Abram S. Ginnes, an enormously talented writer whom I had the pleasure of knowing during his last years, died Saturday in Los Angeles following a long illness. He was 91.
Ginnes was nominated for a Writers Guild Award for his only screenplay, Gaily Gaily (1969), an adaptation of Ben Hecht's memoirs. Before that he wrote extensively for radio, television and the theatre, specializing in cop shows and flavorful tales of New York City life that drew upon his own Brooklyn upbringing.
Ginnes was an unapologetic radical for his entire life, and as a result he was blacklisted for several years during the 1950s. Like most artists who ran afoul of the McCarthy-era witchhunts, Ginnes found himself out of work just as his career was beginning to gather momentum. He worked behind fronts for a while and finally became widely employable after the debut of his Broadway show, Drink to Me Only.
Ginnes' comeback from the blacklist took the form, primarily, of a baker's dozen of hour-long scripts for the New York-based police drama Naked City. Naked City was always an anthology in disguise (the writers struggled to get the cops into their stories), and Abe's contributions were all perfectly polished gems that reflected his wry, offbeat, and optimistic outlook on life. They were obsessively psychoanalytical, deeply interested in folklore and outsider communities, and dabbled in a surrealism that was highly unusual for TV at the time. I could go on about these amazing, largely unknown works, but most of them are on DVD and I encourage anyone who's interested to seek them out; the episode titles alone are a testament to Ginnes' wild imagination:
The Night the Saints Lost Their Halos Let Me Die Before I Wake The One Marked Hot Gives Cold ...And If Any Are Frozen, Warm Them!... Memory of a Red Trolley Car ...And By the Sweat of Thy Brow... Kill Me While I'm Young So I Can Die Happy A Horse Has a Big Head - Let Him Worry! King Stanislaus and the Knights of the Round Stable Robin Hood and Clarence Darrow, They Went Out With the Bow and Arrow No Naked Ladies in Front of Giovanni's House!
Ginnes' other TV credits include scripts for Big Story, Philco Television Playhouse, Armstrong Circle Theatre, Decoy, Brenner, The Untouchables, Adventures in Paradise, The Asphalt Jungle, Hawaii Five-O, Police Woman, and Jessie, but few of these were as personal as the work he did for Naked City in 1961-1962. He should have enjoyed a more substantial post-blacklist career, but like Abraham Polonsky and others, Ginnes' comeback was cut short by ageism and a decided inability to suffer fools gladly.
One of the last moviemakers to arrive in Hollywood following a wholly different earlier career, Ginnes began writing professionally (for radio's The Goldbergs) around the age of 35, following stints as a labor organizer and as the owner of a jazz nightclub in Chicago in the thirties. When I met Abe he was beginning to get a bit frail, but I'm told he was an avid partier, ladies' man, raconteur, arguer, and a man who lived life to the fullest.
Abe is survived by a loving family, including his wife of nearly 20 years, Dione.
(The text of the above was written by me, based on interviews with Ginnes and other research.)