At the end of my post on Neil Armstrong (Shoot for the Moon) I wrote that Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dudley Nichols was also born in Wapakonita, Ohio where Armstrong was born. I’ve mentioned Nichols a couple of time on this blog but decided to dig a little deeper to see what I could find.
After graduating from Blume High School (also Armstrong’s school) he attended the University of Michigan. He spent a couple of years in the Navy and then became a reporter for the New York Evening News and then New York World. Before moving to California he spent a total 10 years as a journalist in New York City.
He not only racked up more than 60 credits on various movies, but according to Frank Beaver, “in my estimation [Nichols] was the first great writer for ‘talking pictures.’” Elsewhere I read him called the greatest screenwriter of the 30s. His first film credit was writing Men Without Women in 1930 beginning a long working relationship with director John Ford, writing eight Ford directed films including Stagecoach (1939). Nichols also co-wrote Brining Up Baby, wrote two screenplays based on Eugene O’Neill’s plays (The Long Voyage Home, Morning Becomes Electra), wrote the screenplay for Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Two things Nichols is most known for is not only winning the Oscar for writing The Informer ( 1935), but by becoming the first person in Academy Award history to turn down the award as a protest. You can read the reasons he turned down the award, and others who have also done so, in the LA Times article They Snubbed the Oscars by Susan King.)
In 1937 and 1938 he was the president of the Screen Writers Guild, which in 1954 became one of the groups that formed the Writers Guild of America. So he had a pretty full career before he died in 1960.
I couldn’t find any interviews done with Dudley Nichols, but the following quote is attributed to Nichols though I do not know the original source.
Jesus of Nazareth could have chosen simply to express Himself in moral precepts; but like a great poet He chose the form of the parable, wonderful short stories that entertained and clothed the moral precept in an eternal form. It is not sufficient to catch man’s mind, you must also catch the imaginative faculties of his mind.
Nichols also produced and directed three films including Government Girl (1943) that he co-wrote with Budd Schulberg and starred Oliva de Havilliand. Other scripts of his were directed by Michael Curtiz, Howard Hawks and starred Henry Fonda, Kathrine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, Just a few of some of the biggest names of that Hollywood era that worked with Nichols.