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June 9, 1922|
New York City
|Died||June 21, 2003
Los Angeles, California
|Spouse(s)||Gloria Washburn (1942–54; divorced; 2 children)
Joan Stanton (1954–2001; her death; 2 children)
George Axelrod (June 9, 1922 – June 21, 2003) was an American screenwriter, producer, playwright and film director, best known for his play, The Seven Year Itch (1952), which was adapted into a movie of the same name starring Marilyn Monroe. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his 1961 adaptation of Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's and also adapted Richard Condon's The Manchurian Candidate (1962).
Early life and family
Axelrod was born in New York City, the son of Beatrice Carpenter, a silent film actress, and Herman Axelrod, a Columbia graduate who had worked on the school's annual Varsity Show and who later went into real estate. His father was Russian Jewish and his mother was of Scottish and English descent. He was the father of lawyer Peter Axelrod, painting contractor and writer Steven Axelrod, actress Nina Axelrod and stepfather of screenwriter Jonathan Axelrod (who married the actress Illeana Douglas). He was a grandfather of actor Taliesin Jaffe.
Radio and Broadway
After serving in the Army Signal Corps during World War II, the New York-born Axelrod found work writing scripts for radio programs, including The Shadow, Midnight and Grand Ole Opry, eventually branching into television. He said he contributed to or collaborated on more than 400 TV and radio scripts and wrote for top comedians, including Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin before earning breakout success with his 1952 stage comedy, The Seven Year Itch, a risque social satire about a middle-class man who has an affair while his wife and children are on vacation. The Seven Year Itch was first presented by Courtney Burr and Elliot Nugent at the Fulton Theatre, New York City, on July 15, 1952.
Axelrod's overnight success prompted him to write a seriocomic teleplay, Confessions of a Nervous Man, starring Art Carney as a playwright waiting anxiously in a Theater District bar for the newspaper reviews of his first play to hit the streets. Based on his own experiences on the opening night of The Seven Year Itch, the one-hour play was presented as the November 30, 1953 episode of Studio One. He appeared on television himself occasionally as a guest panelist on What's My Line?
The Broadway success of The Seven Year Itch led to the successful 1955 film directed by Billy Wilder and starring Marilyn Monroe. The plot was altered so that the husband (Tom Ewell) only fantasizes about having an affair.
Axelrod's next stage hit was Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, a Faustian comedy about a fan magazine writer (Orson Bean) selling his soul to the Devil (in the guise of a literary agent) to become a successful screenwriter. It ran for more than a year on Broadway in 1955–56 and received much attention in the national press thanks to its star, Jayne Mansfield. It was adapted for a film, but 20th Century Fox had director/screenwriter Frank Tashlin change the story to a satire on television advertising and throw out all of Axelrod's characters except Rita Marlowe (with Mansfield recreating her stage role). Axelrod was contemptuous of the 1957 movie, saying he didn't go see it because the studio "never used my story, my play or my script."
In 1959–60, Lauren Bacall starred in his comic play Goodbye Charlie which ran for 109 performances, followed by a film version with Debbie Reynolds. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Axelrod was one of the best paid writers in Hollywood, and he was nominated for an Academy Award for his 1961 adaptation of Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's. He was highly regarded for his adaptation of Richard Condon's novel for director John Frankenheimer's Cold War thriller The Manchurian Candidate (1962) starring Laurence Harvey and Frank Sinatra. Axelrod, who co-produced, considered it his best screen adaptation. After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963, the movie was taken out of circulation and wasn't re-released until 1988, when it became a box office hit and was deemed by critics to be a classic of American cinema.
Axelrod wrote the original screenplay for How to Murder Your Wife (1965), directed by Richard Quine with Jack Lemmon, Virna Lisi and Terry-Thomas. In 1966, Axelrod directed Lord Love a Duck, and two years later, he directed The Secret Life of an American Wife (1968). After a decade hiatus, he returned to films in 1979, providing the screenplay for an unsuccessful remake of The Lady Vanishes. Subsequent contributions include the scripts for Frankenheimer's The Holcroft Covenant (1985) and The Fourth Protocol (1987).
Axelrod was also an author of three novels: Blackmailer, a comic mystery; Beggar's Choice, a comedy of role reversal; and Where Am I Now When I Need Me?, a humorous overview of the Hollywood scene.
On June 21, 2003, at the age of 81, Axelrod died quietly in his sleep. He was at home, under hospice care after a lingering llness. His body was cremated.
- Phffft! (1954) (screenplay)
- The Seven Year Itch (1955) (play)
- Bus Stop (1956) (screenplay)
- Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957) (play)
- Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) (screenplay)
- The Manchurian Candidate (1962) (screenplay, producer)
- Goodbye Charlie (1964) (screenplay)
- Lord Love a Duck (1966) (director)
- The Secret Life of an American Wife (1968) (director, screenplay)