Zinnemann, Fred 1907-1997

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Zinnemann, Fred 1907-1997
(Alfred Zinnemann)


Born April 29, 1907, in Rzeszów, Poland; immigrated to Vienna, Austria; immigrated to the United States, 1929; naturalized U.S. citizen, 1937; immigrated to England, 1960s; died March 14, 1997, in London, England, ashes scattered near Santa Monica, CA; son of Oskar (a physician) and Anna (Feiwel) Zinnemann; married Renee Bartlett (a costumer), October 9, 1936; children: Tim. Education: Studied law in Vienna, Austria, 1925-27, and cinematography in Paris, France, 1927-28.


Film director. Cofounder of the Artists' Rights Foundation, 1994. Worked as an assistant cameraman in Paris, France, and Berlin, Germany, 1920s, including for films La Marche des machines, Ich Küsse Ihre Hand, Sprengbagger 1010, and Menschen am Sonntag; assistant director to Berthold Viertel for Man Trouble, 1930, The Spy, 1931, The Wiser Sex, 1932, and The Man from Yesterday, 1932; assistant to Busby Berkeley for film The Kid from Spain, 1932; director of feature films, including Redes, 1934; Kid Glove Killer, 1942; Eyes in the Night, 1942; The Seventh Cross, 1944; Little Mr. Jim, 1945; My Brother Talks to Horses, 1946; The Search, 1947; Act of Violence, 1948; The Men, 1950; Teresa, 1951; High Noon, 1952; Member of the Wedding, 1952; From Here to Eternity, 1953; Oklahoma, 1955; A Hatful of Rain, 1957; The Nun's Story, 1958; (and producer) The Sundowners, 1960; (and producer) Behold a Pale Horse, 1963; (and producer) A Man for All Seasons, 1966; (and producer) The Day of the Jackal, 1973; (and producer) Julia, 1977; and (and producer) Five Days One Summer, 1982; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, (MGM), Hollywood, CA, director, 1937-48. Director of short documentary films for MGM, including A Friend Indeed, 1938; The Story of Dr. Carver, 1938; That Mothers Might Live, 1938; Tracking the Sleeping Death, 1938; They Live Again, 1938; Weather Wizards, 1939; While America Sleeps, 1939; Help Wanted!, 1939; One against the World, 1939; The Ash Can Fleet, 1939; Forgotten Victory, 1939; The Old South, 1940; Stuffie, 1940; The Way in the Wilderness, 1940; The Great Meddler, 1940; Forbidden Passage, 1941; Your Last Act, 1941; and The Lady or the Tiger?, 1942; also directed Benjy (short film), 1951. Affiliated with other studios and worked as independent director, beginning 1948. Brief appearance as an actor in All Quiet on the Western Front, 1930, and as himself for various documentary films and television programs.


Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Short Subject, Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, 1938, for That Mothers Might Live; Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject, 1951, for Benjy; Best Director, New York Film Critics Circle, 1952, for High Noon; Best Director from New York Film Critics Circle, Golden Globe award for Best Director, Oscar for Best Director, and Director Award from Directors Guild of America, 1953, all for From Here to Eternity; Venice Film Festival prize, 1957, for A Hatful of Rain; Golden Seashell from UN Awards, and Best Director from New York Film Critics Circle, 1959, both for The Nun's Story; Golden Laurel awards for Top Director, 1958, 1959, and 1961-64; Golden Thistle Award, Edinborough Film Festival, 1965; Moscow Film Festival award, 1965; Best Director from New York Film Critics Circle, 1966, National Board of Review award for Best Director, 1967, Golden Globe award for Best Director, 1967, Oscar for Best Director, 1967, Director Award from Directors Guild of America, 1967, and British Academy of Film and Television Arts award, 1968, all for A Man for All Seasons; Gold Medal, City of Vienna, 1967; D.W. Griffith Award, Directors Guild of America, 1971; Donatello award, 1976; Silver Ribbon, Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists, 1978, for Julia; Order of Arts and Letters, France, 1982; Berlinale Camera award, 1986; U.S. Congressional Lifetime Achievement Award, 1987; John Huston Award, Artists Rights' Foundation, 1994; Durham University, D.Litt., 1994; Star on the Walk of Fame, Hollywood, CA; many Oscar and other nominations.


Fred Zinnemann: An Autobiography, Trafalgar Square (London, England), 1992.

(With Gabriel Miller) Fred Zinnemann: Interviews ("Conversations with Filmmakers" series), University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 2005.


Fred Zinnemann was the director of such masterpieces as From Here to Eternity, which contains a scene featuring Burt Lancaster and Debra Kerr that remains an icon as the most passionate ever shot and which earned multiple Oscars for production and performance. Zinnemann received Oscars for this film, for A Man for All Seasons, and for two short films. His list of awards and nominations is lengthy, and his work has been honored around the world. He was responsible for launching or furthering the careers of many of Hollywood's biggest stars, including Lancaster, Kerr, John Hurt, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Meryl Streep, Rod Steiger, Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn, Julie Harris, Robert Mitchum, Vanessa Redgrave, and Jane Fonda. Early in his career, Zinnemann directed a short documentary film titled That Mothers Might Live, which studies the pioneering use of antiseptics in obstetrics, and which also won an Academy Award.

Zinnemann was born in Poland and raised in Austria. He studied law at the University of Vienna, but was drawn to film and attended one of the first schools that taught the craft. After studying at the Ecole Technique de Photographie et Cinematographie in Paris, he worked as an assistant cameraman in Berlin, Germany. His first films were silent, low-budget features, like Menschen am Sonntag ("People on Sunday"), directed by Edgar Ulmer and Billy Wilder. In 1929 he worked for documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty, whose letter of introduction later resulted in a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Eager to work in American films, he immigrated to the United States that same year, arriving in New York City on the day Wall Street crashed. His first film as director was Redes ("The Wave"), produced by the Mexican government to tell the story of Gulf of Vera Cruz fishermen. Over the next few years, he directed documentary short films at MGM. His first feature, a B film titled Kid Glove Killer, was followed by The Seventh Cross, starring Spencer Tracy, a film that contradicted the prevailing opinion during wartime that all Germans were evil. He directed two more films for MGM, The Search and Act of Violence, before his contract expired. The Search is the story of children survivors of the Holocaust, from which his own parents died during the early 1940s.

Cineaste contributor Brian Neve interviewed Zinnemann four months before his death and expressed his admiration for The Search. He asked if it had been influenced by Italian neorealism. Zinneman responded: "It was influenced by Flaherty, not by the new realism in Italy. At that time nobody had even heard of Auschwitz, and very few people knew anything about what had happened in Europe. It was a new approach to picture making at that time. I think we were the first Hollywood company that went out on a distant location, because before then the factory process was much more strictly observed by the studios."

Zinnemann began working with producer Stanley Kramer, directing such films as The Men, High Noon, and an adaptation of the play, Member of the Wedding. The Men, starring Brando in his motion picture debut, and Teresa Wright, is set in a Veterans Administration hospital. High Noon is a Civil War Western classic featuring Gary Cooper as Marshal Will Kane and Grace Kelly as his bride.

Zinnemann told Neve that "at the time that we made From Here to Eternity, the Army was absolutely sacred because of Korea and the victory in WWII. So one would have thought that to make a picture like From Here to Eternity, which was critical of what went on inside the Army, and what it did to individuals, would not be possible." The film that also featured Frank Sinatra and Montgomery Clift included footage of the actual bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Several more films followed, including Zinnemann's only musical, Oklahoma; A Hatful of Rain, about drug addiction; A Nun's Story, starring Audrey Hepburn as a Belgian missionary nurse serving in the Congo; and The Sundowners, set on the Australian frontier. Among Zinnemann's political films are Behold a Pale Horse, starring Gregory Peck and set during the Spanish Civil War, a picture that also incorporated newsreel authenticity, and The Day of the Jackal, a story about an assassin's attempt on the life of Charles de Gaulle; the movie was shot on location like a newsreel.

Zinnemann was targeted during the anti-Communist scare of the 1950s, with its blacklisting and loyalty oaths, and in the 1960s he moved to London, the birthplace of his wife. His next Oscar-winning film, A Man for All Seasons, was then produced, garnering more awards for its director than any other in his career. The film, starring Paul Scofield as Thomas More, Orson Welles as Cardinal Wolsey, and Robert Shaw as King Henry VIII, was adapted from the play by Robert Bolt and received top awards both in England and the United States.

Julia, a biography of Lillian Hellman, stars Jane Fonda as Hellman, Jason Robards as her lover, the writer Dashiell Hammett, and Vanessa Redgrave as the mysterious Julia. Zinnemann's relationship with Hellman deteriorated during the making of the film. He told Neve that the icon of the 1930s was "an extremely talented, brilliant writer, but she was a phony character, I'm sorry to say;h3 . Lillian Hellman in her mind owned half the Spanish Civil War, while Hemingway owned the other half." A film based on Ernest Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea never reached completion, but Zinnemann continued directing until well into his seventies. His final film, Five Days One Summer, shot in the Swiss Alps, is a romance starring Sean Connery.

Zinnemann died of a heart attack in his London home. Among the many tributes written in his memory was one in Variety by Richard Natale and Timothy M. Gray, in which they wrote that films like Seasons, Eternity, and Julia "are intimate epics: wide in scope and theme, yet filled with small, personal details, reflecting Zinnemann's taste and his background as a documentarian." Natale and Gray further commented that films like High Noon and The Nun's Story "often dealt with crises of conscience," while in others like The Men and Member of the Wedding the characters struggle "with limitations imposed on them by themselves or others."



Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Volume 26, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2006.

International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 2: Directors, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.

Newsmakers 1997, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.

Nolletti, Arthur, Jr., editor, The Films of Fred Zinnemann: Critical Perspectives, State University of New York Press (Albany, NY), 1999.

Sinyard, Neil, Fred Zinneman: Films of Character and Conscience, McFarland (Jefferson, NC), 2003.

Zinnemann, Fred, Fred Zinnemann: An Autobiography, Trafalgar Square (London, England), 1992.


Cineaste, winter, 1997, Brian Neve, "A Past Master of His Craft: An Interview with Fred Zinnemann," p. 15.



Entertainment Weekly, March 28, 1996, Michael Sauter, "A Zinnemann Toast."

Variety, March 17, 1997, article by Richard Natale and Timothy M. Gray.