Norman Panama


Director, Producer, Screenwriter
Norman Panama

About

Birth Place
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Born
April 21, 1914
Died
January 13, 2003
Cause of Death
Complications From Parkinson's Disease

Biography

For thirty years (1936-66), this American screenwriter, director and producer of popular comedy fare worked mostly successfully in collaboration with college chum Melvin Frank, forming an unusual partnership in which they not only shared writing and producing duties, but also co-directed features. Panama and Frank met while undergraduates at the University of Chicago, where they formed a...

Family & Companions

Marcia Engel
Wife
Divorced in 1970.
Gloria Dobson
Wife
Divorced in 1981.

Bibliography

"The Glass Bed"
Norman Panama and Albert E Lewin (1980)

Notes

Some sources list 1909 and 1913 as Mr. Panama's birthyear as well as August 13 as his birthdate.

Biography

For thirty years (1936-66), this American screenwriter, director and producer of popular comedy fare worked mostly successfully in collaboration with college chum Melvin Frank, forming an unusual partnership in which they not only shared writing and producing duties, but also co-directed features. Panama and Frank met while undergraduates at the University of Chicago, where they formed a writing team. Migrating to Hollywood in 1938, they wrote comedy material for Bob Hope's radio broadcasts, eventually, working for Phil Baker and Rudy Vallee as well. In 1942, the duo was hired by Paramount and they contributed the story to the farcical Hope vehicle "My Favorite Blonde," in which the comic was the trainer of penguins unwittingly used to transport data for a female spy. Based on this success, Panama and Frank went on to script several lightweight but affable movies, including "Happy Go Lucky" (1943), wherein Rudy Vallee is chased by Mary Martin, and the Eddie Cantor musical "Thank You Lucky Stars" (also 1943). The failure of the all-star "Duffy's Tavern" (1945), which attempted to transfer a radio show to the big screen, might have signaled the end of their career had they not sent Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour to the Klondike in "The Road to Utopia" (also 1945) which earned the writing team its first Oscar nomination.

"Mr. Blandings Build His Dream House" (1948), in which Cary Grant wanted to move from the city to the country, solidified their success and led to several vehicles written, produced and directed in tandem. Their joint efforts ranged from slight comedies to well-crafted dramas. "The Reformer and the Redhead" (1949) was a minor romantic comedy in which June Allyson was a zoo-keeper's daughter courted by Dick Powell. The pair made the unnecessary 1951 remake "Strictly Dishonorable," based on a 1931 Preston Sturges' play. "Callaway Went Thataway" (1951), starring Fred MacMurray, was a spoof of Hopalong Cassidy while "Above and Beyond" (1952), a biopic of the pilot who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima showed their dramatic flair. In 1953, Panama and Frank earned their second Oscar nomination for the Danny Kaye vehicle "Knock on Wood" and the following year, they wrote what is perhaps their best known feature, the Crosby and Fred Astaire classic "White Christmas," with its memorable Irving Berlin title song. The duo followed with the superlative Danny Kaye swashbuckler spoof, "The Court Jester" (1955), which critic Leonard Maltin has deemed "one of the best comedies ever made." A rousing costume musical that offered Kaye one of his best screen roles, the film utilized every cliche but played them for laughs. Adding to the enjoyment was the excellent supporting cast that included Glynis Johns, Basil Rathbone, John Carradine, Angela Lansbury and Mildred Natwick.

Unfortunately, Panama and Frank had difficulty finding a successful follow-up. "That Certain Feeling" (1956) was a lame comedy that miscast Bob Hope as a cartoonist. With the changing times, Panama and Frank headed to Broadway to adapt the Al Capp hillbilly comic strip "Li'l Abner" as a musical. They produced the show as well as wrote the book and lyrics to Johnny Mercer's music. A modest success on stage in the mid-50s, Panama produced and Frank directed the 1959 film version, which while well-acted, flopped. By this time, Panama and Frank had begun spitting duties, although they continued to write together. Panama alone directed the psychological drama "The Trap" (1958) and the final Hope-Crosby-Lamour match up, "The Road to Hong Kong" (1962). Panama and Frank continued to work together until 1966's "Not With My Wife You Don't," which Panama directed. Frank then elected to move to Great Britain and set up his own company and the 30-plus year partnership faded. (Frank would go on to thrive with romantic comedies like 1972's "A Touch of Class" and 1976's "The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox"). Panama continued to work within the changing structures of Hollywood. He directed the modest Bob Hope vehicle "How to Commit Marriage" and the failed horror spoof "The Maltese Bippy" (both 1969). Teaming with Albert E. Lewin, Panama went on to co-script and direct his last feature (to date) "I Will...I Will...For Now" (1975), a look at marriage and marriage counseling with Elliot Gould and Diane Keaton.

On the small screen, the new team of Panama and Lewin co-wrote (with Panama helming) the TV-movie "Coffee, Tea or Me" (CBS, 1973), about a flight attendant with two husbands and they contributed scripts to the Teresa Graves series "Get Christie Love" (ABC, 1974-75). Panama's last TV project was the Australian update of the comic strip "Barbaby and Me" (1976). In 1980, he and Lewin co-wrote the novel "The Glass Bed."

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

I Will...I Will...For Now (1975)
Director
Coffee, Tea Or Me? (1973)
Director
How To Commit Marriage (1969)
Director
The Maltese Bippy (1969)
Director
Not With My Wife, You Don't! (1966)
Director
The Road to Hong Kong (1962)
Director
The Facts of Life (1960)
2nd Unit Director
The Trap (1959)
Director
The Court Jester (1956)
Director
That Certain Feeling (1956)
Director
Knock on Wood (1954)
Director
Above and Beyond (1953)
Director
Strictly Dishonorable (1951)
Director
Callaway Went Thataway (1951)
Director
The Reformer and the Redhead (1950)
Director

Writer (Feature Film)

Are We Done Yet? (2007)
Source Material
I Will...I Will...For Now (1975)
Screenplay
Coffee, Tea Or Me? (1973)
Screenwriter
Not With My Wife, You Don't! (1966)
Screenwriter
Not With My Wife, You Don't! (1966)
Story
Strange Bedfellows (1965)
Story
The Road to Hong Kong (1962)
Screenwriter
The Facts of Life (1960)
Writer
The Trap (1959)
Writer
Li'l Abner (1959)
Writer
That Certain Feeling (1956)
Screenwriter
The Court Jester (1956)
Screenwriter
White Christmas (1954)
Written for Screen by
Knock on Wood (1954)
Writer
Above and Beyond (1953)
Screenwriter
Strictly Dishonorable (1951)
Written for Screen by
Callaway Went Thataway (1951)
Writer
The Reformer and the Redhead (1950)
Screenwriter
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)
Wrt for the Screenplay by
A Southern Yankee (1948)
Original Story
The Return of October (1948)
Screenwriter
It Had to Be You (1947)
Screenwriter
Road to Utopia (1946)
Original Screenplay
Our Hearts Were Growing Up (1946)
Screenwriter
Monsieur Beaucaire (1946)
Screenwriter
Duffy's Tavern (1945)
Original Screenplay
Duffy's Tavern (1945)
Sketches
And the Angels Sing (1944)
Screenwriter
Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)
Screenwriter
Happy Go Lucky (1943)
Screenwriter
Star Spangled Rhythm (1943)
Sketches by
My Favorite Blonde (1942)
Story

Producer (Feature Film)

Not With My Wife, You Don't! (1966)
Producer
The Facts of Life (1960)
Producer
The Jayhawkers! (1959)
Producer
Li'l Abner (1959)
Producer
The Trap (1959)
Producer
That Certain Feeling (1956)
Producer
The Court Jester (1956)
Producer
Knock on Wood (1954)
Producer
Above and Beyond (1953)
Producer
Callaway Went Thataway (1951)
Producer
Strictly Dishonorable (1951)
Producer
The Reformer and the Redhead (1950)
Producer
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)
Producer

Production Companies (Feature Film)

Not With My Wife, You Don't! (1966)
Company
Strange Bedfellows (1965)
Company
The Road to Hong Kong (1962)
Company

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Hearts and Minds (1975)
Other

Cast (Special)

Remembering Bing (1987)

Life Events

1938

Wrote radio comedy material for Bob Hope, Phil Baker and Rudy Vallee

1939

Contributed sketches to Broadway revue, "Keep Off the Grass"

1942

First film credit (with Melvin Frank), contributed story to "My Favorite Blonde"

1945

Earned first Academy Award nomination for "The Road to Utopia"; co-written with Frank

1949

With Frank, co-directed first feature, "The Reformer and the Redhead"; also co-produced and co-wrote

1953

Co-wrote, co-directed and co-produced "Knock on Wood"

1956

With Frank, co-wrote book for Broadway musical "Li'l Abner"

1958

Solo directing debut, "The Trap"; also co-wrote and co-produced

1959

Produced the film version of "Li'l Abner", directed by Frank

1966

Final screen collaboration with Melvin Frank, "Not With My Wife You Don't"

1969

Directed both "How to Commit Marriage" and "The Maltese Bippy"

1973

Co-wrote (with Lewin) and directed CBS TV-movie "Coffee, Tea or Me?"

1974

Wrote episode of the ABC police drama "Get Christy Love" with Lewin

1975

Last feature credit to date, as director and co-writer (with Lewin) of "I Will ... I Will ... For Now"

1976

Directed Australian TV production "Barnaby and Me"

1980

Published novel "The Glass Bed", co-authored with Albert E Lewin

Photo Collections

Above and Beyond - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Above and Beyond (1953), starring Robert Taylor and Eleanor Parker and produced and directed by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama.

Videos

Movie Clip

Callaway Went Thataway (1951) - What Would You Say To A Martini? Now in Hollywood, reluctantly convinced to pretend he’s the missing old-time singing cowboy who’s become a TV star, Howard Keel as Shep, impersonating “Smoky Callaway,” escorted by his de facto agents (Fred MacMurray, Dorothy McGuire) blunders with MGM celebrities (Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable) at Mocambo, then with the sponsor and wife (Fay Roope, Natalie Schaefer) in Callaway Went Thataway, 1951.
Callaway Went Thataway (1951) - Open, All In A Day's Work Opening as it becomes apparent that Howard Keel is on TV, the dapper singing cowboy (the girl he rescues is not credited), known as “Smoky Callaway,” with more gags about sponsorship coming, in the Norman Panama/Melvin Frank MGM comedy, generally seen as a spoof on Hopalong Cassidy, Callaway Went Thataway, 1951, starring Fred MacMurray and Dorothy McGuire.
Callaway Went Thataway (1951) - There Is No Smoky Callaway We’ve just met Fred MacMurray as TV ad-man Mike Frye, who introduces Dorothy McGuire as his partner, and through exposition we find out that the old movie singing cowboy they’ve turned into a TV star is missing, Jesse White as his old agent, in Callaway Went Thataway, 1951.
Callaway Went Thataway (1951) - He Died With His Regiment Unable to find washed-up singing cowboy Callaway, who they’ve made a TV star using his old movie serials, Hollywood advertising partners Mike and Deb (Fred MacMurray, Dorothy McGuire) track down the real cowboy (Howard Keel, who also plays Callaway), who wrote to complain because he’s a dead-ringer for the guy, in MGM’s Callaway Went Thataway, 1951.
Reformer And The Redhead, The (1950) - Man Against Beast Opening from co-writers, directors and producers Norman Panama and Melvin Frank, fat cat Parker (Ray Collins) and daughter (Kathleen Freeman) pontificate while zoologist Kathleen (June Allyson) hurries to support her fired zoo director father (Cecil Kellaway), in The Reformer And The Redhead, 1950.
Reformer And The Redhead, The (1950) - Just The Head And Shoulders Mayoral candidate Andrew (Dick Powell), whose law partner (David Wayne) wants him to kowtow to the local political boss, is visited by zookeeper Kathleen (June Allyson, Powell's wife) who beat up the boss's daughter after he fired her father, the zoo supervisor, in The Reformer And The Redhead, 1950.
Reformer And The Redhead, The (1950) - What About Costello? Zookeeper Maguire (Cecil Kellaway), just fired by crooked politicians, and daughter Kathleen (June Allyson) have drafted inquisitive mayoral candidate Andrew (Dick Powell, Allyson's then-new husband) into emergency duty birthing goats, in the Norman Panama/Melvin Frank comedy The Reformer And The Redhead, 1950.
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House - Shrunk Mills Lawyer pal Bill (Melvyn Douglas) continues his narration as he joins Jim (Cary Grant) and Muriel (Myrna Loy) in their attempt to find their new Connecticut farmhouse, in H.C. Potter's Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, 1948.
Facts Of Life, The (1960) - Just The Six Of Us After a prologue in which she narrated meeting with Bob Hope for a secret tryst, the title song and credits, then California housewife Lucille Ball further introduces Hope, Louis Nye the dentist, Philip Ober, Marianne Stewart, Ruth Hussey, and Don DeFore as her husband, in The Facts Of Life, 1960.
Facts Of Life, The (1960) - Just LIke Any Other Fish Abandoned by their spouses and a third couple for deep-sea fishing on their Acapulco vacation, Californians Larry and Kitty (Bob Hope, Lucille Ball) have realized they went to the same high school, then are interrupted by a marlin, in the Melvin Frank-Norman Panama comedy The Facts Of Life, 1960.
It Had To Be You (1947) - A Day In June Director’s credit shared by Don Hartman and cinematographer Rudolph Matè, Ginger Rogers with expressions for three trips to the altar, Charles Evans officiating, Gerald Fielding, Myron Healy and Harlan Warde grooms, Percy Waram and Spring Byington parents, opening It Had To Be You, 1947.
It Had To Be You (1947) - It Was Only A Dream Returning from a month in Maine to make sure she’s sure, 3-time failed bride Victoria (Ginger Rogers) dreams of actually marrying Oliver (Ron Randell) when Cornel Wilde, an unexplained Indian, intrudes, and also appears in her cabin, early in It Had To Be You, 1947.

Trailer

Facts of Life, The - (Original Trailer) Suburban marrieds (Bob Hope, Lucille Ball) are tempted to dabble in adultery.
Li'L Abner - (Original Trailer) Al Capp's satirical comic strip becomes a Broadway musical becomes the movie Li'L Abner (1959) with Stubby Kaye and Julie Newmar.
White Christmas - (Original Trailer) Bing Crosby and the most popular song of all time in the colorful seasonal favorite, White Christmas (1954).
Thank Your Lucky Stars - (Original Trailer) An Eddie Cantor look-alike organizes an all-star show to help the war effort in Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943) with guest appearances by Bette Davis, Errol Flynn & Humphrey Bogart.
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House - (Re-issue Trailer) A New York businessman's dream of a country home goes awry when he purchases a tumbledown rural shack in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948).
Reformer and the Redhead, The - (Original Trailer) A small-town politician (Dick Powell) falls for an idealistic zoo-keeper (June Allyson) in the comedy The Reformer and the Redhead (1950).
Maltese Bippy, The - (Original Trailer) Laugh-In's Dan Rowan and Dick Martin star in The Maltese Bippy (1969), a haunted house comedy co-starring Julie Newmar.
Strictly Dishonorable - (Original Trailer) An opera star risks disaster when he marries a lovesick fan in the musical version of Preston Sturges' stage hit Strictly Dishonorable (1951).
Southern Yankee, A - (Original Trailer) Red Skelton masquerades as a spy and lands behind enemy lines during the Civil War in A Southern Yankee (1948) with gags written by Buster Keaton.
Callaway Went Thataway - (Original Trailer) A real cowboy (Howard Keel) signs on to impersonate a faded western star for public appearances.
Above And Beyond - (Original Trailer) Robert Taylor portrays Col. Paul Tibbets, the man who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, in Above And Beyond (1952).
Road To Utopia, The - (Original Trailer) Bob Hope and Bing Crosby set off for Alaska and in-jokes aplenty on The Road To Utopia (1946).

Family

Herman H Panama
Father
Tessie Panama
Mother
Steven Panama
Son
Kathleen Panama
Daughter

Companions

Marcia Engel
Wife
Divorced in 1970.
Gloria Dobson
Wife
Divorced in 1981.

Bibliography

"The Glass Bed"
Norman Panama and Albert E Lewin (1980)

Notes

Some sources list 1909 and 1913 as Mr. Panama's birthyear as well as August 13 as his birthdate.