Nunnally Johnson (1897-1992)

Nunnally Johnson
Nunnally Johnson

Nunnally Johnson was a successful Hollywood producer, director and screenplay writer, well known for his sparkling dialogue and sharp wit. He spent much of his Hollywood career with 20th Century Fox and he became a close associate of Daryll Zanuck. He was closely involved with some well known movies such as 1940's 'The Grapes of Wrath' which he adapted from John Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. He also wrote the screenplay and directed 'The Three Faces of Eve' in 1957.


He was born on December 5, 1897 in Columbus, Georgia. His father worked for the Central Georgia Railway and he had a younger brother, Cecil. His mother was a teacher who founded what later became the Columbus Parent Teachers Association, and who was the first woman to serve on the Muscogee County Board of Education. Johnson Elementary School in Columbus was named after her in 1949.

Early Years

Nunnally was educated at Columbus High School and graduated in 1915. After abandoning early ambitions to become a professional baseball player, he began his working life as a delivery boy, then became a junior reporter writing for the Savannah Press and the Columbus Enquirer Sun. In 1919 he moved to New York to write for the New York Herald Tribune and the New York Evening Post. He also wrote a number of short stories for 'The New Yorker' and 'The Saturday Evening Post' which were published in 1930 in a collection entitled 'There Ought To Be a Law'.

Nunnally's first connection with the movie business was in 1927 when one of his stories was adapted for the screen as 'Rough House Rosie' starring Clara Bow. He liked what he had learned of the business and in 1933 when his request to be the movie critic for 'The New Yorker' was refused, he moved to Hollywood.with the aim of becoming a screenwriter.

Hollywood Career

Nunnally soon found his services were very much in demand. He became a busy man when in 1935 20th Century-Fox hired him as a full time screenwriter. He was responsible for the screenplay of numerous quality films such as 'The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo' in 1935, 'The Prisoner of Shark Island' in 1936 and 'Jesse James' in 1939. He also worked as an associate producer during this time.

In 1940 he worked as associate producer and also wrote the screenplay for 'The Grapes of Wrath' an unconventional film which has become a classic. Nunnally received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay and he also found a wife. Dorris Bowland was appearing in the movie and she and Nunnally got married in February 1940.

International Pictures 1943

From the late 1930s Nunnally had been fully producing movies and was now at the peak of his creativity, He went into partnership in 1943 with ex-Fox executive William Goetz forming International Pictures. He continued writing stylish and clever scripts such as 'Woman in the Window' in 1944 and 'The Stranger' in 1946.

When International merged with Universal Studios. Nunnally continued in the newly amalgamated studio, producing numerous highly successful movies such as 'Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid' in 1948, 'The Gunfighter' in 1950 and 'How to Marry a Millionaire' in 1953.

Movie Director 1954

Still eager to extend his abilities, Nunnally turned to directing in 1954, whilst continuing to turn out witty, highly commercial screenplays, as in 'The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit' in 1956, 'Three Faces of Eve' in 1957 and the light comedy 'Oh, Men, Oh Women' in 1957. After suffering a problematic location shoot with 'The Angel Wore Red' in 1960, Nunnally decided to restrict himself solely to screenwriting.

He wrote seven more scripts, finishing with another major hit in 1968 with 'The Dirty Dozen'. He then retired from the movie business.


Johnson was married three times. His first marriage was in 1919 to Alice Mason, who worked for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. They had one daughter and divorced in 1920. In 1927 he married another member of the Daily Eagle staff, Marion Byrnes. They also had a daughter and the marriage ended in 1938. His third wife, in 1940, was actress Dorris Bowdon whom he met on the set of 'The Grapes of Wrath'. They had three children and the marriage ended with Nunnally's death.

Nunnally Johnson died on March 25, 1977, from emphysema. He was buried in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Nunnally Johnson Academy Awards

No Wins:

Two Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Writing, Screenplay ... The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Best Writing, Screenplay ... Holy Matrimony (1943)

Nunnally Johnson Filmography

Mlle. Irene the Great (Short) (story)
A Bedtime Story (screenplay)
Mama Loves Papa (story)
Tillie and Gus (story - unconfirmed, uncredited)
Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back (screenplay)
The House of Rothschild (screen play)
Moulin Rouge
Kid Millions (original story and screen play)
Baby Face Harrington (screen play)
Cardinal Richelieu (contributing writer - uncredited)
Thanks a Million (screen play)
The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo
The Prisoner of Shark Island (screenplay)
Dimples (original idea - uncredited)
Banjo on My Knee (screenplay)
Jesse James (original screen play)
Wife, Husband and Friend (screenplay)
Rose of Washington Square (screen play)
The Grapes Of Wrath (screen play)
I Was an Adventuress (contributing writer - uncredited)
Chad Hanna (screen play)
Tobacco Road (screenplay)
Roxie Hart (written for the screen by)
Moontide (uncredited)
The Pied Piper
The Light of Heart (screenwriter)
The Moon Is Down (writer)
Holy Matrimony (writer)
Casanova Brown
The Woman in the Window (written for the screen by)
The Keys of the Kingdom (screenplay)
Along Came Jones (written by)
The Southerner (uncredited)
The Dark Mirror (written for the screen by)
Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (screenplay)
Everybody Does It (screenplay)