Edmund Hartmann

Erudite screenwriter for Bob Hope

Edmund L. Hartmann, writer and producer: born St Louis, Missouri 24 September 1911; twice married (one daughter); died Santa Fe, New Mexico 28 November 2003.

Bob Hope, drifting along in a gondola with a Venetian beauty, dabbles his hand in the water, then raises it to his nostrils ecstatically and sighs, "Canal Number Five!" This is a moment from Casanova's Big Night, one of the seven Hope films written or co-written by Edmund Hartmann, a soft-spoken, erudite southerner who, in a career spanning more than 60 years, also provided comedy for Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis, the Ritz brothers and Lucille Ball.

The St Louis-born Hartmann's first ambition was to become a songwriter and, soon after graduating from Washington University, St Louis, in the early 1930s, he headed for New York to hawk his musical wares. After scant success with Broadway producers, he moved to Hollywood, where he began writing original screen stories. One of them, "The Big Noise", about a retired wool manufacturer who single-handedly brings a gang of protection racketeers to justice, was sold to Warner Bros in 1936.

That year he was signed by RKO, who put him to work writing such forgotten films as the aerial melodrama Without Orders (1936), the medical drama The Man Who Found Himself (1937), the shipboard mystery China Passage (1937), the news-hawk romp Behind the Headlines (1937), the gangster thriller Law of the Underworld(1938) and the love- triangle potboiler Beauty for the Asking (1939).

When his RKO contract lapsed, Hartmann signed a seven-year deal with Universal Pictures. "At Universal, I wrote for three great teams," he told an interviewer, "Abbott and Costello, Olsen and Johnson, and Holmes and Watson." His Universal assignments included Abbott and Costello's Keep 'Em Flying (1941), Ride 'Em Cowboy (1942), In Society (1944), Here Come the Co-eds (1945) and The Naughty Nineties (1945), Olsen and Johnson's The Ghost Catchers (1944) and See My Lawyer (1945), and Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce's Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943), Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943) and The Scarlet Claw (1944).

Not only did Hartmann toil on Hi'Ya, Chum (1943), producing laughs for the Ritz brothers, but on Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944) and Sudan (1945), preposterous Maria Montez "eastern westerns" that tended to produce laughter that was less intentional. In 1941, on loan-out to Columbia Pictures, he worked on two minor musicals: Ruby Keeler's last starring film, Sweetheart of the Campus, and the Ann Miller vehicle Time Out for Rhythm, described by Bosley Crowther in The New York Times as "one of the dullest diversions in months".

Although he was also briefly employed by MGM and United Artists, Hartmann was proudest of his 14 years at Paramount. His first assignment there was fashioning, with Robert Walsh and Frank Tashlin, the screenplay for the all-star Variety Girl (1947). Next, he and Tashlin wrote The Paleface (1948), Bob Hope's biggest-ever box-office hit. As Painless Potter, a cowardly correspondence-school dentist from the east pretending to be a tough hombre from the west, ("Gimme four fingers of rye," he growls at a saloon barkeeper, "and gimme the thumb too!"), the comedian went to the summit of the popularity charts.

Hartmann helped him write another comic western, Fancy Pants (1951), co-starring Lucille Ball, as well as a brace of Hope forays into the world of Damon Runyon: Sorrowful Jones (1949) and The Lemon Drop Kid (1951). After collaborating with Jack Sher on the Hope/Hedy Lamarr espionage spoof My Favorite Spy (1951), Hartmann and Danny Arnold scripted The Caddy (1953), a feeble Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis vehicle best remembered, if at all, for the song "That's Amore". Again for Hope, he and Hal Kanter wrote Here Come the Girls (1953) and Casanova's Big Night (1954).

At this point, Hartmann abandoned films to write and produce for television. His work for the small screen included The Eve Arden Show, the Henry Fonda series The Smith Family, and the long-running Fred MacMurray sitcom My Three Sons. In the 1960s he became National Chairman of the Writers Guild of America. In 1988 he moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where in 1999 the Santa Fe Critics Circle presented him with the Golden Chili Lifetime Achievement Award.

Discussing comedy-writing in a New Mexico newspaper, Hartmann said, "You can either do it or you can't. It can't be taught."

Dick Vosburgh

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Developer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a world leader ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future