Philip Yordan, prolific producer, writer and Oscar winner for the 1954 screenplay “Broken Lance,” died March 24, just shy of his 89th birthday. Cause of death was pancreatic cancer.
A colorful producer of Westerns and action pics in the ’50s and ’60s, Yordan also was credited as screenwriter on more than 60 films in a career that spanned more than five decades. A Chicago native, he obtained a law degree and worked briefly in a law office, but soon came to Hollywood. After failing as a fiction writer, he penned the play “Anna Lucasta,” about a working-class Polish family in Chicago. In 1944, Harlem’s American Negro Theater produced the play with an all-black cast. It was a surprise hit and transferred to Broadway.
On the heels of his stage success, Yordan found work as a screenwriter, at first on B movies. His career took off when one of those pics, “Dillinger,” snared him a 1945 Oscar nom for screenwriting.
In 1949, he wrote the first of his two screen adaptations of “Anna Lucasta”; the second version, in 1958, had an all-black cast headed by Eartha Kitt and Sammy Davis Jr.
He was Oscar-nommed again in 1951 for “Detective Story” and took home the trophy for writing the original story of 1954’s “Broken Lance.” That same year he adapted the offbeat Western “Johnny Guitar,” starring Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden.
By then he was also entrenched as a Hollywood producer and deal-maker. He defied the Hollywood blacklist by hiring banned writers, including Bernard Gordon, Ben Barzman and Ben Maddow, sometimes fronting for them himself.
In 1960, he moved to Spain, where he worked with Samuel Bronston on a series of big-budget pics including the 1961 epic “El Cid,” as a front for Barzman. Other credits from that time include “King of Kings,” “Battle of the Bulge” and “55 Days at Peking.” He continued working in Spain into the 1970s before returning to the U.S.
Survivors include his fourth wife, Faith; two sisters; and five children.