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Mortimer Offner

Time Period: 
1925-1934
Location: 
Manhattan, Hollywood
Biography: 

(1900-1965)

Educated at the University of Chicago and Columbia University, Mortimer Offner learned photography at the Clarence White School of Photography in New York. Born in New York, the son of Austrian immigrants, Offner was raised in a cultured household where all the arts were appreciated. While attending the school, he had a brief unsuccessful fling as an actor in 1922-1923 with the Circle Players, performing in "A Successful Clamity" and in a revival of the Anatole France play, "The Man who Married a Dumb Wife" (1923). Offner's fascination with the stage coalesced with his interest in photography in 1924 when he became a Broadway portraitist.

His career with a camera lasted from 1925 to 1934. He specialized in portraits of dramatic actresses and became favored by older stars of the legitimate stage, including Ethel Barrymore. Well-read, witty, he was capable of discussing the literary as well as the visual dimension of theater.

In June 1930 he was sent to the West Coast by Vanity Fair to shoot celebrities. The Society and climate proved to his liking. When Katherine Hepburn urged him to take his art to Hollywood two years later, he needed no persuading. In Los Angeles his literary abilities proved more in demand than his skill with a camera. He discovered a talent for screen-writing and the adaptation of novels into film scripts. Ten of his scripts went into production between 1934 to 1948, the most significant being "Alice Adams" (1934) and "Quality Street" (1937). During the 1930s Offner joined the Communist Party and was one of its operatives the in Authors' League of the Screen Writers Guild. He directed the popular and leftist revue "Meet the People" which won success on both coasts in the early 1940-41. His well publicized political sympathies limited his career in the late 1940s and early '50s. He left Hollywood for New York and tried unsuccessfully to reignite his career by directing, including an ill-fated revival of "Room Service" in 1953. He worked in television under a pseudonym. He died in New York City at age 64.

NOTES: LA Times (Jan 7, 1935), 15. "Screen Notes," NY Times (Apr 18, 1935), 17. "Film Producer Admits to Joining and Leaving Reds," LA Times (Sep 26, 1951), 1. Gladwin Hill, "41 Revue Director links Skits to Reds" (Mar 24, 1953), 12-14; "Mortimer Offner, Screen Writer, 64," NY Times (Sep 16, 1965), 47. David S. Shields/ALS

Specialty: 

A straight photographer, Offner preferred to use natural light. Many of his portraits show the sitter in eye contact with the viewer. A tactful retoucher, he was one of the few photographers willing to show middle aged leading men and women with wrinkles in the 1930s. He preferred smaller format images and blind stamped the best of these with his name and NY in a circle on the lower right corner.