Philip Yordan Hollywood writer in era of McCarthy

 

PHILIP YORDAN: Philip Yordan, the controversial and colourful Hollywood writer and producer who won an Oscar and who acted as a front for blacklisted colleagues during the McCarthy era, has died. He was 89.

He died in San Diego of pancreatic cancer.

Yordan won an Academy Award in 1954 for his original story for Broken Lance, starring Spencer Tracy. He also was nominated for writing the screenplay of Dillinger (1945), which film critic Leonard Maltin called "one of the best B movies of its kind", and as co-writer for Detective Story (1951) starring Kirk Douglas.

Among his other writing credits are the screenplays for House of Strangers, The Man From Laramie and Johnny Guitar. He was just as well-known as a producer, making a number of big Hollywood films such as The Battle of the Bulge, The Royal Hunt of the Sun and Studs Lonigan. During his career, he worked for almost every Hollywood mogul of his time, including Darryl Zanuck, Harry Cohn, Jack Warner, Louis B. Mayer and Samuel Goldwyn.

The versatile Yordan came to see his job not so much as a writer as a trouble-shooter. "There would always be three, four writers in there before me and they'd call me up at the last minute," he told Pat McGilligan, co-author of Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist (1997). "I enjoyed the challenges because I felt I could do anything."

Bernard Gordon, Yordan's friend and fellow screenwriter on many films, told the Los Angeles Times this week: "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."

The two writers got to know each other during the blacklist era in Hollywood. Gordon was blacklisted; Yordan was not. Thus Yordan could provide Gordon, as well as other blacklisted writers, with a "front". This inevitably led to some writers feeling that Yordan took undeserved credit.

Del Reisman, a former president of the Writers' Guild of America and a member of the guild committee which restored the names of blacklisted writers to 82 films made during the era, said this week that Yordan's name came up several times during the committee's work in 1996.

As a result, some of the film credits which named Yordan as a writer were corrected, including the writing credits on El Cid (1961), to which the name of Ben Barzman, who was blacklisted, was added as co-writer. Also, Gordon's name was added to the credits on the sci-fi film, The Day of the Triffids, released in 1953.

Besides Barzman and Gordon, other blacklisted writers who worked with him were Arnaud D'Usseau, Ben Maddow and Julian Halevy (also known as Julian Zimet). Yordan told McGilligan that he was not political and he didn't "understand this whole blacklist thing."

Yordan said that it was producer Sidney Harmon who would come to him and ask him to hire a blacklisted writer who was "starving to death" or another who couldn't pay his rent. "I gave these people work because Sidney, in a sense, was my conscience," he said.

Although Maddow at one point claimed he wrote Johnny Guitar (1954), Yordan insisted he was the key writer on what was one of his more enduring films, one which Maltin called "the screen's great kinky western" in which the female characters took on the violent roles.

Yordan said he was brought in to save the movie when the star, Joan Crawford, threatened to bolt the set because she didn't like the script that was already filming. He told writer Hank Rosenfeld in 2000 that he asked Crawford what it would take to make her happy. "She said, 'I want to have a shoot-out with \ Mercedes McCambridge and kill her'," Yordan said. "So I said, 'You got it'."

Yordan, who was born to a Polish immigrant family, earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois and a law degree at Kent college of law in Chicago. He began his writing career in the 1930s working for director William Dieterlie and became known as a great pitcher of story ideas and a script doctor before moving on to producing.

Yordan, who was married four times, is survived by his wife of 39 years, Faith, of San Diego, five children and six grandchildren.

Philip Yordan: born April 1st, 1914; died March 24th, 2003.