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
Occupation(s)screenwriter, actor
Years active1946–1994

Philip Yordan (April 1, 1914 – March 24, 2003) was an American screenwriter of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s who produced several films. He acted as a front for blacklisted writers[1][2] although his use of surrogate screenwriters predates the McCarthy era.[3]: 332  His actual contributions to the scripts he is credited with writing is controversial[1][3]: 334  and he was known to some as a credit-grabber.[1] Born to Polish immigrants, he earned degrees from both University of Illinois and Chicago-Kent College of Law.[4]

Early life[edit]

Philip Yordan was born to Polish Jewish immigrants on April 1, 1914 in Chicago. 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 before graduating from the University of Illinois and then from Kent College of Law in Chicago.

A common anecdote in Hollywood was that he hired someone else to go through law school for him using his name to get the degree without having to do any of the work,[1] however Yordan himself denied it.[3]: 331 


He became dissatisfied with a legal career. He started working at the Goodman Theatre as an actor and began writing stories. He decided to pursue writing, eventually becoming a playwright. He said "I enjoyed reading, and thought that I would write because I hated the idea of a job, of having to go down to an office. The magazine Esquire rejected some short stories with the comment, "Your prose is stilted, but your dialogue is excellent. Why don't you try writing plays?" [5]


William Dieterle[edit]

His first play, Any Day Now, a comedy about a family of Polish Americans was staged at a small off-Broadway theatre in 1941.[6] Director William Dieterle saw the play and invited Yordan to Hollywood to work on a project Dieterle was making about the history of jazz.

In Los Angeles Yordan did some uncredited writing on The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), directed by Dieterle, and then was credited as co writer on the jazz project, Syncopation (1942), directed by Dieterle at RKO.[7]

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).[7]

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 then rewrote. They all did well enough for Yordan to be able to make Dillinger (1945).[8] Reportedly, he wrote the script with William Castle and Robert Tasker, neither of whom received any credit.[1] The screenplay earned Yordan an Oscar nomination, a first for Monogram Pictures.

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.[9] He did uncredited work on Why Girls Leave Home (1945).[citation needed]

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

In 1948 he sold his script Joe MacBeth to Nasser Studios.[10] (It would be made years later.)

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

According to Patrick McGilligan Yordan thrived in Hollywood.

It was the perfect jungle for expression of his genius at supplying the demand. In short order, he became known among producers as a bravura "spitballer," that is, one who can talk a good script (and one has only to meet Yordan to appreciate how spellbinding is his vernacular). He became a much-sought-after script doctor and coarse dialogue specialist, often arriving at the 11th hour to contribute the famed lightning-quick "Yordan touch." A lot of his work went uncredited.[11]

Anna Lucasta[edit]

Yordan had written a play based on Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie, adapted to be about a Polish American family and titled Anna Lucasta. Later he found out that Abram Hill had rewritten the same play for the American Negro Theater in New York. The lighter, more comedic production had received critical accolades.[1] Yordan received financial backing and signed an agreement with Hill and producer John Wildberg. Anna Lucasta was revised with a gala opening at the Mansfield Theatre on August 30, 1944.[1] It was a tremendous success, running for a record 957 performances [12] and leading to two film adaptations.

Yordan had hired several writers to rewrite Anna Lucasta before the play premiered on Broadway. In 1947, Lee Richardson, Antoinette Perry and Brock Pemberton sued Yordan for not paying them.[1] The American Negro Theater was contracted to receive five percent of all production rights and two percent of the subsidiary rights for Anna Lucasta if the play went on the road with a different cast,[1] however they received considerably less than that for the Broadway show and none at all for the tour or any of the films.[13] When Anna Lucasta went to Broadway, the new production retained only a few of the ANT actors.

The first film adaption in 1949 was produced by Yordan with a Polish American family like in his original version. The other, made in 1958 had an all-black cast like the American Negro Theater production, and starred Eartha Kitt, Sammy Davis Jr., and Henry Scott. Only Yordan retained a writing credit for both films.[1]

Major studios[edit]

In 1946 Yordan's play Windy City was staged in Chicago.[14] However, after that he focused on movie work.

Yordan's first credit for a major studio was House of Strangers (1949) which he adapted from a Jerome Weidman novel for Fox. Yordan had been fired by producer Sol C. Siegel after an incomplete first draft which Siegel felt wasn't working.[1][3]: 341  Yordan's unfinished script was rewritten by director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who replaced Yordan's dialogue with his own.[1][3]: 341  He directed the film using his own revised screenplay. When the Screen Writers Guild decided that it should be listed as a shared credit, Mankiewicz angrily refused to split and Yordan was awarded sole credit.[1][3]: 341 

In 1955, he won an Academy Award for Broken Lance. It was a remake of 1949's House of Strangers, and he did not write single word. He won his Oscar for Best Original Story for material in the story files that had formed the basis for House of Strangers, salvaged, provided a Western context, and refurbished by producer-writer Michael Blankfort.[3]: 341 

Security Pictures[edit]

In 1948 Yordan formed a company with actor Bob Cummings and Eugene Frenke called United California Productions who made Let's Live a Little.[15]

Yordan formed his own company, Security Pictures.[citation needed]

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.[16] It was not made – the rights to the story went to Mark Robson's company.[17]

For Walter Wanger he did The Black Book (1949). He did some uncredited work[citation needed] on Panic in the Streets (1950) and No Way Out (1950), both for Fox.

He wrote Edge of Doom (1950) for Sam Goldwyn, based on a story by Goldwyn.[18]

The King Brothers used him for a Western, Drums in the Deep South (1951), and a South Sea film, Mutiny (1952).[19] 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. In 1953 he sold The Men from Earth to Milton Sperling.[20]

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 said he turned down an offer of $75,000 for the script in order to produce.[21]

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.

In February 1955 Jerry Wald of Columbia announced they would make a film based on the Krakatoa explosion written by Yordan, under Yordan's new contract with Columbia.[22] The film would not be made until over a decade later.

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

He and Harmon bought Man on Spikes but it was not made.[23]

In 1956 he was reportedly working on a script for Mario Lanza and Anthony Mann that was not made.[24] He provided the story for Street of Sinners (1957) for Security.

Yordan was a writer-producer for The Harder They Fall (1956) directed by Mark Robson.[25]

In January 1957 he sold a story Diamond in the Rough to Jerry Wald.[26]

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).

Yordan adapted Little Man Big World by W. R. Burnett for Robert Ryan to star for Security, but the film was not made.[27]

In 1957 Security and Milton Sperling purchased the King Studios.[28]

He wrote and produced Day of the Outlaw (1959) at Security[29] and wrote The Bramble Bush (1960) for Warners.[30] Security optioned The Tribe That Lost Its Head[31] but it was not made.

In 1959 Yordan and Harmon announced they would make four films for Columbia.[32] They were going to start with a World War II story, Kingdom of Man.[33]

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

Front for blacklistees[edit]

Yordan struck a deal with screenwriter Ben Maddow who was having difficulty getting work because of the left-wing associations. They were to split the money down the middle, with Yordan assuming sole credit.[1] Maddow wrote Man Crazy which Yordan and Sidney Harmon produced for Security Pictures[1][3]: 332  and The Naked Jungle which was directed by Byron Haskin at Paramount.

Maddow would go to write several scripts for him including Men in War (1957)[34] and possibly God's Little Acre (1958) as well as Yordan's only novel, Man of the West on which the 1957 film Gun Glory (1957) was based. (Yordan disputed the screenwriter' contribution to God's Little Acre.[3]: 338 )[35]

Although he also spoke well of Yordan,[1] in an interview Maddow once remembered his anger and astonishment at passing through England and discovering a Penguin edition of Man of the West for which he had not been compensated.[1][3]: 333 

Yordan received sole credit for 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.[7] Ben Maddow claimed to have written the entire Johnny Guitar screenplay, but recanted after seeing the picture years later.[1] Roy Chanslor, the author of the original novel and a prolific screenwriter himself, also wrote a screenplay draft.[3]: 341 

In 1960, he wrote and produced Studs Lonigan (1960), although blacklisted writers Arnaud D'Usseau and Bernard Gordon did much of the actual writing.[citation needed] In February 1960, Yordan was announced as screenwriter for Bryna Productions' spectacle film Montezuma, though Dalton Trumbo, who had worked on several scripts for the independent film company, was later revealed as the actual writer.[36][37]

Contract violations[edit]

In the late 1950s, Yordan got two scripts mixed up and delivered a Fox script to producer Milton Sperling at Warner Bros., dropping the Warners script off to Darryl F. Zanuck at Fox. As the writer was under contract to Fox, Zanuck threatened to blackball Yordan at all the major studios.[1]

In 1959 Sperling fired Yordan when the screenwriter delivered his script for The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960). Yordan's secretary claimed that she had written it. Confronted by Sperling, Yordan argued that she had taken down his words and been given a bonus for her work[3]: 335  however he had admitted enough to warrant his dismissal from the project[1] Sperling then hired a new writer. Yordan then did uncredited writing on Murder by Contract and The Lost Missile.[7]

Columbia studio head Sam Briskin hired Yordan, provided he keep an office on the lot and that his authorship of any scripts would be guaranteed. However, Yordan allegedly continued to shuttle scripts around town and rarely appeared at Columbia. Caught violating the terms of his contract, Yordan was forced to return the $25,000 he had already been paid. He was barred from Columbia, as well as nearly every other studio in Hollywood.[1]

Samuel Bronston[edit]

Unable to work in Hollywood, Yordan found opportunity in Spain with independent producer Samuel L. Bronston. Yordan's association with Bronston began when he worked on the $10 million epic King of Kings (1961), directed by Nicholas Ray. Bronston engaged him to fix the script for the film and Yordan then hired Ray Bradbury to write the voice-over narration, used an anonymous Italian writer for the script. He retained sole writing credit on the finished film.[1][38]

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.[7] Yordan was also announced as writing a script for Bronston about the building of the Eiffel Tower.[39]

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).

Both 55 Days at Peking and The Fall of the Roman Empire were box-offices failures[1] and Bronston declared bankruptcy. In addition to the production company's immense production costs and expense accounts, Yordan and producer Michael Waszynski were reportedly diverting large sums for their own purposes.[1]

Security Pictures in Spain[edit]

In 1963 Security Pictures announced they would make ten films for Allied Artists 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.[40] Many of these were not made.

For Security Pictures, Yordan produced The Thin Red Line (1964) and Crack in the World (1965).[41]

Later career[edit]

Return to Hollywood[edit]

Security combined with Cinerama to make Battle of the Bulge (1965), which he produced; Custer of the West (1967) and Krakatoa: East of Java (1968) which he produced.[42][43] Gordon recalled collaborating on the first draft of the Bulge script with Yordan, a first during their lengthy association[1] Gordon and Julian Zimet wrote Custer of the West [1]

Security went on to make The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1969), which Yordan wrote and produced.[44] He wrote and produced Captain Apache (1971) with Sperling, and wrote Bad Man's River (1971).[45]

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

Final 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).[46]


Political views[edit]

Yordan was self-described as 'apolitical'.[1] He claims to never have read a newspaper till he was 50[1][3] and his use of Hollywood blacklistees was believed to be not out of political commitment but because "he got the better people cheaper".[2]

He reportedly once told screenwriter Bernard Gordon that "It's Jews like you who ruined the motion picture industry with this anti-hero shit."[2]

However Yordan also claimed "In all my pictures there is the theme of the loneliness of the common man. But he has an inner resource that allows him to survive in society. He doesn't cry, he doesn't beg, he doesn't ask favours. He lives and dies in dignity."[7]

Private life[edit]

He was married four times. Upon his death he was survived by his fourth wife, five children, and two grandchildren.[47][48]


Producer Milton Sperling later said "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."[1]

Bernard Fordon said "He wasn't a great writer. But he knew how to put the kind of showmanship material into films that made them financially successful and popular."[49]

Eddie Muller wrote "What made Yordan's scripts distinctive was his sometimes subtle, sometimes subversive, way of twisting genre conventions to keep things lively and unpredictable. His screenplays for 'The Chase,' 'Johnny Guitar' and 'The Big Combo' are quirky to the point of outrageousness. If the premise was slight, you could trust Yordan to goose it with plenty of 'business'."[50]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac Rode, Alan K. "The Phillip Yordan Story" (PDF). Retrieved 2019-10-17.
  2. ^ a b c Ronald, Bergen. "Phillip Yordan". Retrieved 2019-10-17.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n PMcGilligan, Patrick. Backstory 2: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1940s and 1950s.
  4. ^ "Philip Yordan: The Chameleon. Interview by Pat McGilligan". Retrieved 2014-12-25.
  5. ^ Obituary: Philip Yordan; Oscar-winning screenwriter: [FOREIGN Edition] Vallance, Tom. The Independent; London (UK) [London (UK)]04 Apr 2003: 18.
  6. ^ 'Any Day Now' By a Staff Correspondent of The Christian Science MonitorJ. D. B. The Christian Science Monitor 10 June 1941: 16.
  7. ^ a b c d e f McGilligan, Patrick (1991). Backstory 2: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1940s and 1950s. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  8. ^ "Philip Yordan" (PDF). Film Noir Foundation.
  9. ^ FRED STANLEY (July 8, 1945). "HOLLYWOOD WEIGHS ITS RESERVES: Gangsters Again THE HOLLYWOOD WIRE Fixing the "Whistle" Nice Place Albion in Films". New York Times. p. 15.
  10. ^ NASSER ACQUIRES 2 SCREEN STORIES: New York Times 16 June 1948: 37.
  11. ^ Philip Yordan: The Ghosts and the Screenwriter: [Home Edition] McGILLIGAN, PAT. Los Angeles Times 26 June 1988: 6.
  12. ^ "Finding the Many Shades of Anna Lucasta". November 20, 2012.
  13. ^ "American Negro Theater formed". African American Registry.
  14. ^ ON THE AISLE: Here's "Windy City," a Brand New Cause for Playgoing, Vivid, Racy and Poignant Cassidy, Claudia. Chicago Daily Tribune 17 May 1946: 21.
  15. ^ LAMARR TO APPEAR AS A NEUROLOGIST: By THOMAS F. BRADY New York Times 7 Jan 1948: 30.
  16. ^ THOMAS F BRADY (Apr 8, 1949). "REPUBLIC TO MAKE FILM ON BASEBALL". New York Times. ProQuest 105659810.
  17. ^ Schallert, E. (Apr 25, 1950). "Drama". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 166060150.
  18. ^ YORDAN TO WRITE GOLDWYN PICTURE: Author Engaged to Do Script of Tragedy for Producer -- Wyman Gets New Role By THOMAS F. BRADYS New York Times 27 Dec 1949: 26.
  19. ^ MOVIELAND BRIEFS Los Angeles Times 23 Oct 1951: B7.
  20. ^ YORDAN FANTASY BOUGHT FOR FILM: ' Men From Earth' Becomes Property of Milton Sperling -- M-G-M Signs Miss Gray By THOMAS M. PRYOR New York Times 14 Aug 1953: 10.
  21. ^ 'Big Combo' Will Star Cornel Wilde; Vanessa Brown Debates Musical Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 23 June 1954: B7.
  22. ^ Yordan Doing 'Krakatoa' as Spectacle; Deal Warm for 'Mauler' and Palance Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 19 Feb 1955: 15.
  23. ^ NEWS OF THE SCREEN: New York Times 10 Feb 1956: 18.
  24. ^ LANZA IS SIGNED FOR WARNER FILM: New York Times 30 Mar 1956: 11.
  25. ^ ' Harder They Fall' Production Team's Counterpunches--Other Matters: FROM MEXICO By THOMAS M. PRYOR. New York Times 4 Dec 1955: X5.
  26. ^ Looking at Hollywood: Jerry Wald Buys a Story for Film on Diamond Mines Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 16 Jan 1957: a4.
  27. ^ THOMAS M PRYOR (Jan 3, 1958). "STUDIO PLANNING ONE FILM A MONTH". New York Times. ProQuest 114425079.
  28. ^ THOMAS M PRYOR (Oct 30, 1957). "COWAN OUTLINES FILM INNOVATIONS". New York Times. ProQuest 114322670.
  29. ^ T. M. (Nov 16, 1958). "HOLLYWOOD SCENE". New York Times. ProQuest 114514301.
  30. ^ Carolyn Jones Is Wanted for 'The Brumble Bush' Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 7 Jan 1959: a5.
  31. ^ THOMAS M PRYOR (Jan 5, 1959). "A GOLDWYN JOINS STAFF OF M-G-M". New York Times. ProQuest 114751768.
  32. ^ THOMAS M PRYOR (Jan 30, 1959). "WALD, NEGULESCO TO TEAM ON FILM". New York Times. ProQuest 114724271.
  33. ^ A. H. W. (May 31, 1959). "PASSING PICTURE SCENE". New York Times. ProQuest 114812282.
  34. ^ Looking at Hollywood: Korean War Movie to Star Robert Ryan Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 5 June 1956: b2.
  35. ^ Ryan, Ray Rated Right for Reunion; Robinson Comedian in 'Godfrey' Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times. 23 Jan 1957: 27.
  36. ^ "Boxoffice-February. 22.1960". Retrieved 2021-06-14.
  37. ^ Variety (1960). Variety (September 1960). Media History Digital Library. New York, NY: Variety Publishing Company.
  38. ^ MONSARRAT BOOK COMING TO SCREEN: Bronston, Yordan and Ray to Film 'Tribe That Lost Its Head' - New York Times 21 Dec 1960: 37.
  39. ^ Bronston Planning Film on Eiffel Life: Producer Seeks Boyd, Bardot; Cassavetes, Rowlands Co-Star Hopper, Hedda. Los Angeles Times 15 Aug 1962: D16.
  40. ^ "Allied artists, Yordan set deal for ten pictures". Los Angeles Times. Mar 15, 1963. ProQuest 168298336.
  41. ^ Marton---First-Rate Second-Unit Man Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 10 Aug 1965: C10.
  42. ^ Joseph, R. (Jan 15, 1967). "Custer in castillia? they went thataway". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 155655217.
  43. ^ STANLEY PENN (Jan 16, 1968). "Spurt in cinerama stock price spotlights options for over 1 million shares at about $4". Wall Street Journal. ProQuest 133331256.
  44. ^ MOVIE CALL SHEET: 'Royal Hunt' Filming Starts Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times 18 May 1968: 17.
  45. ^ MOVIE CALL SHEET: 'Apache' Next for Van Cleef Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times 26 Sep 1970: a9.
  46. ^ Obituary Philip Yordan: [FINAL Edition] Hunter, Allan. The Scotsman 16 Apr 2003: 14.
  47. ^ Bergan, Ronald (9 April 2003). "Philip Yordan, Prolific Hollywood screenwriter who fronted for victims of the McCarthyite witchhunt". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-12-25.
  48. ^ SCRIBES: PHILIP YORDAN Cohen, David S. Variety; Los Angeles Vol. 390, Iss. 8, (Apr 7-Apr 13, 2003): 51.
  49. ^ Philip Yordan, Writer, Producer: [ALL EDITIONS] Los Angeles Times. Newsday, 5 Apr 2003: A26.
  50. ^ TELEVISION; Ah, Yes, They Recall It Well; In a race against time, Turner Classic Movies seeks out veterans of the golden age of movies.: [Home Edition] Rosenfeld, Hank. Los Angeles Times26 Nov 2000: 1.

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