Abby Mann: Screenwriter who won an Oscar for 'Judgment at Nuremberg' and created the TV detective Kojak

One of the foremost writers for television during the years often referred to as the medium's "golden age", Abby Mann received four Emmy awards, and he was also an Oscar-winning screenwriter, winning the award for his scathing account of the trials of Nazi judges, Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), the first major film to deal seriously with war crimes.

Noted for his concern for social justice and his polemical exposure of double standards, compromise and corruption, Mann dramatised several true cases revealing flaws in the criminal justice system and examples of institutionalised prejudice. Accepting his Judgment at Nuremberg Oscar for best adapted screenplay, he stated, "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 also created the highly successful detective series Kojak, though he later expressed disappointment that it became "formulaic".

The son of a jeweller of Russian-Jewish extraction, he was born Abraham Goodman in 1927 in a largely Catholic area of Pittsburgh dominated by steel factories, and he later stated that his feeling of being an outsider contributed to his sympathy for minorities. Educated at Temple University, Philadelphia, he spent a year in the army before studying at New York University under the GI Bill.

He first wrote for television when he contributed scripts to the anthology series Cameo Theater in 1950, and in the following decade, a particularly potent one for live television drama, he contributed scripts to such prestigious series as Studio One, Playhouse 90, US Steel Hour and Alcoa Goodyear Theater.

It was for Playhouse 90 that he wrote Judgment at Nuremberg in 1959, with Claude Rains, Paul Lukas and Maximilian Schell heading the cast. It powerfully dramatised the trial of four German judges accused of crimes against humanity, and the effect on proceedings of the Cold War and West Germany's alliance with the United States against the Russians. (Though noted for his resistance to compromise, Mann had to make one concession for the television screening, when the sponsor American Gas insisted that the words "gas chambers" be removed from the script.)

Though some critics found the film version, produced and directed by Stanley Kramer, overblown (it ran more than twice as long as the original television play), it attracted a wide audience, helped by a star-studded cast including Spencer Tracy, Richard Widmark, Burt Lancaster, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift and Maximilian Schell, who won an acting Oscar for his portrayal of the defence attorney. "Mann avoided making the film just a pious sermon against the evils of the Nazis," Kramer said. "He made it instead an honest attempt to understand what in the world and in the human character had made such evil possible."

Mann continued to work on films for the big screen, including The Condemned of Altona (1962), an adaptation of Jean-Paul Sartre's sombre play, and John Cassavetes' A Child is Waiting (1963), for which Mann wrote both story and screenplay. A sensitive tale of mentally retarded children, and the conflict between the head of an institution (Burt Lancaster) and one of his teachers (Judy Garland) over how personally involved they should become, it had a troubled history – the director Jack Clayton and intended star Ingrid Bergman both dropped out before shooting (allegedly over objections to the casting of Lancaster), and Cassavetes then clashed with the producer Stanley Kramer over the film's tone – and the result, though touching and provocative, failed to find an audience.

Mann then adapted Katherine Anne Porter's best-selling novel Ship of Fools (1965), which depicted the intertwining lives of a group of passengers sailing from Mexico to pre-Nazi Germany. Mann changed the time from the book's 1931 to 1933, the year when Hitler came to power. "I chose Mann simply because I considered him an excellent writer who knew a lot about Germans and Germany," said Kramer, again the film's producer. "A handful of critics complained that some of the characters were clichéd. I think that may have been true of just two of them, the juvenile leads. For them I must in part blame myself, since I worked very closely with Mann on the script."

Mann's screenplay was nominated for an Oscar, and he also won praise for his adaptation of Roderick Thorp's gritty novel about a gay murder in New York, The Detective (1968), which starred Frank Sinatra as a detective who becomes disillusioned with corruption in the city's police force.

Mann returned to television when in 1973 he was asked by Universal to write a script based on the rape and murder of two young women in Manhattan in 1963. George Whitmore, a young black man, was in prison on the basis of a confession he had since stated was beaten out of him, and after interviewing him Mann became convinced he was innocent and that his alibi had been ignored by officials. His television script, titled The Marcus-Nelson Murders, introduced the detective Kojak, played by the bald actor Telly Savalas. It won Mann both an Emmy and a Writers Guild Award, and after its broadcast Whitmore was released from prison. The lollipop-sucking Kojak was made the hero of a series which ran for over five years.

In 1978 Mann made his directing début with a six-hour mini-series, King, dealing with an alleged conspiracy surrounding the assassination of Martin Luther King, and in the following years he continued to tackle controversial subjects, including the medical profession and union corruption, in television movies, winning further Emmy Awards for Murderers Among Us: the Simon Wiesenthal Story (1989) and Indictment: the McMartin Case (1995).

The latter, written with his wife Myra, was based on the case of two teachers accused (initially with five others) of molesting more than 300 children. On the day production started, the Manns' house was burned down. After the film's transmission, Mann stated, "People seem obsessed with the trial. I suppose they realise that they have watched and believed stories that were as incredible as the Salem witch-hunts."

In 2000, his theatrical version of Judgment at Nuremberg had a brief run on Broadway with Maximilian Schell starring, and his final television drama, Whitewash: the Clarence Bradley Story, was transmitted in 2002.

Tom Vallance

Abraham Goodman (Abby Mann), screenwriter: born Philadelphia 1 December 1927; married Myra Maislin (one son, two daughters); died Beverly Hills, California 25 March 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower