Philip Yordan

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Philip Yordan
Philip Yordan photo.jpg
Philip Yordan in San Diego, 1988.
(Photo: Alison Morley)
Born(1914-04-01)April 1, 1914
DiedMarch 24, 2003(2003-03-24) (aged 88)
Alma materUniversity of Illinois, Chicago-Kent College of Law
Occupationscreenwriter, actor
Years active1946–1994

Philip Yordan (April 1, 1914 – March 24, 2003) was an American screenwriter of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s who also produced several films. He was also known as a highly regarded script doctor. Born to Polish immigrants, he earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois and a law degree at Chicago-Kent College of Law.[1]

Early life[edit]

Philip Yordan was born to Polish Jewish immigrants on April 1, 1914 in Chicago, Illinois. From a young age he had taken an interest in writing. As a teenager, he ran a mail-order beauty supply business out of the family basement. Yordan was an avid fan of detective stories; he contemplated a career as a writer. After graduating from high school, he acted at the Goodman Theatre earned a law degree. He became dissuaded and pursued writing, eventually becoming a screenwriter.[2]


Yordan went to Hollywood in 1938 to work for William Dieterle, who had been impressed by one of Yordan's plays. Yordan did some uncredited writing on The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) and his first credit was for Syncopation (1942), directed by Dieterle at RKO.[3] He also worked briefly at Columbia Pictures as a staff writer.

King Brothers[edit]

Yordan wrote a script for the King Brothers, Dillinger which was too expensive to produce. They suggested he write something less expensive. He came up with a melodrama, The Unknown Guest (1943).[3]

The Kings liked his work and hired Yordan to write Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1944) and When Strangers Marry (1944), although Dennis Cooper wrote the first draft which Yordan rewrote. They all did well enough for Yordan to be able to make Dillinger (1945).[4] Yordan's screenplay earned him an Oscar nomination.

Yordan had written a play based on Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie, Anna Lucasta. He adapted it to be about a Polish American family but this was changed to be about a black family. The 1944 production became highly regarded.

Yordan wrote Woman Who Came Back (1945) for Republic Pictures and Whistle Stop (1946) for producer Seymour Nebenzal starring Ava Gardner. Yordan was an associate producer on the latter.[5] He did uncredited work on Why Girls Leave Home (1945).

The King Brothers used him again for Suspense (1946) then he wrote The Chase (1946) for Nebenzal.

The Kings got him to do a Western, Bad Men of Tombstone (1949).

Security Pictures[edit]

Yordan formed his own company, Security Pictures. He produced and adapted Anna Lucasta (1949) for them.

In 1949, he announced he would write and produce The Big Blonde based on a story by Dorothy Parker. Irving Lerner was going to direct.[6] It was not made - the rights to the story went to Mark Robson's company.[7]

Yordan's first credit for a major studio was House of Strangers (1949) which he adapted from a Jerome Weidman novel for Fox, although the film was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz who did an uncredited rewrite.

For Walter Wanger he did The Black Book (1949). He did some uncredited work on Panic in the Streets (1950) and No Way Out (1950), both for Fox, and wrote Edge of Doom (1950) for Sam Goldwyn.

The King Brothers used him for a Western, Drums in the Deep South (1951), and a South Sea film, Mutiny (1952). He did Detective Story (1951) for William Wyler at Paramount and provided the story for Mara Maru (1952) at Warners. Detective Story earned Yordan an Oscar nomination.

Yordan adapted Houdini (1953) for Paramount and Blowing Wild (1953) for Warner Bros.

With Sidney Harmon he wrote and produced Man Crazy (1953) for Security Pictures.

Byron Haskin got Yordan to work on the script for The Naked Jungle (1954) at Paramount. He wrote Johnny Guitar (1954) for Republic Pictures, which became a major cult film, although it is unclear how much Yordan actually contributed to the final script.[3]

Broken Lance (1954) won him the Academy's Writing (Motion Picture Story) award in 1955. It was a remake of 1949's House of Strangers, and although he did not write the Broken Lance screenplay, it used his 1949 story-adaptation of Weidman's novel as its basis.

Security Pictures made The Big Combo (1955), a co-production with the company of star Cornel Wilde; Yordan wrote the script and produced with Sidney Harmon.

Yordan wrote The Man from Laramie (1955) for James Stewart and director Anthony Mann, the last film Stewart and Mann made together.

Yordan wrote Conquest of Space (1955) for Haskin. He worked on the script for Joe MacBeth (1955), and did another for Mann, The Last Frontier (1955).

Yordan produced and adapted Budd Schulberg's novel The Harder They Fall (1956), which was directed by Mark Robson.

For Security Pictures he produced The Wild Party (1956) and wrote Four Boys and a Gun (1957).

Yordan wrote Men in War (1957) for director Mann and Security. The script was actually written by blacklisted writer Ben Maddow. Gun Glory (1957) was based on his novel Man of the West (which Yordan later admitted was actually written by Maddow).[3] He provided the story for Street of Sinners (1957) for Security.

Yordan wrote No Down Payment (1957) for Martin Ritt at Fox, and Island Women (1957) at Security.

At Fox he wrote the Westerns The Bravados (1958) and The Fiend Who Walked the West (1958) (a remake of Kiss of Death).

For Mann and Security he adapted and God's Little Acre (1958), officially credited to Yordan, but actually were written by Ben Maddow.[8] Yordan adapted Little Man Big World by W.R. Burnett for Robert Ryan to star for Security, but the film was not made.[9]

In 1957 Security and Milton Sperling purchased the Kling Studios.[10]

Yordan adapted Anna Lucasta (1958) again, this time for black actors. The producer was Sidney Harmon.[11]

He did a draft of The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960) that was not used and did some uncredited writing on Murder by Contract and The Lost Missile.[3]

He wrote and produced Day of the Outlaw (1959) at Security[12] and wrote The Bramble Bush (1960) for Warners. He wrote and produced Studs Lonigan (1960), although blacklisted writers Arnaud D'Usseau and Bernard Gordon did much of the actual writing. Security optioned The Tribe That Lost Its Head[13] but it was not made.

In 1959 Yordan and Harmon announced they would made four films for Columbia.[14] They were going to start with a World War Two story, Kingdom of Man.[15]

Yordan produced the TV series Assignment: Underwater (1960-61). He also made some uncredited contributions to the script of The Time Machine (1960).

Samuel Bronston[edit]

Yordan's association with Samuel L. Bronston began when he worked on King of Kings (1961), directed by Nicholas Ray. Yordan stayed with Bronston to write El Cid (1961) for Mann, although it is more likely the actual scripting was done by blacklistees Ben Barzman and Bernard Gordon.[3]

Yordan was credited on The Day of the Triffids (1963) but he was a "front" for Bernard Gordon. He continued to work regularly for Bronston: 55 Days at Peking (1963), directed by Ray and Guy Green, with Yordan producing, contributing ideas and being a script front for Gordon; The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), directed by Mann; and Circus World (1964), directed by Henry Hathaway (mostly written by Gordon). Then, Bronston's filmmaking empire collapsed.

Security Pictures in Spain[edit]

In 1963 Security Pictures announced they would make ten films for Allied Arists over two and a half years, including The Tribe That Lost Its Head; Gretta, based on a book by Erskine Caldwell; a Western called Bad Man's River; and a science fiction film Crack in the World.[16] Many of these were not made.

For Security Pictures, Yordan produced The Thin Red Line (1964) and Crack in the World (1965).

Security combined with Cinerama to make Battle of the Bulge (1965), which he co wrote and produced; Custer of the West (1967) and Krakatoa: East of Java (1968) which he produced.[17][18]

Security went on to make The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1969), which Yordan wrote and produced. He wrote and produced Captain Apache (1971) and wrote Bad Man's River (1971).

He made uncredited script contributions to Horror Express (1973), The Mad Bomber (1973), Psychomania (1974) and Pancho Villa (1974).

Later Films[edit]

Yordan's later credits include Brigham (1977) (which he co produced), Cataclysm (1980), Savage Journey (1983) (which he co produced), The Dark Side to Love (1984), Night Train to Terror (1985), Cry Wilderness (1987) (also co produced), Bloody Wednesday (1987) (which he co produced), and The Unholy (1988).

His final scripts included Marilyn Alive and Behind Bars (1992), Dead Girls Don't Tango (1992) and Too Bad About Jack (1994).


Private life[edit]

He was married four times. Upon his death he was survived by his fourth wife, five children, and two grandchildren.[19]


Producer Milton Sperling later said "What he [Yordan] did generally [in his career] was to have someone else write a first draft; then he would put in his Yordan thing. It was an abrasive, tough, very crisp, very colloquial kind of writing. And it was very good. Don't let anyone tell you he couldn't write. He could write exceedingly well... He had a kind of Jungian memory of film, a kind of collective unconscious, a memory bank, that would work for him in any given situation. He could have been one of the best writers. He had ability, no question about it. But his greed overcame his creative talent."[3]


  1. ^ "Philip Yordan: The Chameleon. Interview by Pat McGilligan". Retrieved 2014-12-25.
  2. ^ Rode, Alan K. (2009). "The Philip Yordan Story". Noir City Sentinel.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ a b c d e f g McGilligan, Patrick (1991). Backstory 2: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1940s and 1950s. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  4. ^ "Philip Yordan" (PDF). Film Noir Foundation.
  5. ^ HOLLYWOOD WEIGHS ITS RESERVES: Gangsters Again THE HOLLYWOOD WIRE Fixing the "Whistle" Nice Place Albion in Films By FRED STANLEY. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 08 July 1945: 15.
  6. ^ By THOMAS F BRADYSpecial to The New York Times. (1949, Apr 08). REPUBLIC TO MAKE FILM ON BASEBALL. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  7. ^ Schallert, E. (1950, Apr 25). Drama. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  8. ^ By THOMAS M PRYOR Special to The New York Times. (1957, Jul 24). 2 ADDED TO CAST OF 'LITTLE ACRE'. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  9. ^ By THOMAS M PRYORSpecial to The New York Times. (1958, Jan 03). STUDIO PLANNING ONE FILM A MONTH. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  10. ^ By THOMAS M PRYOR Special to The New York Times. (1957, Oct 30). COWAN OUTLINES FILM INNOVATIONS. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  11. ^ By THOMAS M PRYOR Special to The New York Times. (1957, Dec 26). RED BUTTONS GETS ROLE IN WAR FILM. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  12. ^ By, T. M. (1958, Nov 16). HOLLYWOOD SCENE. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  13. ^ By THOMAS M PRYORSpecial to The New York Times. (1959, Jan 05). A GOLDWYN JOINS STAFF OF M-G-M. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  14. ^ By THOMAS M PRYORSpecial to The New York Times. (1959, Jan 30). WALD, NEGULESCO TO TEAM ON FILM. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  15. ^ By, A. H. W. (1959, May 31). PASSING PICTURE SCENE. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  16. ^ Allied artists, yordan set deal for ten pictures. (1963, Mar 15). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  17. ^ Joseph, R. (1967, Jan 15). Custer in castillia? they went thataway. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  18. ^ By STANLEY PENN Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal. (1968, Jan 16). Spurt in cinerama stock price spotlights options for over 1 million shares at about $4. Wall Street Journal (1923 - Current File) Retrieved from
  19. ^ Bergan, Ronald (9 April 2003). "Philip Yordan, Prolific Hollywood screenwriter who fronted for victims of the McCarthyite witchhunt". Retrieved 2014-12-25.

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