Pandro S. Berman


Producer

About

Birth Place
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Born
March 28, 1905
Died
July 13, 1996
Cause of Death
Congestive Heart Failure

Biography

An accomplished film producer and studio executive, Pandro S. Berman rose through the ranks to become RKO Pictures' resident boy wonder in the 1930s until setting up shop at MGM for the next 25 years. Throughout his career, Berman's films earned six Academy Award nominations for Best Picture while he juiced the stardom of Fred Astaire, Bette Davis, Stewart Granger, Katharine Hepburn, Gin...

Photos & Videos

Blackboard Jungle - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Shall We Dance - Behind-the-Scenes Stills

Family & Companions

Viola Newman
Wife
Divorced; mother of Berman's children.
Kathryn Hereford
Wife
Married on July 20, 1960 until her death in 1993.

Biography

An accomplished film producer and studio executive, Pandro S. Berman rose through the ranks to become RKO Pictures' resident boy wonder in the 1930s until setting up shop at MGM for the next 25 years. Throughout his career, Berman's films earned six Academy Award nominations for Best Picture while he juiced the stardom of Fred Astaire, Bette Davis, Stewart Granger, Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Taylor and Lana Turner. Notable during his time at RKO were the Hepburn vehicle "Morning Glory" (1933), an adaptation of "Of Human Bondage" (1934), and the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals "Top Hat" (1935) and "Swing Time" (1936). After his guidance of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1939), he left RKO for MGM to produce the lavish "Ziegfeld Girl" (1941) while steering a young Taylor in her breakthrough film, "National Velvet" (1944). Berman had further success with "The Three Musketeers" (1948), "Father of the Bride" (1950), "Ivanhoe" (1952) and "Knights of the Round Table" (1953) before tapping into the youth market with "The Blackboard Jungle" (1955) and "Jailhouse Rock" (1957). After producing "Butterfield 8" (1960), which earned Taylor her first Oscar for Best Actress, Berman struggled to hang on while the old studio system fell upon hard time in the early 1960s. He left MGM in the mid-decade and ventured into independent producing until retiring in 1970, leaving behind an impressive career where he oversaw the making of over 100 films - many of which were of high quality and craftsmanship - during Hollywood's Golden Age.

Born on March 28, 1905 in Pittsburgh, PA, Berman was raised in a filmmaking home by his mother, Julie, and father, Harry M. Berman, the general manager of Universal Pictures and the Film Booking Office (FBO) during the silent era, with the latter studio eventually becoming RKO Studios. After attending DeWitt Clinton High School in New York City, Berman entered the entertainment industry as an assistant director for the likes of Tod Browning, Ralph Ince, Alfred Santell and Mal St. Clair before becoming the chief film editor at FBO. A prolific but minor production company specializing in routine but enjoyable action pictures and comedies, FBO put Berman to work on the likes of "Fangs of the Wild" (1928) and "Stocks and Blondes" (1928). When RKO Studios formed in 1929 from the merger of FBO's studios under the umbrella of RCA during the advent of the talkie era, Berman became an assistant to producers William LeBaron, Charles R. Rogers, and later, David O Selznick. Before long, he was handling producing responsibilities himself, cutting his teeth on the landmark early gangster film, "Bad Company" (1931).

Berman was still in his late twenties when he became RKO's most important producer on the lot, earning comparisons with another "boy wonder," MGM executive Irving Thalberg. He produced Katharine Hepburn's third film, "Morning Glory" (1933), which won her an Academy Award and marked the first of 14 collaborations he would enjoy with the actress. Berman assisted Bette Davis' rise to full-fledged stardom while on loan for his adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's fictional masterpiece, "Of Human Bondage" (1934). That same year, he oversaw "The Gay Divorcee" (1934), his first film to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. The latter also marked the inauguration of Berman's signature achievement at RKO - producing the eight iconic vehicles of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. "Top Hat" (1935) would also garner a Best Picture nomination; the series went on to yield such classics as "Swing Time" (1936), "Follow the Fleet" (1936) and "Shall We Dance" (1937). As he would through much of his career, Berman adroitly kept the lavish production values of his films from swamping their narrative drive, while his attention to detail served to complement his stars rather than overwhelm them.

But Berman had his ups and downs at RKO. Hepburn's popularity eroded rather abruptly with a series of somewhat precious costume dramas, and Rogers and Astaire were regularly nervous about being known only as a team. At his best, however, Berman found ways around his problems, teaming Rogers and Hepburn to brilliant effect in "Stage Door" (1937), his fourth film to net an Oscar nomination, following Hepburn's starring vehicle "Alice Adams" (1935). In 1937, he was promoted to head of all studio production at RKO, overseeing such triumphs as "Love Affair" (1939), starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer; "Bachelor Mother" (1939), and "Gunga Din" (1939), while helping establish the studio's distribution agreement with Disney for its features, beginning with the smash hit "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937). Unfortunately, RKO never had a true mogul at the helm like most of Hollywood's other major studios. Ownership changed hands many times, with the result being that key decisions were made without consulting Berman. He soon became fed up with the situation and jumped ship in 1940 to MGM, following a long courtship. He did, however, leave in a blaze of glory; his last major RKO effort was a masterfully produced version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1939), with Charles Laughton in the title role.

MGM was a decidedly steadier home base for Berman from 1940 until 1965. While the studio's glossy house style meant that producers' efforts seemed less personal, Berman's professionalism responded well to the enormous reserves of craftsmanship and talent on hand. Having established his reputation with musicals, he copped an early triumph with the staggeringly lavish "Ziegfeld Girl" (1941), which possessed an all-star cast of James Stewart, Judy Garland, Jackie Cooper, and Hedy Lamar while cementing sexpot Lana Turner's own stardom. Berman also produced several key films in Elizabeth Taylor's career, beginning with her adolescent breakthrough in "National Velvet" (1944), one of the most beloved children's classics of all time. On occasion, Berman oversaw the occasional burst of oddball brilliance, perhaps best exemplified by eccentric auteur Albert Lewin's adaptation of "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (1945). But much of Berman's tenure was occupied with the star vehicles, literary adaptations and period pictures he had handled so well at RKO, like a Technicolor remake of "The Three Musketeers" (1948), starring Gene Kelly as d'Artagnon; the Robert Taylor noir thriller "The Bribe" (1949), and Elizabeth Taylor's first grown up performance in the light comedy "Father of the Bride" (1950), which earned Berman his fifth Best Picture nomination.

Berman helped Robert Taylor's postwar stardom receive a much-needed boost through such handsome historical epics as "Ivanhoe" (1952), Berman's sixth and final Best Picture nominee, and "Knights of the Round Table" (1953). Meanwhile, British matinee idol Stewart Granger insured his transition to Hollywood success via Berman's productions of "Soldiers Three" (1951) and "The Prisoner of Zenda" (1952). Amidst the lavish historical adventures, Berman took the unusual step of producing the gritty social drama, "The Blackboard Jungle" (1955), which featured a young Sidney Poitier. But this landmark, if somewhat overrated study of inner-city school violence also pointed to the importance of the emerging teen audience, which appeared to be confirmed with his production of one of Elvis Presley's best feature vehicles, "Jailhouse Rock" (1957). He returned to more adult fare with the adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov" (1958), starring Yul Brynner, and the amusing, but ultimately forgettable comedy "The Reluctant Debutante" (1958), with Rex Harrison and Kay Kendall. Berman had one of his last great successes with the enjoyably trashy "Butterfield 8" (1960), which delivered Elizabeth Taylor her first Academy Award for Best Actress.

Despite the myriad of changes occurring both in Hollywood and at his home studio, Berman stayed with MGM as the studio system was in serious recession and a major shift to youth-oriented films was underway, with big-budget studio movies flopping left and right. His last efforts there included several worthy and intense small-scale dramas: a good adaptation of Tennessee Williams' "Sweet Bird of Youth" (1962) and the sensitive, acclaimed "A Patch of Blue" (1965). Berman left MGM and signed with 20th Century Fox in 1967, but his brief tenure at the studio was rife with frustration. A reunion with director George Cukor on "Justine" (1969) was so bogged down with haggling during production that the result was fated to disappoint. Berman went on to earn his last producer credit on the negligible Elliott Gould comedy, "Move" (1970) before slipping into retirement. In his later years, Berman proved a likable and articulate interviewee on several documentaries about Old Hollywood, including "George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey" (1985) and "Hollywood: The Golden Years" (A&E, 1987). For the most part, however, he stayed out of the public eye until his death of congestive heart failure on July 13, 1996 at 91 years old.

By Shawn Dwyer

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Lady Robinhood (1925)
Assistant Director

Producer (Feature Film)

Move (1970)
Producer
Justine (1969)
Producer
A Patch of Blue (1965)
Producer
Honeymoon Hotel (1964)
Producer
Sweet Bird of Youth (1962)
Producer
BUtterfield 8 (1960)
Producer
All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960)
Executive Producer
The Brothers Karamazov (1958)
Producer
The Reluctant Debutante (1958)
Producer
Jailhouse Rock (1957)
Producer
Something of Value (1957)
Producer
Bhowani Junction (1956)
Producer
Tea and Sympathy (1956)
Producer
Blackboard Jungle (1955)
Producer
Quentin Durward (1955)
Producer
The Long, Long Trailer (1954)
Producer
Knights of the Round Table (1954)
Producer
Battle Circus (1953)
Producer
All the Brothers Were Valiant (1953)
Producer
Ivanhoe (1952)
Producer
The Prisoner of Zenda (1952)
Producer
The Light Touch (1951)
Producer
Father's Little Dividend (1951)
Producer
Soldiers Three (1951)
Producer
Father of the Bride (1950)
Producer
The Doctor and the Girl (1949)
Producer
Madame Bovary (1949)
Producer
The Bribe (1949)
Producer
The Three Musketeers (1948)
Producer
If Winter Comes (1948)
Producer
The Sea of Grass (1947)
Producer
Living in a Big Way (1947)
Producer
Undercurrent (1946)
Producer
National Velvet (1945)
Producer
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
Producer
The Seventh Cross (1944)
Producer
Dragon Seed (1944)
Producer
Marriage Is a Private Affair (1944)
Producer
Slightly Dangerous (1943)
Producer
Rio Rita (1942)
Producer
Somewhere I'll Find You (1942)
Producer
Ziegfeld Girl (1941)
Producer
Love Crazy (1941)
Producer
Honky Tonk (1941)
Producer
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
Producer
The Flying Irishman (1939)
Executive Producer
Stage Door (1937)
Producer
Sylvia Scarlett (1936)
Producer
Mary of Scotland (1936)
Producer
The Big Game (1936)
Producer
Swing Time (1936)
Producer
His Greatest Gamble (1934)
Executive Producer
Hat, Coat, and Glove (1934)
Executive Producer
Murder on the Blackboard (1934)
Executive Producer
Down to Their Last Yacht (1934)
Executive Producer
Strictly Dynamite (1934)
Executive Producer
Cockeyed Cavaliers (1934)
Executive Producer
Bachelor Bait (1934)
Executive Producer
We're Rich Again (1934)
Executive Producer
Wednesday's Child (1934)
Executive Producer
Let's Try Again (1934)
Executive Producer
Their Big Moment (1934)
Executive Producer
Stingaree (1934)
Executive Producer
Where Sinners Meet (1934)
Executive Producer
Christopher Strong (1933)
Associate Producer
Sweepings (1933)
Associate Producer
What Price Hollywood? (1932)
Associate Producer
Men of America (1932)
Associate Producer
The Age of Consent (1932)
Associate Producer
Symphony of Six Million (1932)
Associate Producer
Men of Chance (1932)
Associate Producer
The Half Naked Truth (1932)
Associate Producer
Way Back Home (1931)
Supervisor
The Gay Diplomat (1931)
Supervisor

Editing (Feature Film)

Trial Marriage (1929)
Film Editor
Beyond London Lights (1928)
Film Editor
The Texas Tornado (1928)
Film Editor
Phantom of the Range (1928)
Film Editor
Stocks and Blondes (1928)
Film Editor
Taxi 13 (1928)
Film Editor
Fangs of the Wild (1928)
Film Editor

Production Companies (Feature Film)

Move (1970)
Company
Justine (1969)
Company
A Patch of Blue (1965)
Company
Honeymoon Hotel (1964)
Company
The Prize (1963)
Company
All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960)
Company
Key Witness (1960)
Company
BUtterfield 8 (1960)
Company
Vigil in the Night (1940)
Company
The Great Man Votes (1939)
Company
The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939)
Company
The Flying Irishman (1939)
Company
In Name Only (1939)
Company
Gunga Din (1939)
Company
Boy Slaves (1939)
Company
Fifth Avenue Girl (1939)
Company
Allegheny Uprising (1939)
Company
Carefree (1938)
Company
Room Service (1938)
Company
Mother Carey's Chickens (1938)
Company
The Mad Miss Manton (1938)
Company
Having Wonderful Time (1938)
Company
Vivacious Lady (1938)
Company
That Girl from Paris (1937)
Company
Shall We Dance (1937)
Company
A Damsel in Distress (1937)
Company
The Soldier and the Lady (1937)
Company
Quality Street (1937)
Company
Winterset (1936)
Company
Muss 'Em Up (1936)
Company
A Woman Rebels (1936)
Company
Follow the Fleet (1936)
Company
Swing Time (1936)
Company
Romance in Manhattan (1935)
Company
Break of Hearts (1935)
Company
I Dream Too Much (1935)
Company
Top Hat (1935)
Company
Laddie (1935)
Company
Alice Adams (1935)
Company
Freckles (1935)
Company
In Person (1935)
Company
Roberta (1935)
Company
Gridiron Flash (1934)
Company
This Man Is Mine (1934)
Company
The Age of Innocence (1934)
Company
Man of Two Worlds (1934)
Company
By Your Leave (1934)
Company
Spitfire (1934)
Company
Of Human Bondage (1934)
Company
The Life of Vergie Winters (1934)
Company
The Richest Girl in the World (1934)
Company
The Fountain (1934)
Company
The Little Minister (1934)
Company
The Gay Divorcee (1934)
Company
Bed of Roses (1933)
Company
Morning Glory (1933)
Company
Aggie Appleby, Maker of Men (1933)
Company
One Man's Journey (1933)
Company
The Silver Cord (1933)
Company
Ann Vickers (1933)
Company

Cast (Special)

George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey (1984)
Himself

Misc. Crew (Special)

George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey (1984)
Other

Cast (Short)

A CINDERELLA NAMED ELIZABETH (1965)
Himself

Life Events

1923

Worked as assistant director to various directors including Tod Browning (at Universal) Ralph Ince, Alfred Santell and Mal St. Clair; became film cutter and editor at FBO (Film Booking Office; later absorbed into RKO when that studio was founded)

1929

Formation of RKO Studios from FBO shooting studios, the sound recording technology of RCA and the acquiring of the Keith-Orpheum theater circuit; Berman was still working at FBO when this happened, though he did also edit the Columbia Pictures film, "Trial Marriage"

1931

Began producing for RKO; first film, "Bad Company"

1933

First of 14 films with Katharine Hepburn, "Morning Glory", which won her an Oscar and was the first Berman production to win an Academy Award

1934

Produced first of six films which received a Best Picture Oscar nomination, "The Gay Divorcee"; also marked the first of 13 films he made with Ginger Rogers and the first of nine with Fred Astaire

1935

Two of the ten films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar that year produced by Berman, "Alice Adams" and "Top Hat"

1937

Made head of production at RKO

1939

Last film with either Ginger Rogers or Fred Astaire, "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle"

1939

Last producing credit at RKO, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"

1940

Left RKO; joined MGM

1941

First producing credit at MGM, "Ziegfeld Girl", the first of five films he made with Lana Turner

1946

First of six films with Robert Taylor, "Undercurrent"

1947

Last film with Katharine Hepburn, "The Sea of Grass"

1948

Last film with Lana Turner, "The Three Musketeers"

1952

Produced fifth and last film to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, "Ivanhoe"

1955

Last film with Robert Taylor, "Quentin Durward"

1965

Last MGM film, "A Patch of Blue"; was also his last production to win an Academy Award (Best Supporting Actress for Shelley Winters)

1967

Left MGM; joined 20th Century-Fox

1970

Announced retirement; last film, "Move"

1985

Appeared as himself as one of the interviewees in the feature documentary, "George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey"

1988

Was an interview subject for the documentary miniseries, "Hollywood: The Golden Years", a study of RKO Studios

Photo Collections

Blackboard Jungle - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Blackboard Jungle (1955), directed by Richard Brooks and starring Glenn Ford, Anne Francis, and Sidney Poitier.
Shall We Dance - Behind-the-Scenes Stills
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of RKO's Shall We Dance (1937), starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and directed by Mark Sandrich.

Videos

Movie Clip

Undercurrent (1946) - Flowers And Her Boys Alan (Robert Taylor) flips a bit, coming home to his new wife Ann (Katharine Hepburn) and servant George (Leigh Whipper), during their first stay at his old family home, in Vincente Minnelli's Undercurrent, 1946.
Silver Cord, The (1933) - Let Me Look At You Now Snapping forward as German-born Christina scientist (Irene Dunne) and her architect husband (Joel McCrea) arrive from Heidelberg at his family country home, meeting his brother’s fianceè (Frances Dee) then Robert (Eric Linden), and Laura Hope Crews their mother, in her celebrated Broadway role, in The Silver Cord, 1933.
Silver Cord, The (1933) - Have You Had Many Frances Dee as Hester and Eric Linden as younger-brother and fiancè Robert have stepped forward in the family drama, she having nearly offended his well-heeled mother, causing a more forthright discussion than she expected, in director John Cromwell’s The Silver Cord, 1933, from Jane Murfin’s script based on Sidney Howard’s hit play.
Ann Vickers (1933) - Muck And Slime Of Life Following what in the original Sinclair Lewis novel is openly called an abortion, social worker Irene Dunne (title character) is more vague as she convalesces and reflects with doctor and friend Malvina (Edna May Oliver), in Ann Vickers, 1933, directed by John Cromwell.
Sea Of Grass, The (1947) - Parties Unknown Cattle baron Brewton (Spencer Tracy, his first scene), his bride-to-be (Katharen Hepburn) just in from St. Louis observing, as the judge (Robert Barratt) presides over a bent verdict in his favor, plaintiff's lawyer Chamberlain (Melvyn Douglas) infuriated, early in The Sea Of Grass, 1947.
Sea Of Grass, The (1947) - The Way God Made It Who knew, that Elia Kazan directed Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, as New Mexico cattle baron Col. Jim Brewton and his new from St. Louis wife Lutie, taking in lots of landscape, in their first extended scene together, in The Sea Of Grass, 1947.
Sea Of Grass, The (1947) - Vast Grazing Empire Aiming for grandeur in director Elia Kazan's opening, late 1800's St. Louis, Lutie (Katharine Hepburn) with father (Charles Trowbridge), then travel to New Mexico, meeting the Halls (Ruth Nelson, James Bell), in The Sea Of Grass, 1947, from a Conrad Richter novel, co-starring Spencer Tracy.
Swing Time (1936) - A Fine Romance Dance partners Penny (Ginger Rogers) and Lucky (Fred Astaire) are constrained from confessing their love for each other, Pop (Victor Moore) enlisted as his backstop, lyrics by Dorothy Fields written to Jerome Kern's tune to support the plot point, Ginger's vocal first, George Stevens directing, in Swing Time, 1936.
Knights Of The Round Table (1954) - I Make You Henceforth The Queen's Champion The pretty form of Guinivere (Ava Gardner) is emphasized in her speedy wedding to Arthur (Mel Ferrer) and Lancelot (Robert Taylor) arriving late, is rewarded for his service, in MGM's Knights Of The Round Table, 1953.
Of Human Bondage (1934) - City Of Lost Illusions Opening scenes, Philip Carey (Leslie Howard) in Paris confers with art teacher Flourney (Adrian Rosley) setting events in motion in John Cromwell's still-definitive treatment of Of Human Bondage, 1934, from the W.S. Maugham novel.
Stage Door (1937) - Getting Over The DT's Jean (Ginger Rogers) and Annie (Ann Miller) at dance class, meet the producer Tony Powell (Adolphe Menjou), who has a reputation, early in Gregory LaCava's Stage Door, 1937.
Stingaree (1934) - That's The Name Of A Fish Riding up to an Outback tavern, Richard Dix (whom we will learn is the outlaw title character) joins a conversation with a soused lawman (George Barraud) and visiting English composer Sir Julian (Conway Tearle), in RKO's Stingaree, 1934, also starring Irene Dunne and Mary Boland.

Trailer

Father's Little Dividend - (Original Trailer) In the sequel to Father of the Bride (1950), Spencer Tracy discovers the joys and pains of grandfatherhood.
Blackboard Jungle - (Vic Morrow introduction trailer) Vic Morrow, who plays juvenile delinquent Artie West, introduces the trailer for Blackboard Jungle (1955).
Bhowani Junction - (Original Trailer) An Anglo-Indian beauty (Ava Gardner) falls for a British officer (Stewart Granger) as her country fights for independence.
Prisoner of Zenda, The (1952) - (Original Trailer) An Englishman who resembles the king of a small European nation gets mixed up in palace intrigue when his look-alike is kidnapped in The Prisoner of Zenda (1952), starring Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr and James Mason.
Three Musketeers, The (1948) -- (Re-issue Trailer) Gene Kelly, Lana Turner, and Janet Leigh star in The Three Musketeers (1948), a lavish adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' classic swashbuckler.
If Winter Comes - (Original Trailer) Scandal results when a well-meaning man (Walter Pidgeon) takes in a pregnant girl (Janet Leigh) in If Winter Comes (1947).
Battle Circus - (Original Trailer) See how Hollywood portrayed a M*A*S*H unit during the Korean War in Battle Circus (1953) starring Humphrey Bogart.
Somewhere I'll Find You - (Original Trailer) Brothers feud over a girl they both fall for while covering World War II in Somewhere I'll Find You (1942) starring Clark Gable and Lana Turner.
Follow The Fleet - (Re-issue trailer) Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers face the music and dance in the naval musical Follow The Fleet (1936).
Mad Miss Manton, The - (Original Trailer) A daffy socialite (Barbara Stanwyck) gets her friends mixed up in a murder investigation in The Mad Miss Manton (1938).
Madame Bovary (1949) - (Original Trailer) A romantic country girl sacrifices her marriage when she thinks she's found true love in Madame Bovary (1949) starring Jennifer Jones.
Hunchback of Notre Dame, The - (Re-issue Trailer) A deformed bell ringer rescues a gypsy girl falsely accused of witchcraft in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) starring Charles Laughton.

Family

Harry M Berman
Father
Studio executive. General manager of Universal and Film Booking Offices (FBO) during the silent era; the latter studio eventually evolved into RKO.
Julie Berman
Mother
Henry Berman
Brother
Editor. Born January 1, 1914 in New Castle, PA; began as an editor at RKO in the mid-1930s; stayed at the studio after Pandro Berman left; later won an Academy Award for "Grand Prix" (1966) and has credits into the 1970s.
Michael Berman
Son
Mother Viola Newman; survived him.
Susan Berman
Daughter
Mother Viola Newman; survived him.
Cynthia Berman
Daughter
Mother Viola Newman; survived him.

Companions

Viola Newman
Wife
Divorced; mother of Berman's children.
Kathryn Hereford
Wife
Married on July 20, 1960 until her death in 1993.

Bibliography