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
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk