Nunnally Johnson was one of Hollywood's most prestigious and prolific screenwriters, known for his original writings and his ability to adapt the work of literary greats to the big screen and into the annals of film classics. His most notable work was writing the screenplay for the film "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940), an adaptation of John Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that was directed by John Ford and starred Henry Fonda. It won two Oscars and was nominated for five more.
As a young man, Johnson dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player or a foreign correspondent.
"I abandoned all thought of becoming a professional baseball player and embraced journalism with a hug that took its breath away," he said. It was a disaster. Lawyers swarmed the office of the Columbus Enquirer-Sun after Johnson bungled one of his first stories, reporting on a libel trial.
"Trying to disentangle its ramifications or mistakes, the attorneys finally gave up in despair or disgust," Johnson said years later. "In the end, apparently, it seemed less trouble to forget it than to try to unravel it. This, I suppose, was what saved me."
From the brink of disaster Johnson became the reporter to follow. Not for his mistakes, but for his humor. "You'll like Johnson," stated the New York Evening Post's description of their "Roving Reporter." "Nunnally Johnson has carte blanche to roam the town and write about anything he pleases," it said. Readers were invited to "peer with him." They liked what he helped them see. They liked what he made them feel.
In 1927 Hollywood took notice, buying Johnson's "Rough House Rosie" article published in the Saturday Evening Post. As a child, Johnson had been a paperboy for the Saturday Evening Post. He would grow up to see his name on the cover as a featured writer and become one of the magazine's highest-paid writers in the 1920s and 1930s. He adapted "Rough House Rosie," a story about a poor girl who breaks into upper society, for the screen, starring Clara Bow.
Johnson moved to Hollywood in 1932 to embark on screenwriting full time. Two years later, Daryl Zanuck gave Johnson his big break, giving him full control of a screenplay for the film "The House of Rothschild" (1934), starring George Arliss and Boris Karloff. The film's great success was credited for making possible 20th Century Pictures' acquisition of Fox to become 20th Century Fox. Johnson went on to write the majority of his screenplays for the studio.
Johnson's screenwriting credits are prolific and include drama, mystery, romance, comedy, biography, history, war and western. Notable works include"Roxie Hart" (1942), directed by William A. Wellman, starring Ginger Rogers; "The Woman in the Window" (1944), directed by Fritz Lang, starring Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett; "How to Marry a Millionaire" (1953), directed by Jean Negulesco, starring Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall; "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" (1956), directed by Johnson, starring Gregory Peck; "The Three Faces of Eve" (1957), directed by Johnson and adapted from the Corbett Thigpen book about a woman suffering from multiple personality disorder, starring Joanne Woodward. As the title character Eve, Woodward won an Oscar and Golden Globe.
|1940||Best Screenplay||The Grapes of Wrath||Nomination|
|1943||Best Screenplay||Holy Matrimony||Nomination|