consciousness writing in American fiction, a style popularized by Irish writer James Joyce in his novel Ulysses.
In 1928 Ornitz moved to California to work in motion pictures, which was a booming industry as "talkies" were being introduced. The next year he worked on his first screenplay for a Hollywood film. Up until 1945, he wrote or co-wrote another twenty-nine screenplays. These included The Case of Lena Smith (1929), Chinatown Nights (1929), Hell's Highway (1932), Imitation of Life (1934), about a young mixed-race woman who passes as white; Mark of the Vampire (1935), Follow Your Heart (1936), Army Girl (1938), Little Orphan Annie (1938), They Live in Fear (1944), about Nazi Germany; and Circumstantial Evidence (1945).
In 1931, Ornitz collaborated with Theodore Dreiser, John Dos Passos and other left-leaning writers on the report of the Dreiser Committee, an investigation of the Harlan County War, a miners' strike in Harlan County, Kentucky that was violently suppressed by private police hired by mine owners. This inspired his short play, "A New Kentucky", published in The New Masses in April 1934.
Samuel Ornitz died of cancer in 1957 in Woodland Hills, California, aged 66.
- Samuel Ornitz at the Internet Movie Database
- Samuel Ornitz, Haunch, Paunch and Jowl, New York: Boni and Liveright, 1923, full text online at Internet Archive