Cecil B. DeMille

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Cecil B. De Mille)
Jump to: navigation, search
Cecil B. DeMille
Cecil B de Mille in The Greatest Show on Earth trailer
From The Greatest Show on Earth trailer, 1952
Born Cecil Blount DeMille
(1881-08-12)August 12, 1881
Ashfield, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died January 21, 1959(1959-01-21) (aged 77)
Hollywood, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Heart ailment
Resting place
Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Nationality American
Alma mater Pennsylvania Military College
American Academy of Dramatic Arts
Occupation Producer, director, editor, screenwriter, actor
Years active 1913–1959
Political party
Republican
Religion Episcopalian
Spouse(s) Constance Adams DeMille (m. 1902–59)
Children Cecilia DeMille
Katherine DeMille
John DeMille
Richard de Mille
Parents Henry Churchill de Mille
Matilda Beatrice DeMille
Relatives William C. deMille (brother)
Agnes de Mille (niece)
Website
Official website

Cecil Blount DeMille (August 12, 1881 – January 21, 1959) was an American film director and film producer in both silent and sound films.[1]

DeMille began his career as a stage actor in 1900. He later moved on to writing and directing stage productions. His first silent film, The Squaw Man (1914), was a box-office hit and "served to put Hollywood on the map."[2] His first biblical epic, The Ten Commandments (1923), was both a critical and financial success;[3] it held the Paramount revenue record for 25 years.[4]

DeMille was renowned for the flamboyance and showmanship of his movies. Cleopatra (1934) was his first film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. The pinnacle of his career started with Samson and Delilah (1949), his third biblical epic which had "an all-time record business."[5] He went on to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director for the first time for his circus drama The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. His last and most famous film, The Ten Commandments (1956), is currently the seventh highest-grossing film of all-time adjusted for inflation.[6]

In addition to his Academy Award win, he was also awarded an Academy Honorary Award for his film contributions, the Palme d'Or, a DGA Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. He was also the first recipient of the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award, which is named in his honor.

He was married to Constance Adams DeMille in 1902 with whom he had one biological child, Cecilia, and three adopted children, Katherine, John, and Richard. DeMille died in January 1959 of a heart ailment at the age of 77.

Early life[edit]

DeMille was born in Ashfield, Massachusetts, while his parents were vacationing there, and grew up in Washington, North Carolina. While he is known as DeMille (his nom d'oeuvre), his Dutch surname, from his father, is usually spelled "de Mil".[7] His father, Henry Churchill de Mille (1853–1893), was a North Carolina-born dramatist and lay reader in the Episcopal Church, who had earlier begun a career as a playwright, writing his first play at age 15. His mother was Matilda Beatrice DeMille (née Samuel), whose parents were both of German Jewish heritage. She emigrated from England with her parents in 1871 when she was 18, where they settled in Brooklyn. According to biographer Carol Easton, Beatrice grew up in a middle-class English household.[8] DeMille's mother was related to British politician Herbert Louis Samuel.[9][10]

He had an elder brother William, and a sister, Agnes, who died in childhood. DeMille's niece, who later became a dancer and choreographer, was named after her. He is credited with providing her name.

DeMille's parents met while they were both members of a local music and literary society in New York. She was attracted to Henry, a tall, redheaded student who shared her love of the theater. While he was "slender and mild-mannered", she had dark good looks that "must have seemed to him exotic", writes Easton. She was also intelligent, educated, forthright, and strong-willed, and they were mutually attracted to each other. They were both born in 1853. She would later convert to Henry's faith when they married.[8] Henry worked as a playwright, administrator, and faculty member during the early years of The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, established in New York City in 1884.

They lived in Wayne, New Jersey in a house built by Henry DeMille. The family spent much time in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, operating a private school in that town and attending Christ Episcopal Church there. Cecil B. DeMille had said that it was while attending that church where he got the idea for The Ten Commandments.[11] DeMille was considered a devout Christian who regularly read his Bible during lunch in the studio commissary.[12][13]

In 1893, at the age of 40, Henry contracted typhoid fever and died, leaving Beatrice with three children, a house, and no savings. Cecil was 11 at the time. Until Henry's sudden death, they had both loved the theater, and she "enthusiastically supported" her husband's theatrical aspirations. Recognizing his love of the theater and his efforts to become a playwright and producer, she wrote at his funeral:

"May your sons be as fine and as noble and good and honest as you were. May they follow in your steps..."[8]

Within eight weeks after his death, to provide an income for the family, Beatrice opened an acting workshop in her home, the Henry C. De Mille School for Girls. She would later become one of the few successful women theater promoters on Broadway.[8] DeMille attended Pennsylvania Military College in Chester, Pennsylvania from the age of 15. Both he (Class of 1900) and his brother William (Class of 1901) also attended and graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, which they attended on scholarship. The Academy later honored DeMille with an Alumni Achievement Award.

Career[edit]

Head shot of a young-looking DeMille—and the head has lots of wavy hair!
c. 1904

Broadway[edit]

DeMille began his career as an actor on the Broadway stage in the theatrical company of Charles Frohman in 1900. His brother William was already establishing himself as a playwright and sometimes worked in collaboration with Cecil. DeMille co-starred with some of the men and women whom he would later direct in films (i.e. Charlotte Walker, Mary Pickford, and Pedro de Cordoba, among others). DeMille also served as producer and/or director for many plays.[14] De Mille found success in the spring of 1913 producing Reckless Age by Lee Wilson. The story about a high society girl wrongly accused of manslaughter starred Frederick Burton and Sydney Shields.[15][16] Some of these plays were later adapted into silent and sound films. DeMille and his brother occasionally worked with David Belasco, a contemporary of their father Henry deMille. Belasco was legendary for the way he lit his stage scenes, as well as creating a lurid atmosphere. In 1911, Belasco premiered a play titled The Return of Peter Grimm. DeMille claimed he wrote the play and that Belasco had plagiarized DeMille's work without compensation. DeMille later adopted many of Belasco's stage lighting and atmospheric techniques in such films as The Cheat, a move some saw as revenge against Belasco.

Motion pictures[edit]

DeMille entered films in 1913. He directed dozens of silent films, including Paramount Pictures' first production, The Squaw Man (1914), which was co-directed by Oscar Apfel, before coming into huge popularity during the late 1910s and early 1920s, when he reached the apex of his popularity with such films as Don't Change Your Husband (1919), The Ten Commandments (1923), and The King of Kings (1927). A few of his silent films featured scenes in two-color Technicolor.

c.1920

DeMille was known for remaking his earlier films to take advantage of updated filmmaking technology. He remade his early hit The Squaw Man twice, once as a silent film The Squaw Man (1918) and then as a sound film The Squaw Man (1931). All three were loosely based on a hit play The Squaw Man about a wrongly disgraced British aristocrat who settles in the Wild West.

Cecil B. DeMille was known for being an instrumental catalyst for the rising status of many a struggling or unknown actor. Actor Richard Dix's best-remembered early role was in the silent version of DeMille's The Ten Commandments. Richard Cromwell owed his 1930s movie fame in part to being personally selected by DeMille for the role as the leader of the youth gang in DeMille's poignant, now cult-favorite, This Day and Age (1933). To ensure that Cromwell's character used current slang, DeMille asked Horace Hahn to read the script and comment (at the time, Hahn was senior class president at Los Angeles High School).[17]

DeMille displayed a loyalty to certain supporting performers, casting them repeatedly in his pictures. They included Henry Wilcoxon, Julia Faye, Joseph Schildkraut, Ian Keith, Charles Bickford, Theodore Roberts, Akim Tamiroff and William Boyd. He also cast leading actors such as Claudette Colbert, Gloria Swanson, Gary Cooper, Jetta Goudal, Robert Preston, Paulette Goddard and Charlton Heston in multiple pictures. He was not known as a particularly good director of actors, often hiring actors whom he relied on to develop their own characters and act accordingly.

Cecil B. DeMille directing

DeMille had a reputation for tyrannical behavior on the set, and he despised actors who were unwilling to take physical risks. Such was the case with Victor Mature in Samson and Delilah, when Mature refused to wrestle the lion, though the lion was tame and toothless. (DeMille remarked that Mature was "100% yellow"). Paulette Goddard's refusal to risk personal injury in a scene involving fire in Unconquered cost her DeMille's favor and probably a role in The Greatest Show on Earth. DeMille was, however, adept at directing "thousands of extras", and many of his pictures included spectacular set pieces, such as the parting of the Red Sea in both versions of The Ten Commandments, the toppling of the pagan temple in Samson and Delilah, train wrecks in The Road to Yesterday, Union Pacific and The Greatest Show on Earth, and the destruction of a zeppelin in Madame Satan.

DeMille as producer of the CBS Radio Theatre, 1937

DeMille was one of the first directors in Hollywood to become a celebrity in his own right. From 1936 to 1944, DeMille hosted and acted as pitchman for Cecil B. DeMille's Lux Radio Theater, a popular dramatic radio show of the time. Gloria Swanson immortalized DeMille with the oft-repeated line, "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up" in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard, wherein DeMille played himself. DeMille also appeared as himself in Paramount's 1947 all-star musical comedy Variety Girl and he narrated many of his later films, as well as appearing on screen in the introduction to The Ten Commandments.

DeMille first used three-strip Technicolor in Northwest Mounted Police (1940). Following the favorable response to the vivid color photography, shot partly on location in the Canadian Rockies, DeMille decided to always use Technicolor in his films.

DeMille continued to remain prolific during the 1930s and 40s. He averaged one film every 1–2 years, most of them centered on historical epics and Bible stories. In 1956, he released his last movie and the production for which he is most remembered today, The Ten Commandments (which is very different from his 1923 film of the same title). Also representative of his penchant for the spectacular was the 1952 production of The Greatest Show on Earth, a drama about the life of circus performers, which gave DeMille an Oscar for best picture and a nomination for best director.

In 1949 or 1950, DeMille was recruited by Allen Dulles and Frank Wisner to serve on the board of the anti-communist National Committee for a Free Europe, the public face of the organization that oversaw the Radio Free Europe service.[18] In 1954, Secretary of the Air Force Harold E. Talbott sought out DeMille for help in designing the cadet uniforms at the newly established United States Air Force Academy. DeMille's designs—most notably his design of the distinctive cadet parade uniform—won praise from Air Force and Academy leadership, were ultimately adopted, and are worn by cadets today.[19]

Near the end of his life, DeMille began pre-production work on a film biography of Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout Movement and had asked David Niven to star in the film, which was never made. Because of illness, he asked his son-in-law, actor Anthony Quinn, to direct a remake of his 1938 film The Buccaneer; although DeMille served as executive producer, he was unhappy with Quinn's work and tried unsuccessfully to remedy the situation. Despite a cast led by Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner and some impressive battle scenes, the film was considered a disappointment by many.

Though DeMille was respected by his peers, his individual films were often criticized by them. "Directorially, I think his pictures were the most horrible things I've ever seen in my life", said director William Wellman. "But he put on pictures that made a fortune. In that respect, he was better than any of us."[20] Critic Pauline Kael called De Mille "a sanctimonious manipulator – [he] used to satisfy the voyeuristic needs of the God-abiding by showing them what they were missing by being good and then soothe them by showing them the terrible punishments they escaped by being good."[21]

Personal life[edit]

DeMille's tomb at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

DeMille married Constance Adams on August 16, 1902 and had one child, Cecilia. They also adopted two sons, John and Richard, the latter of whom became a notable filmmaker, author, and psychologist. The couple also adopted Katherine Lester in the early 1920s; her father had been killed in World War I and her mother had died of tuberculosis. Katherine married actor Anthony Quinn.

DeMille was acutely aware of the divergent cultural and religious forces that had shaped his childhood. Throughout his life, his Jewish and Protestant heritage co-existed in uneasy reconciliation. The DeMille family had lived with a conscious determination to deny his mother’s Jewish heritage. Later in life, DeMille, a lauded film director, respected member of the Hollywood film community, admitted he didn’t like “the Jewish people”...in Los Angeles, though he was unable to relinquish the knowledge that he “was one of them.”[22]

DeMille was a Freemason and a member of Prince of Orange Lodge #16 in New York City.[23]

DeMille was a lifelong conservative Republican activist. He greatly admired Herbert Hoover. DeMille, however, made one exception to his political beliefs by casting a vote for Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932, doing so for "only one reason... [Roosevelt being against] Prohibition." [22] In 1944, he was the master of ceremonies at the massive rally organized by David O. Selznick in the Los Angeles Coliseum in support of the Dewey-Bricker ticket as well as Governor Earl Warren of California, who would become Dewey's running mate in 1948 and later the Chief Justice of the United States. The gathering drew 93,000, with short speeches by Hedda Hopper and Walt Disney. Among those in attendance were Ann Sothern, Ginger Rogers, Randolph Scott, Adolphe Menjou, Gary Cooper, and Walter Pidgeon. Though the rally drew a good response, most Hollywood celebrities who took a public position sided with the Roosevelt-Truman ticket.[24]

Death[edit]

During on-location filming in Egypt of the Exodus sequence for 1956's The Ten Commandments, the then-75-year-old DeMille climbed a 107-foot ladder to the top of the massive Per Rameses set and suffered a serious heart attack. Ignoring his doctor's orders, DeMille was back directing the film within a week.[25]

Although DeMille completed the film, his health was effectively ruined by the heart attack and it would be his last. On the evening of January 20, 1959, his doctor paid him a visit at home and seeing how weak the director was, advised that he go to the hospital at once. DeMille merely replied "No, I think I'll go to the morgue instead." He died the next day of heart failure.[26] DeMille's funeral was held on January 23 at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church. He was entombed in Hollywood Memorial Cemetery (now known as Hollywood Forever Cemetery).[27] Prior to his death, he was planning to make a movie about the space race, as well as another Biblical epic, this one about the Book of Revelation.[28] Upon his passing TIME magazine stated it was "the end of DeMillenium."

Legacy and honors[edit]

For his contribution to the motion picture and radio industry, Cecil B. DeMille has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The first, for radio contributions, is located at 6240 Vine Street. The second star is located at 1725 Vine Street.[29]

Most of the DeMille motion picture library now resides with EMKA, Ltd., through the television division of NBCUniversal, due to Paramount Pictures' selling the rights to the DeMille films in 1958 to EMKA. So technically it is Universal Pictures that now oversees a vast part of DeMille's motion picture career as well as its related archival material. Samson and Delilah, although pre-1950, has been retained by Paramount, as are all the DeMille/Paramount silent films produced before 1928, and all sound films produced after 1950. Television distribution for those films is handled by Trifecta Entertainment & Media. However, the pre-1950 films DeMille produced for MGM are now owned by Warner Bros. Pictures (through Turner Entertainment).

In the mid-1950s, DeMille oversaw the development of a family of distinctive uniforms designed for use by the cadets at the new United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. For this, he received the Defense Department's Exceptional Service Award.

The former film building at Chapman University in Orange, California is named in honor of DeMille. The Lawrence and Kristina Dodge College of Film and Media Arts now resides in Marion Knotts Studios.

The Golden Globe's annual Cecil B. DeMille Award recognizes lifetime achievement in the film industry.

Two schools are named after him, Cecil B. DeMille Middle School, in Long Beach, California, closed and demolished in 2007 to make way for a new high school, and Cecil B. DeMille Elementary School in Midway City, California.

Filmography[edit]

Director[edit]

Silent films

Sound films

Actor[edit]

Advertisement (1919)

Awards[edit]

Year Award Category Title of work
1950 Academy Award Academy Honorary Award
1953 Academy Award Best Picture The Greatest Show on Earth
1953 Academy Award Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award
1939 Palme d'Or
Union Pacific
1953 Directors Guild of America Award Lifetime Achievement Award
1952 Golden Globe Award Cecil B. DeMille Award
1953 Golden Globe Award Best Director The Greatest Show on Earth
1958 Laurel Awards Top Producer/Director

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Cecil B. DeMille Obituary", Variety, January 28, 1959.
  2. ^ Lowe, Walter (October 22, 1956). "DeMille At 75 Still Creating". Kentucky New Era. Retrieved April 29, 2014. 
  3. ^ "Review: ‘The Ten Commandments’". Variety. December 31, 1923. Retrieved April 29, 2014. 
  4. ^ "He Himself Was "Colossal"". The Montreal Gazette. January 22, 1959. Retrieved April 29, 2014. 
  5. ^ "'Samson' Champion At Boxoffice". The Pittsburgh Press. March 26, 1950. Retrieved April 29, 2014. 
  6. ^ "All Time Box Office - Domestic Grosses: Adjusted for Ticket Price Inflation". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 29, 2014. 
  7. ^ DeMille, Cecil B. Autobiography of Cecil B. DeMille. New York: Prentice Hall, 1959.
  8. ^ a b c d (Easton 1996, pp. 6–8)
  9. ^ Weiss, Marshall (December 5, 2003). "How DeMille Created a Sanctuary Out of the Exodus". Forward.com. Retrieved February 21, 2014. 
  10. ^ Kozlovic, Anton Karl (March 2013). "Cecil B. DeMille". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved February 21, 2014. 
  11. ^ LaPlaca, Bryan (September 19, 2011). "Back in the Day - Sept. 18, 1991: De Mille's Pompton Lakes roots recalled". NorthJersey.com. Retrieved April 21, 2014. 
  12. ^ http://www.charactercincinnati.org/Faith/Qualities/Creativity/cecilbdemille.htm
  13. ^ Interview with Debra Paget - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKK8nX9jkMI
  14. ^ "Cecil B. DeMille plays". IMDb. Retrieved: December 8, 2011.
  15. ^ "News of Other Cities, Atlantic City". New York Dramatic Mirror, May 14, 1913.
  16. ^ (Birchard 2004, p. 2)
  17. ^ (Birchard 2004, pp. 262–263)
  18. ^ (Weiner 2007, p. 36)
  19. ^ Radford, Bill. "A Digger, A Director and A Practical Joker". Colorado Springs Gazette, USAF Academy 50th Anniversary Edition, Spring 2004.
  20. ^ (Brownlow 1976, p. 185)
  21. ^ Kael, Pauline. "The Current Cinema: Fellini's Mondo Trasho". The New Yorker, March 14, 1970, p. 134.
  22. ^ a b Wilson, Victoria, "A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: True-Steel 1907-1940, Simon & Schuster, November 12, 2013, p. 743, ASIN: BOOA28GU61.
  23. ^ "Famous Masons". MWGLNY. January 2014. 
  24. ^ David M. Jordan, FDR, Dewey, and the Election of 1944 (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2011), pp. 231–232.
  25. ^ Jones, Steve (April 1, 2011). "DVD extra: 'Ten Commandments' gets HD treatment". usatoday.com. Retrieved December 19, 2012. 
  26. ^ "Cecil De Mille, 77, Pioneer of Movies, Dead in Hollywood". nytimes.com. January 22, 1959. Retrieved December 19, 2012. 
  27. ^ (Donnelley 2009, p. 318)
  28. ^ (Eyman 2010, pp. 494–496, 500)
  29. ^ Blake, Gene. "Hollywood Star Walk: Cecil B. DeMille". latimes.com. Retrieved December 19, 2012. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Birchard, Robert S. (2004). Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0-8131-2324-0.
  • Brownlow, K. (1976). The Parade's Gone by... Berkeley, California: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-03068-8.
  • Donnelley, Paul (2004). Fade to Black: A Book of Movie Obituaries (3rd ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 1-844-49430-6.
  • Easton, Carol (1996). No Intermissions: The Life of Agnes de Mille. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-80975-0.
  • Eyman, Scott. Empire of Dreams: The Epic Life of Cecil B. DeMille. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. ISBN 0-7432-8955-2.
  • Orrison, Katherine. Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille's Epic, The Ten Commandments. New York: Vestal Press, 1990. ISBN 1-879511-24-X.
  • Weiner, Tim (2007). Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-3855-1445-3.

External links[edit]