Childhood & Early Life
Fred Zinnemann was born Alfred Zinnemann in Vienna, Austria on April 29, 1907. His father was an Austrian-Jewish doctor named Oskar Zinnemann and his mother was Anna Feiwel. He had one younger brother.
After finishing school he enrolled at the ‘University of Vienna’ to study music and law and graduated with a degree in law in 1927.
While studying law he became interested in films and decided to go to France in 1927 to join the ‘Ecole Technique de Photographie’ in Paris to learn cinematography for one year.
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Fred Zinnemann worked initially as a cameraman for Robert Siodmak in Germany in making the documentary ‘Menschen am Sonntag’ or ‘People on Sunday’ in 1930.
He started his work in Hollywood as an extra in the film ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ directed by Lewis Milestone in 1930.
In early 1930s he became an assistant director to Robert J. Flaherty for a project that was abandoned after some time.
He started to make documentaries which included his debut effort ‘Los Redes’ or ‘The Wave’ in 1936, shot on real locations in Mexico with non-professional local actors.
He was signed up by MGM in 1937 and made ‘That Mothers Might Live’ in 1938 which won him an Oscar.
In 1942 Zinnemann worked for MGM with Jack Chertok in making the feature films ‘Kid Glove Killer’ in 1942, which was a mystery story about a police chemist, played by Van Heflin, who solves a murder. He also made ‘Eyes in the Night’ in the same year.
In 1944 he made his first big-budget film ‘The Seventh Cross’ which starred Spencer Tracy, one of the seven escapees from a Nazi concentration camp.
In 1947 he made a couple of comedies ‘Little Mr. Jim’ and ‘My Brother Talks to Horses’ starring child star Butch Jenkins.
His next project was ‘The Search’ in 1948, a story about an American soldier stationed at Berlin, played by Montgomery Clift, trying to adopt a nine-year old German concentration camp survivor played by Ivan Jandl.
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He made another war film ‘Act of Violence’ in 1948 starring Robert Ryan, a crippled war veteran, trying to take revenge on a former officer for betraying his platoon when he was a prisoner-of-war captive.
His next film on war was ‘The Men’ in 1950 starring Marlon Brando and his fiancée Terersa Wright based on a story by Carl Foreman.
The film ‘Teresa’ (1951) was about the Italian wife of an American soldier who faced social problems after going to America. It starred newcomers Pier Angeli, Rod Steiger and Ralph Meeker.
The western ‘High Noon’ made by Zinnemann in 1952 was a huge success starring Grace Kellyand and Gary Cooper, a town marshal faced with a notorious gunfighter looking for revenge.
His film ‘The Member of the Wedding’ (1952), an adaptation of Carson McCuller’ Broadway play with five members from the original cast including Julie Harris, Ethel Waters and Brandon deWilde, met with great success.
‘From Here to Eternity’ in 1953 was a huge box-office hit about the US soldiers just before the attack on Pear Harbor. It starred Montogomery Clift, Frank Sinatra, Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr and Ernest Borgnine. It won eight ‘Academy Awards’.
In 1958 he started directing the film ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ with Spencer Tracy in the lead but was replaced by John Sturges as director before the shooting was complete.
He made ‘The Nun’s Story’ in 1959 starring Audrey Hepburn who joins the Resistance after overcoming the horrors of mental hospital and Nazi brutality.
In 1961 he was made a member of the jury at the ‘Cannes Film Festival’.
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In 1963 ‘20th Century Fox’ wanted him to direct ‘The Day Custer Fell’ but finally scrapped it.
His film ‘Behold a Pale Horse’ made in 1964 was a box office flop.
In 1966 he made the film ‘A Man for All Seasons’ which was a huge success.
‘The Day of The Jackal’ in 1973 and ‘Julia’ in 1977 were proof of his expertise in film making.
Awards & Achievements
Jean Zinnemann won an ‘Academy Award’ for the best one-reel short film ‘That Mothers Might Live’ in 1938 and for ‘Benjy’ in 1951.
In 1952 he received the ‘Best Director’s Award’ from the ‘New York Film Critics’ for ‘High Noon’.
He won the ‘Academy Award’ for ‘Best Director’ and ‘Best Picture’ for his film ‘From Here to Eternity’ in 1953.
In 1958 he received a nomination for ‘Academy Award for Best Director’ for the film ‘The Search’.
In 1959 he was nominated for an ‘Academy Award for Best Director’ and won the ‘Best Direction’ award from ‘New York Film Critics’ for ‘The Nun’s Story’.
He won an ‘Academy Award for Best Director’ and a nomination for ‘Best Picture’ for ‘A Man for All Seasons’ in 1966. He also bagged the ‘Best Direction’ award from the ‘New York Film Critics’, the ‘Director Award’ from the ‘Directors Guild of America’ for the same film.
In 1971 he received the ‘D. W. Griffith Award’ and the ‘Order of Arts and Letters’ from the French government in 1982.
He received the ‘U.S. Congressional Lifetime Achievement Award’ in 1987 and the ‘John Hudson Award’ in 1994.
He was made a ‘Fellow of the British Film Institute’ for his immense contributions to the film industry.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Renee Bartlett on October 9, 1936 who remained with him till his death.
He had one son from the marriage named Timothy.
Fred Zinnemann died of a heart attack in London, England, on March 14, 1997.