Born in Chicago, Illinois, to a working-class Jewish family, he was the son of Fanny (Rozin) and Isidore Foreman. He studied at the University of Illinois. As a student in the 1930s, he became an advocate of revolutionary socialism and joined the American Communist Party.
After graduating from university, Carl Foreman moved to Hollywood where he used his writing talents and training to work as a screenwriter. His first screen credit was for producer Sam Katzman at Monogram Pictures, Bowery Blitzkrieg (1941), starring the East Side Kids. Foreman then provided the original story (for $25) and wrote a script (for $200) for the next East Side Kids film, Spooks Run Wild (1941), with Bela Lugosi. Also at Monogram he provided the story for and wrote the script of Rhythm Parade (1942).
Foreman's his career was interrupted by service in the United States military during World War II. During his time in the services he helped write the script for Know Your Enemy - Japan (1945). He provided the original story for a John Wayne Western, Dakota (1945).
On his return to Hollywood, Foreman became associated with producer Stanley Kramer. Kramer produced Foreman's next credited script, So This Is New York (1948), starring comedian Henry Morgan, for The Enterprise Studios and directed by Richard Fleischer. It was a mild success. Foreman then wrote a movie for Fleischer at RKO, The Clay Pigeon (1949).
Kramer and Foreman's next film, the boxing tale Champion (1949), was a big success, making a star of Kirk Douglas. Foreman received an Academy Award nomination for his script.
Champion had been directed by Mark Robson and he, Kramer and Foreman reunited on Home of the Brave (1949), an adaptation of Arthur Laurents' play. It was another critical and commercial success.
Kramer and Foreman's third film together was The Men (1950), which introduced Marlon Brando to cinema audiences; he played a paraplegic soldier. The film, directed by Fred Zinnemann, was critically acclaimed although not a popular success. Also acclaimed was their fourth film, Cyrano de Bergerac (1950), which won star Jose Ferrer a Best Actor Oscar. It was adapted from Brian Hooker's English translation of Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac. Without Kramer, Foreman worked on Young Man with a Horn (1950), with Douglas.
Foreman and Kramer's next collaboration was the Western, High Noon. During production of the film, Foreman was summoned to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). He testified that he had been a member of the American Communist Party more than ten years earlier while still a young man but had become disillusioned with the Party and quit. As a result of his refusal to give the names of fellow Party members, Foreman was labeled as an "uncooperative witness" and blacklisted by all of the Hollywood studio bosses.
High Noon is seen by some as an allegory for McCarthyism. The Western film is considered an American classic and was No. 27 on American Film Institute's 100 Years, 100 Movies, and has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. This would be the last film he would be allowed to work on by a Hollywood studio for the next six years. High Noon, the film that was Foreman's greatest screenwriting accomplishment, made no mention of him as associate producer but did credit him for the screenplay, and he did receive an Academy Award nomination for his script from his fellow members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Unemployed, Foreman and some others who had also been blacklisted such as Ring Lardner, Jr. moved to England where they wrote scripts under pseudonyms that were channeled back to Hollywood. As "Derek Frye" he and fellow blacklistee Harold Buchman wrote the thriller The Sleeping Tiger (1954) which was directed by another blacklistee, Joseph Losey.
After working on Born for Trouble (1955), he wrote a draft of the screenplay for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) which was later reworked by fellow blacklisted writer Michael Wilson. Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle, the two were not given screen credit and the Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay went to Pierre Boulle, who did not speak English. This was only rectified posthumously in 1984 and his name was added to the award.
Foreman also worked uncredited on A Hatful of Rain (1957), directed by Zinnemann.
Bridge on the River Kwai had been a massive commercial and critical success, and Foreman's contribution had not gone un-noticed. He set up his own production company, Highroad and established a deal with Columbia Pictures, who had released Kwai.
Foreman wrote and helped produced The Key (1958), a war film directed by Carol Reed. Highroad then made the Peter Sellars comedy The Mouse that Roared (1959), a big hit.
Foreman wrote and produced The Guns of Navarone (1961), based on a best selling novel. Foreman fired director Alexander Mackendrick shortly before production. The resulting movie was a massive hit. The film's success enabled Foreman to direct as well as produce and write his next film, The Victors (1963) for Columbia. Although another war story, it was a box office disappointment.
Foreman's next big success was the smash hit 1966 film Born Free which Foreman presented. He wrote and produced Mackenna's Gold (1969) for Columbia, with the same director (J. Lee Thompson) and star (Gregory Peck) as Navarone but the film was not as successful. However The Virgin Soldiers (1969), which his company made for Columbia, was a hit in Britain. His company also made Monsieur Lecoq (never completed) and Otley (1969).
Foreman's next big production was Young Winston (1972), which he wrote and produced, with Richard Attenborough directing. It was not particularly successful; neither was Living Free (1972), which Foreman produced.
Foreman co-wrote and helped produce a sequel to Navarone, Force 10 from Navarone (1978), but again it did not match the success of its predecessor. He executive produced The Golden Gate Murders (1979) and his last credit was as writer of a disaster movie, When Time Ran Out (1980), which was a notable flop.
In 1965, Foreman was made a governor of the British Film Institute, serving until 1971. In 1970, Foreman was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Such is his influence on the British film industry, that from 1998 to 2009 there was a British Academy Film Award named in his honor; the Carl Foreman Award for the Most Promising Newcomer.
Nearing the end of his life, Carl Foreman returned to the United States, where he died of a brain tumor in 1984 in Beverly Hills, California. His first marriage resulted in the birth of a daughter, Katie, to Estelle; his second marriage brought him two children, Amanda and Jonathan, born in London to Evelyn.
Foreman's daughter, Amanda Foreman, graduated from Columbia University and Oxford University, where she received a PhD in history. She won the Whitbread Prize for her 1998 best-selling biography Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire, which was followed in 2011 by the epic non-fiction study A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War.
Foreman's son, Jonathan Foreman, graduated in modern history from Cambridge University and a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and worked as an editorial writer and senior film critic for the New York Post before relocating to London in 2004 to work for the Daily Mail. In 2008, he became one of the founders of the monthly British centre-right current affairs magazine Standpoint.
High Noon's production and release also intersected with the second Red Scare and the Korean War. Foreman was called before HUAC while he was writing the film. Foreman had not been in the Communist Party for almost ten years, but declined to 'name names' and was considered an 'un-cooperative witness' by HUAC. When Stanley Kramer found out some of this, he forced Foreman to sell his part of their company, and tried to get him kicked off the making of the picture. Fred Zinnemann, Gary Cooper, and Bruce Church intervened. There was also a problem with the Bank of America loan, as Foreman hadn't yet signed certain papers. Thus Foreman remained on the production, but moved to England before it was released nationally, as he knew he would never be allowed to work in America.
Kramer claimed he had not stood up for Foreman partly because Foreman was threatening to dishonestly name Kramer as a Communist. Foreman said that Kramer was afraid of what would happen to him and his career if Kramer didn't cooperate with the Committee. Kramer wanted Foreman to name names and not plead his Fifth Amendment rights. There had also been pressure against Foreman by, among others, Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures (Kramer's brand new boss at the time), John Wayne of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (who said he would "never regret having helped run Foreman out of this country" and called High Noon "un-American") and Hedda Hopper of the Los Angeles Times. Cast and crew members were also affected. Howland Chamberlin was blacklisted, while Floyd Crosby and Lloyd Bridges were "gray listed."
In 2002, PBS television made a two-hour film about Foreman's ordeal during McCarthyism titled Darkness at High Noon: The Carl Foreman Documents. It was written and directed by outspoken conservative Lionel Chetwynd.
Foreman was also the subject of an episode of Screenwriters: Words Into Image, directed by Terry Sanders and Frieda Lee Mock.Spooks Run Wild (1941)
Bowery Blitzkrieg (1941)
So This Is New York (1948)
Home of the Brave (1949)
The Men (1950)
Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)
Young Man with a Horn (1950)
High Noon (1952)
The Sleeping Tiger as Derek Frye (1954)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
A Hatful of Rain (1957)
The Guns of Navarone (1961)
The Victors (1963)
Mackenna's Gold (1969)
Young Winston (1972)
Force 10 from Navarone (1978)
When Time Ran Out (1980)
1953 : WGA Award for Best Written American Drama – High Noon
1958 : Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay – The Bridge on the River Kwai (awarded posthumously)
1973 : Writers' Guild of Great Britain for Best British Screenplay – Young Winston
1950 : Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay – Champion
1950 : WGA Award for Best Written American Drama Champion
1951 : Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay – The Men
1951 : WGA Award for Best Written American Drama – The Men
1953 : Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay – High Noon
1953 : Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay – Motion Picture – High Noon
1962 : Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay – The Guns of Navarone
1962 : BAFTA Award for Best British Screenplay – The Guns of Navarone
1973 : Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay – Young Winston