Delbert Mann, who transformed Paddy Chayefsky’s classic teleplays “Marty” and “The Bachelor Party” into big-screen triumphs and helped bring TV techniques to the film world, died Sunday. He was 87.
Mann died of pneumonia at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, his son Fred Mann said Monday.
Mann’s 1955 feature version of “Marty” won four Oscars: best picture and director, best actor for Ernest Borgnine and best screenplay for Chayefsky. The low-budget film with mostly little-known actors told the stark, poignant story of Borgnine’s 34-year-old Brooklyn butcher who felt he was too ugly to find love. His life is changed when he meets an equally shy but sweet woman played by Betsy Blair.
“I knew we had a good story because I had already done it on television,” Mann once told The Associated Press. “But I certainly never expected it to be the hit that it turned out to be.”
Using techniques he brought from television, Mann took a mere 16 days to shoot the film version of “Marty,” plus an additional three days for retakes. This compared with 45 days for typical features of that time, with epic pictures running far beyond that.
He followed “Marty” with 1957’s “The Bachelor Party.” They were some of the first examples of television’s emerging role in Hollywood — not necessarily as a rival medium, but as a synergistic one.
The two teleplays were first seen in 1953 on “Philco-Goodyear Playhouse,” considered one of the best dramatic anthology series of television’s Golden Age. Rod Steiger played the title role in the television “Marty,” while the woman he befriends was played by Nancy Marchand.
In all, Mann and famed producer Fred Coe collaborated on more than 100 of the live Sunday night “Playhouse” productions.
Mann’s other feature credits include “Desire Under the Elms” (1957), “Separate Tables” (1958), “Middle of the Night” (1959), “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs” (1960), “The Outsider” (1961), “That Touch of Mink” (1962), “A Gathering of Eagles” (1963), “Dear Heart” (1964), “Fitzwilly” (1967), “Kidnapped” (1971), “Night Crossing” (1982) and “Bronte” (1983).
Despite his success with feature films, Mann longed for his television roots and in the late 1960s returned to the medium after a lengthy absence.
“I missed the excitement and concentration that live TV gave us in the old days,” Mann said at the time. “I was able to achieve the artistic freedom I can’t get in films.”
Mann directed a string of prestigious prime-time productions, including “Heidi” (1968), “David Copperfield” (1970), “Jane Eyre” (1971), “The Man Without a Country” (1973), “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1979) and “The Last Days of Patton” (1986).
Through no fault of her own, “Heidi” enraged professional football fans across America on Nov. 15, 1968, when NBC decided to cut away from the dramatic final minutes of a New York Jets-Oakland Raiders game to begin the television movie at its scheduled time.
A native of Lawrence, Kan., Mann received his first dramatic training at Vanderbilt University, graduating in 1941. He later attended Yale’s School of Drama after a stint as a bomber pilot in World War II.
Mann went on to take a directing job at the Town Theatre, a community playhouse in Columbia, S.C., succeeding Coe, who became Mann’s mentor. Mann was affiliated with the Town from 1947 to 1949, before moving to New York to work with Coe in television.
Mann’s wife, Ann Caroline, died in 2001. In addition to Fred Mann, he is survived by sons David and Steven. His daughter, Susan, died in an automobile accident in 1976.