Family & Companions
A consistently effective scenarist, Axelrod wrote often witty and always acute examinations of American social mores that produced several superior films of the 1950s and 60s. After serving in the Army Signal Corps during World War II, The New York-born Axelrod found work writing scripts for radio programs, including "The Shadow," "Midnight" and "Grand Ole Opry," eventually branching into television. He said he contributed to or collaborated on more than 400 TV and radio scripts, and wrote for a number of top comedians, including Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin before earning breakout success with his 1954 stage version of "The Seven Year Itch," a risque social satire about a middle-class man who has an affair while his wife and children are on vacation. The play was a hit on Broadway but was deemed not ready for a mainstream audience the following year when it was made into a film directed by Billy wilder and starring Marilyn Monroe. The plot was watered-down with the husband (Tom Ewell) only fantasizing about having an affair.
Axelrod's next stage hit was "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" a satire on the movie business, which ran for more than a year on Broadway in the mid-1950s. It, too, was turned into a film, starring Tony Randall and Jayne Mansfield. Axelrod was contemptuous of the 1957 movie, however, saying he didn't go see it because the studio, 20th Century Fox, "never used my story, my play or my script."
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Axelrod was one of the best paid writers in Hollywood, and he was nominated for an Academy Award for his 1961 adaptation of Truman Capote's "Breakfast at Tiffany's. He was also highly regarded for his adaptation of Richard Condon's novel for director John Frankenheimer's Cold War thriller "The Manchurian Candidate" (1962) starring Laurence Harvey and Frank Sinatra. Alexrod, who co-produced, considered it the best adaptation he ever penned. After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963, the movie was taken out of circulation and wasn't re-released until 1988, when it became a box office hit and was deemed by critics to be a classic of American cinema.
Axelrod's directorial efforts ("Lord Love a Duck 1966, "The Secret Life of an American Wife" 1968), though equally superb, have unfortunately been overlooked. After a decade hiatus, he returned to film work in 1979 providing the screenplay for the remake of "The Lady Vanishes." Subsequent contributions include the scripts for Frankenheimer's "The Holcroft Covenant" (1985) and "The Fourth Protocol" (1987). He is the father of actress Nina Axelrod and stepfather of screenwriter Jonathan Axelrod.
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Special Thanks (Special)
TV debut as a writer for the CBS series "54th Street Revue"
Screenwriting debut, from his story, "Phfft"
Co-wrote (with Billy Wilder) screenplay for "The Seven Year Itch" based on his stage play
Feature producing debut, "The Manchurian Candidate"
Feature directorial debut, "Lord Love a Duck"