Philip Yordan in San Diego, 1988.
(Photo: Alison Morley)
|Died||March 24, 2003 (aged 88)|
|Alma mater||University of Illinois, Chicago-Kent College of Law|
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 although his use of surrogate screen writers predates the McCarthy era.:332 His actual contributions to the scripts he is credited with writing is controversial:334 and he was known to some as a credit-grabber. 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.
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 before earning a law degree.
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, however Yordan himself denied it.:331
He became dissuaded with a legal career and decided to pursue writing, eventually becoming a screenwriter.
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. He also worked briefly at Columbia Pictures as a staff writer.
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). Reportedly, he wrote the script with William Castle and Robert Tasker, neither of whom received any credit. 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. He did uncredited work on Why Girls Leave Home (1945).
The Kings got him to do a Western, Bad Men of Tombstone (1949).
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. 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. It was a tremendous success, running for a record 957 performances  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. 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, however they received considerably less than that for the Broadway show and none at all for the tour or any of the films. 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.
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.:341 Yordan's unfinished script was rewritten by director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who replaced Yordan’s dialogue with his own.: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.: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.:341
Yordan formed his own company, Security Pictures.
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. It was not made - the rights to the story went to Mark Robson's company.
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.
He provided the story for Street of Sinners (1957) for Security.
Front for Blacklistees
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. Maddow wrote Man Crazy which Yordan and Sidney Harmon produced for Security Pictures: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) 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.:338
Although he also spoke well of Yordan, 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.: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. Ben Maddow claimed to have written the entire Johnny Guitar screenplay, but recanted after seeing the picture years later. Roy Chanslor, the author of the original novel and a prolific screenwriter himself, also wrote a screenplay draft.:341
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.
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:335 however he had admitted enough to warrant his dismissal from the project Sperling then hired a new writer. Yordan then did uncredited writing on Murder by Contract and The Lost Missile.
After serving as a writer-producer for The Harder They Fall, 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.
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 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.
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 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.
Security Pictures in Spain
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. Many of these were not made.
Return to Hollywood
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. Gordon recalled collaborating on the first draft of the Bulge script with Yordan, a first during their lengthy association Gordon and Julian Zimet wrote Custer of the West 
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).
- Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay for Detective Story (1951), and for Best Writing, Original Screenplay for Dillinger (1945).
- Won an Academy Award for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story for Broken Lance (1954), a remake, reset in the West, of the House of Strangers, which was credited solely to Yordan but written in large part by the film's director Joseph L. Mankiewicz who refused to share a co-writing credit.:341
- Won a 1952 Edgar Award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay, for Detective Story (along with credited cowriter Robert Wyler, and Sidney Kingsley, the author of the original stage play).
Yordan was self-described as 'apolitical'. He claims to never have read a newspaper till he was 50 and his use of Hollywood blacklistees was believed to be not out of political commitment but because ""he got the better people cheaper".
He was married four times. Upon his death he was survived by his fourth wife, five children, and two grandchildren.
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."
- Rode, Alan K. "The Phillip Yordan Story" (PDF). filmnoirfoundation.org. Retrieved 2019-10-17.
- Ronald, Bergen. "Phillip Yordan". filmnoirfoundation.org. Retrieved 2019-10-17.
- PMcGilligan, Patrick. Backstory 2: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1940s and 1950s.
- "Philip Yordan: The Chameleon. Interview by Pat McGilligan". publishing.cdlib.org. Retrieved 2014-12-25.
- Rode, Alan K. (2009). "The Philip Yordan Story". Noir City Sentinel.[permanent dead link]
- McGilligan, Patrick (1991). Backstory 2: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1940s and 1950s. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- "Philip Yordan" (PDF). Film Noir Foundation.
- 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.
- "Finding the Many Shades of Anna Lucasta". November 20, 2012.
- "American Negro Theater formed". African American Registry.
- By THOMAS F BRADY Special to The New York Times. (1949, Apr 08). REPUBLIC TO MAKE FILM ON BASEBALL. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/105659810
- Schallert, E. (1950, Apr 25). Drama. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/166060150
- 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 https://search.proquest.com/docview/114425079
- 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 https://search.proquest.com/docview/114322670
- By, T. M. (1958, Nov 16). HOLLYWOOD SCENE. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/114514301
- 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 https://search.proquest.com/docview/114751768
- 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 https://search.proquest.com/docview/114724271
- By, A. H. W. (1959, May 31). PASSING PICTURE SCENE. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/114812282
- Allied artists, Yordan set deal for ten pictures. (1963, Mar 15). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/168298336
- Joseph, R. (1967, Jan 15). Custer in castillia? they went thataway. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/155655217
- 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 https://search.proquest.com/docview/133331256
- Bergan, Ronald (9 April 2003). "Philip Yordan, Prolific Hollywood screenwriter who fronted for victims of the McCarthyite witchhunt". theguardian.com. Retrieved 2014-12-25.