Philip Dunne - Writer

Writer and Director. Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 11 February 1908; son of the writer Finley Peter Dunne. Education: Attended St. Bernard's School, New York; Middlesex School, Massachusetts; Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1925–29, no degree. Family: Married Amanda Duff, 1939; three daughters. Career: 1929—worked for Guaranty Trust Company, New York; 1930–31—story reader, Fox Company; 1933—first film as writer, Student Tour ; 1937–62—writer, 20th Century-Fox: also a director: first film as director, The View from Pompey's Head , 1955; 1942—staff member, Nelson Rockefeller's Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs; 1942–46—Chief of Production, Office of War Information, Overseas Branch; 1952 and 1956—speechwriter for Adlai Stevenson's presidential campaigns, and for John F. Kennedy's 1960 campaign. Awards: Writers Guild Laurel Award, 1961, and Valentine Davies Award, 1973. Died: June 1992.

Films as Writer:


Student Tour (Bell)


The Count of Monte Cristo (Lee)


The Melody Lingers On (Burton)


The Last of the Mohicans (Seitz)


Lancer Spy (Ratoff); Breezing Home (Carruth) (co-story)


Suez (Dwan)

Philip Dunne (foreground) with Richard Egan and Dana Wynter
Philip Dunne (foreground) with Richard Egan and Dana Wynter


The Rains Came (Brown); Swanee River (Lanfield); Stanley and Livingston (H. King)


Johnny Apollo (Hathaway)


How Green Was My Valley (Ford)


Son of Fury (Cromwell)


The Late George Apley (Mankiewicz); Forever Amber (Preminger); The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Mankiewicz)


The Luck of the Irish (Koster); Escape (Mankiewicz)


Pinky (Kazan)


Anne of the Indies (Tourneur); David and Bathsheba (King)


Lydia Bailey (Negulesco); Way of a Gaucho (Tourneur) (+ pr)


The Robe (Koster)


Demetrius and the Gladiators (Daves); The Egyptian (Curtiz)


The Agony and the Ecstasy (Reed)

Films as Writer and Director:


The View from Pompey's Head (+ pr)


Hilda Crane


Three Brave Men


Ten North Frederick ; Blue Denim ( Blue Jeans )


Blindfold (co-sc)

Films as Director:


Prince of Players


In Love and War


Wild in the Country


Lisa ( The Inspector )


By DUNNE: books—

How Green Was My Valley (screenplay), in Twenty Best Film Plays , edited by John Gassner and Dudley Nichols, New York, 1943.

(Editor), Mr. Dooley Remembers , by Finley Peter Dunne, Boston, Massachusetts, 1963.

Take Two: A Life in Movies and Politics , New York, 1980.

By DUNNE: articles—

"The Documentary and Hollywood," in Hollywood Quarterly , January 1946.

"The Animal Called a Writer," in Films and Filming (London), September 1961.

Film Comment (New York), Winter 1970–71.

In Blueprint on Babylon , by J.D. Marshall, Los Angeles, California, 1978.

In Backstory: Interviews with Screenwriters of Hollywood's Golden Age , edited by Pat McGilligan, Berkeley, California, 1986.

On DUNNE: articles—

Stempel, Tom, in American Screenwriters , edited by Robert E. Morsberger, Stephen O. Lesser, and Randall Clark, Detroit, Michigan, 1984.

Dunne, John Gregory, " How Green Was My Valley : The Screenplay for Darryl F. Zanuck Film Production Directed by John Ford," in New York Review of Books , 16 May 1991.

Callenbach, Ernest, " How Green Was My Valley : The Screenplay for the John Ford Directed Film," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1991.

Obituary in The New York Times , 4 June 1992.

Obituary in Variety (New York), 8 June 1992.

Obituary in Facts on File , 11 June 1992.

Obituary in Classic Images (Muscatine), July 1992.

* * *

One of Hollywood's most respected screenwriters, Philip Dunne is best known for his successful adaptations of literary works. Throughout a 25-year association with 20th Century-Fox—which later included stints as both a producer and a director—Dunne wrote films noted for their intelligence, strongly developed characters, and frequent social commentary. He was also one of the film industry's leading liberal political activists—a role which found him labeled a Communist sympathizer in many quarters during the McCarthy era—as a principal organizer of the Writers Guild, and a sometime political speech writer for candidates ranging from Franklin Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy.

Although Dunne initially tried his hand at banking after leaving Harvard, literature had played an important role in his childhood (his father was the noted humorist Finley Peter Dunne) and his inclination toward writing was perhaps a natural one. Arriving in Hollywood in 1930, he was hired by Fox as a reader, then fired and rehired a year later as a junior writer, a position which found him assisting on various screenplays in a minor capacity. In 1934, he received his first chance as a full-fledged writer when he and Rowland Lee were assigned to co-author an adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo . The film proved a success and Dunne began a long and fruitful collaboration with the studio, writing screenplays for such films as Stanley and Livingston , The Ghost and Mrs. Muir , and The Robe . His work was characterized by its attention to details of character and human interaction and his literate handling of dialogue and the mechanics of storytelling.

During most of Dunne's tenure at Fox the studio was run by Darryl F. Zanuck, whose thoroughness in overseeing film productions extended to participating in script and story conferences. Zanuck was known for his willingness to tackle controversial social issues in the films he produced, and Dunne was assigned to write two of the most notable: How Green Was My Valley , the story of a Welsh mining family, and Pinky , which deals with the subject of racism. Both of these films represent Dunne's work at its best, displaying his talent for literary adaptation, his sensitivity to social and political problems, and his reliance on characters as the source of true dramatic conflict.

How Green Was My Valley , based on the novel by Richard Llewellyn and directed by John Ford, focuses on the hardships endured by one family, the Morgans, Welsh coal miners whose strong family bonds are torn apart by disagreements over labor strikes and the formation of a miners' union. Although the film's setting is Wales, the issue of unionization was an extremely controversial one in the United States at the time of its release, and How Green Was My Valley helped put a human face on the many nameless workers plagued by unsafe or unjust conditions both in America and abroad.

Pinky dealt with an issue much closer to home. The film stars Jeanne Crain as a light-skinned young black girl who is able to "pass for white" until she is forced to confront her own sense of identity and pride when she falls in love with a white doctor. The film was one of the first to confront the subject of racism, and it takes the issue a step further than does the book, Quality , on which it is based. Quality ends with the doctor rejecting the girl after learning she is black. Dunne and his cowriter, Dudley Nichols, altered this slightly, with the doctor now offering to marry Simons if she will continue to "pass"; Crain refusing, realizing at last that self-hatred is perhaps the most damaging form of prejudice. It is a perceptive alteration on the writers' part and one which allows the young heroine to grow throughout the course of the story.

Despite his tinkering with Pinky's conclusion, Dunne has been among the most successful adapters of literature because of his respect for the original author's intentions. He has stated in interviews that the three keys to adapting a novel are remaining true to the essence of the book and its author's style, allowing the characters to tell the story, and selecting the right scenes to retain for the screen. Michael Mann so highly regarded Dunne's adaptation skills, that he credited Dunne's 1936 screenplay as the source for his own 1992 film version of The Last of the Mohicans , rather than the original novel by James Fenimore Cooper.

Dunne's own autobiography, Take Two: A Life in Movies and Politics , is among the best-written and most informative books on Hollywood and the craft of screenwriting, and he has remained a vocal critic over the years of the auteur theory, likening the screenwriter to an architect and the director to a building contractor who imposes his own style on the architect's blueprints. Dunne's outings as a director have included such films as Prince of Players with Richard Burton and Ten North Frederick with Gary Cooper, but it is as a screenwriter that Dunne will be remembered, with the intelligence, insight, and concern for the human condition that mark his work, remaining rare and valued qualities on the screen.

—Janet Lorenz

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