Oral Histories

Interview of Nunnally Johnson

Screenwriter, producer, and director.
Recollections of Nunnally Johnson
Oral History of the Motion Picture in America
Film and Television
Biographical Note:
Screenwriter, producer, and director.
Stempel, Thomas R.
Johnson, Nunnally
Persons Present:
Johnson, Stempel, and Rae Lindquist. Occasional interruptions by Mr. Johnson's wife, two of Mr. Johnson's daughters, Mr. Johnson's grandson, and Mr. Johnson's dog.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Thomas R. Stempel, Interviewer-Editor, Consultant for the Oral History of Motion Pictures in America Project; B.A., Drama, Yale. At the time of the interview, Stempel was working towards a Master of Fine Arts degree in screenwriting at UCLA.Stempel prepared for the interview by compiling a chronological list of Mr. Johnson's film credits taken from the Film Daily Yearbook.
Processing of Interview:
Mr. Stempel edited the material twice. In the first edited version, material from a verbatim transcript of the tapes was not changed except by the introduction of material and corrections in syntax. At Johnson's request Mr. Stempel edited the material again, removing repetitions and rearranging portions for chronology. Johnson did not review the manuscript in its entirety but accepted Mr. Stempel's editing as sufficient for preparing the transcript as a research document.
23 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
These interviews with prominent individuals in the motion picture industry were completed under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Film Institute to the UCLA Department of Theater Arts. The project was directed by Howard Suber, UCLA Department of Theater Arts. The UCLA Oral History Program provided technical advice but was not involved in respondent selection, research participation, research preparation, interviewing, editing, or transcript preparation.
Growing up in Columbus, Georgia; reporter on Columbus Enquirer-Sun following high school; World War I military service; reporter on New York Tribune, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Herald-Tribune, New York Evening Post; short stories published in The Smart Set, American Mercury, and the Saturday Evening Post; Hollywood and Herman Man-kiewicz's Fresh Air Fund for Newspapermen at Paramount Pictures; short-story market diminished by Depression; hired by Darryl F. Zanuck at Twentieth Century; The House of Rothschild, 1933; George Arliss; loaned to Goldwyn Studios for Kid Millions; Bulldog Drummond Strikes Again, 1934, and Fred Allen in Thanks a Million, 1935, at Fox; difficulties as producer; John Ford and The Prisoner of Shark Island, 1936; preference for writing alone; William Faulkner's work on Road to Glory; Shirley Temple; Otto Preminger; making Jesse James with Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda, 1939; Henry King, Henry Hathaway, Fritz Lang, and other directors; John Steinbeck's attitude toward screen versions of his work; writing screenplay of The Grapes of Wrath, 1940; audience and critical reaction to premiere; Dorris Johnson's role as Rose of Sharon; Gregory Ratoff; Erskine Caldwell, God's Little Acre, and Tobacco Road; Ford's direction of Tobacco Road; Sam Spiegel; Irving Pichel; Monty Wooley and Gracie Fields in Life Begins at 8:30, 1942; making The Moon Is Down, 1943; Mankiewicz anecdotes; Joseph Mankiewicz and Keys of the Kingdom; move to International Pictures, 1943: Casanova Brown and Woman in the Window; Gary Cooper; Edward G. Robinson; Along Came Jones, 1945; return to Fox, 1949; The Gunfighter, 1950; Irene Dunne and Alec Guinness in The Mudlark; The Desert Fox, 1951; James Mason; Frau Rommel; Phone Call from a Stranger; Bette Davis; introduction of Cinemascope at Fox; professional relationship with Zanuck; The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, 1956; Gregory Peck; Jennifer Jones; The Three Faces of Eve, 1957; Joanne Woodward; making films in Italy; Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, 1962; Marilyn Monroe; The World of Henry Orient for United Artists, 1964; The Dirty Dozen, 1967; plans for Scuba Duba.