Delbert Mann graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1941 and went on to serve as a bomber pilot in the U.S. Air Corps during WWII, receiving a Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters for his service. Following the war, he received his M.F.A. from Yale Drama School and was directing live theatre and teaching at Vanderbilt University when his friend, the noted producer Fred Coe, offered him the opportunity to direct live television drama. During the next six years, he directed over 100 teleplays with actors like Eva Marie Saint, Julie Harris, Humphrey Bogart and Henry Fonda. His groundbreaking work on the live television adaptation of What Makes Sammy Run? starred John Forsythe, Dina Merrill and Larry Blyden.
Mann directed The Goodyear Television Playhouse live production of Marty, written by Paddy Chayefsky and starring Rod Steiger. The success of the teleplay led to his 1955 feature film directing debut when Marty became the legendary blockbuster starring Ernest Borgnine, winning the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and the Screen Directors Guild Award for Best Director, followed in 1956 by Oscars for Best Director, Best Actor, Best Screenplay, and Best Picture. Mann followed with acclaimed screen adaptations of Desire Under the Elms with Sophia Loren and Anthony Perkins and Separate Tables, starring Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, and David Niven, for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Direction.
In the 1960s, he directed the feature film adaptation of the stage hit, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, which earned him a DGA Nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Films. Adept at a wide variety of genres, he followed up with A Gathering of Eagles, That Touch of Mink, Dear Heart, and Fitzwilly. Returning to television, he directed such acclaimed movies as Heidi with Maximilian Schell, David Copperfield with Laurence Olivier, Jane Eyre with George C. Scott and Susannah York, All Quiet on the Western Front with Richard Thomas and Ernest Borgnine, and The Member of the Wedding with Pearl Bailey. All five of these movies for television were DGA Award-nominated for Outstanding Directorial Achievement.
Delbert Mann served as DGA President from 1967-1971, as 2nd Vice President from 1965-1967 and 1975-1977, and was a Board Member from 1958-1963. He also served eight terms on the Western Directors Council, was Co-Chair of the 1973 Negotiating Committee, and was a longtime Trustee of the Directors Guild Foundation, serving has Chair from 2001-2005. In 1977, the DGA honored Mann with its Robert B. Aldrich Achievement Award for extraordinary service to the Guild, and in 2002, with the DGA Honorary Life Member Award.
This interview was recorded on November 19, 20, and 30, 2001.