Delbert Mann, 87; director won Oscar for ‘Marty’

Times Staff Writer

Delbert Mann, who directed the acclaimed live TV production of “Marty,” Paddy Chayefsky’s classic tale of a lonely Bronx butcher, and then won an Academy Award directing the 1955 movie version, has died. He was 87.

Mann, a former president of the Directors Guild of America, died of pneumonia Sunday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, his son Fred said Monday.

Considered one of the premier directors of the golden age of live television, Mann directed “Marty,” starring Rod Steiger in the title role, for NBC in 1953. When Chayefsky turned his story into a screenplay, he insisted that Mann direct it.

“Marty,” which marked Mann’s debut as a movie director, is said to have been the first teleplay to be transferred to the movies.


In his review of the low-budget black-and-white film, New York Times critic Bosley Crowther wrote: “No matter what the movie people may say or think about television, they have it to thank for ‘Marty.’ ”

“Marty” won the Academy Award for best picture, as well as Oscars for Mann, Chayefsky and Ernest Borgnine in the title role.

In 1979, Borgnine co-starred in Mann’s TV-movie version of “All Quiet on the Western Front.”

The actor recalled Monday that when his wife asked Mann why he had not worked with Borgnine since “Marty,” Mann said: “I didn’t want to spoil perfection.”


“Can you imagine that?” Borgnine said. “What a tribute to me, and what a tribute to the picture. He was that kind of a fella.”

Describing Mann as “the quietest, most wonderful guy,” Borgnine said he “was the kind of director that you get home at night and say to yourself, ‘Gee, I gave a pretty good performance’ without realizing that he was the guy that got it out of you.”

Recalling the filming of “Marty,” Borgnine said that “we just enjoyed ourselves working, and [Mann] never made it hard for anybody. It happened so easily and nicely.”

Actress Eva Marie Saint, who appeared in numerous live and filmed TV productions directed by Mann, said Monday that he “was just a prince of a guy.”


“You never heard a word against Delbert,” Saint said. “He was wonderful on the set. He was so patient, and you take your cue from the director, so it was a quiet set.

“If something really went wrong, he could raise his voice, and when Del Mann raised his voice everybody listened, because he never did.”

Mann, who also won a best director award from the Directors Guild of America for “Marty,” went on to direct 15 more feature films, including “The Bachelor Party,” “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs,” “Desire Under the Elms,” “Separate Tables,” “Middle of the Night” and the Doris Day comedies “Lover Come Back” with Rock Hudson and “That Touch of Mink” with Cary Grant.

Between 1949 and 1955, Mann directed more than 100 live television dramas. But even after turning to films, he returned to television and directed productions for “Playhouse 90,” “Ford Star Jubilee” and other dramatic television anthology series.


He also directed more than two dozen films for television from the late 1960s to the early ‘90s, including “Heidi,” “David Copperfield,” “Jane Eyre,” “Kidnapped” and “The Member of the Wedding.”

“I missed the excitement and concentration that live TV gave us in those days,” he said at the time. “I was able to achieve the artistic freedom I can’t get in films.”

Mann, who served as president of the Directors Guild of America from 1967 to 1971, received the DGA’s Honorary Life Member Award in 2002.

He was born Jan. 30, 1920, in Lawrence, Kan., and moved to Nashville when he was 11. He was head of his high school drama club when he met Fred Coe, the future television producer and director, who was leading a church-sponsored acting society. Coe would later figure prominently in Mann’s career as a director.


Mann, who graduated from Vanderbilt University in Nashville in 1941, served in the Army Air Forces, first as a B-24 bomber pilot and then as an intelligence officer with the 8th Air Force stationed in England.

After the war, Mann enrolled in the Yale School of Drama on the G.I. Bill and graduated with a master of fine arts degree in directing.

He became director of the Town Theatre in Columbia, S.C., taking over for Coe, who had moved to New York. In 1949, at Coe’s invitation, Mann joined him in New York, where he became a stage manager and assistant director at NBC.

Within months, he became an alternating director of NBC’s prestigious dramatic anthology series “Philco Television Playhouse.”


In addition to his son Fred, Mann is survived by sons David and Steven and seven grandchildren. Ann, his wife of 59 years, died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2001; his daughter, Susan, died in a car accident in 1976.

Services will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church, 505 N. Rodeo Drive.

The family asks that memorial donations be made to the Fred Coe Visiting Professorship at Vanderbilt University, 2201 West End Ave., Nashville, TN 37240.