Abby Mann, Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Judgment at Nuremberg,” died Tuesday of heart failure in Beverly Hills. He was 84.
A memorial service will be held Sunday at 11 a.m. at Hillside Memorial Park, 6001 Centinela Ave., Los Angeles.
Mann was known for tackling themes of justice and equality in his smartly written scripts. When accepting his Oscar for “Nuremberg,” he said, “A writer worth his salt at all has an obligation not only to entertain but to comment on the world in which he lives.”
Mann won Emmys for TV movies “The Marcus-Nelson Murders” (1973), which formed the basis for the “Kojak” series; “Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story” (1989); and “Indictment: The McMartin Trial” (1995). He was Oscar-nommed for Stanley Kramer’s 1965 film “Ship of Fools.”
Mann was credited as creator of “Kojak” but was not involved with production of the series.
The inspiration for the “Marcus-Nelson Murders” was the story of Janice Wylie and Emily Hoffert, two young white women who were brutally murdered in Manhattan. Mann visited their accused murderer in prison and became convinced that he was innocent, then focused the TV movie on civil rights and the justice system’s prejudice against poor and minority suspects. He reportedly felt these themes were not carried over to the successful TV series.
Born Abraham Goodman, he was raised in East Pittsburgh, Penn. Mann attended Temple U. and NYU and served in WWII before starting his career in the early days of television as a writer for such shows as “Cameo Theater” and “Lux Video Theater.”
He went on to write for prestigious series such as “Studio One,” “Robert Montgomery Presents” and “Playhouse 90.” The Nazi war crime trial drama “Judgment at Nuremberg” was originally produced as a 1959 episode of “Playhouse 90,” then remade for the bigscreen in 1961 by Kramer.
Aside from Mann’s adapted screenplay win, the pic drew the actor Oscar for Maximilian Schell (re-creating his TV performance) and nine other nominations.
While he spent the bulk of his career as a writer, producer and director of weighty TV docudramas, Mann contributed feature screenplays for “Ship of Fools,” based on the Katherine Anne Porter novel, and for John Cassavetes’ “A Child Is Waiting,” with Judy Garland as a teacher of mentally challenged students. He also wrote the features “The Detective” (a 1968 Frank Sinatra pic), “War and Love” and “Report to the Commissioner.”
Mann created and served as co-exec producer on the short-lived anthology series “Medical Story,” then tried his hand at directing with the 1978 miniseries “King,” about Martin Luther King Jr. Among several other Emmy nominations was one for the pilot of 1980’s “Skag,” a series that starred Karl Malden. His other TV movie credits include “The Atlanta Child Murders,” “Teamster Boss: The Jackie Presser Story” and the 1992 “Sinatra,” for which he was credited as Ben Goodman.
HBO’s “Indictment: The McMartin Trial,” co-written by Mann and his wife Myra, proved controversial for appearing to favor the position that the charges against the McMartin family were overblown or manufactured. On the day production began, their house was mysteriously burned to the ground.
For his last TV film, 2002’s “Whitewash: The Clarence Brandley Story,” Mann returned to the theme of a falsely accused African-American man, this time in Texas.
He is survived by his wife, Myra, and a son.