Leo McCarey

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Leo McCarey
Leo McCarey.jpg
on the set of Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)
Born Thomas Leo McCarey
(1898-10-03)October 3, 1898
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Died July 5, 1969(1969-07-05) (aged 70)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Spouse(s) Stella Martin

Thomas Leo McCarey (October 3, 1898 – July 5, 1969) was a three-time Academy Award winning American film director, screenwriter and producer. He was involved in nearly 200 movies, including Duck Soup, The Awful Truth, Love Affair, and Going My Way.

While focusing mainly on screwball comedies during the 1930s, McCarey turned towards producing more socially aware and conservative movies during the 1940s, ultimately finding success and acclaim in both genres. McCarey was one of the most popular and successful comedy directors of the pre-World War II era.


Born in Los Angeles, California, McCarey attended St. Joseph’s Catholic school and Los Angeles High School.[1] His father was Thomas J. McCarey, whom the Los Angeles Times called "the greatest fight promoter in the world". Leo McCarey would later make a boxing comedy with Harold Lloyd called The Milky Way, (1936).[2]

Leo McCarey graduated from the University of Southern California law school[3] and tried mining, boxing, the law, and songwriting[4] before becoming an assistant director to Tod Browning in 1919,[1] and honed his skills at the Hal Roach Studios. Hired by Hal Roach in 1923, McCarey initially wrote gags for the Our Gang series and other studio stars, then produced and directed shorts, including two-reelers with Charley Chase. While at Roach, McCarey cast Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy together and guided development of their onscreen characters, thus creating one of the most enduring comedy teams of all time. He only officially appeared as director of the duo's shorts We Faw Down (1928), Liberty (1929) and Wrong Again (1929), but wrote many screenplays. By 1929, he was vice-president of production for the studio.

In the sound era McCarey ventured into feature-film direction, working with many of the biggest stars of the era, including Gloria Swanson (Indiscreet, 1931), Eddie Cantor (The Kid From Spain, 1932), the Marx Brothers (Duck Soup, 1933), W.C. Fields (Six of a Kind, 1934), and Mae West (Belle of the Nineties, 1934). In 1937, McCarey won his first Academy Award for Directing for The Awful Truth, with Irene Dunne and Cary Grant, a screwball comedy that launched Cary Grant's unique screen persona, largely concocted by McCarey (Grant copied many of McCarey's mannerisms). Along with the similarity in their names, McCarey and Cary Grant shared an eerie physical resemblance, making mimicking McCarey's intonations and expressions even easier for Grant. As writer/director Peter Bogdanovich notes, "After The Awful Truth, when it came to light comedy, there was Cary Grant and then everyone else was an also-ran."[citation needed]

McCarey was a devout Roman Catholic and deeply concerned with social issues. During the 1940s, his work became more serious and his politics more conservative. In 1944 he directed Going My Way, a story about an enterprising priest, the youthful Father Chuck O'Malley, played by Bing Crosby, for which he won his second Best Director Oscar and Crosby won a Best Actor Oscar. His share in the profits of this smash hit gave McCarey the highest reported income in the U.S. for 1944, and its follow-up, The Bells of St. Mary's (1945), which paired Crosby with Ingrid Bergman and made by McCarey's production company, was similarly successful. According to Paul Harrit in "Great Directors", McCarey acknowledged that the film is largely based on his aunt, Sister Mary Benedict, who died of typhoid.[1]

The public reacted negatively to some of his films after the Korean War. For instance, his anti-communist film My Son John (1952), failed at the box office. Five years later, he co-wrote, produced, and directed An Affair to Remember starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, a remake (with precisely the same script) of his 1939 film Love Affair with Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer.[5] He followed this hit with Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys! (1958), a comedy starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Some years later he directed his last picture, the poorly received Satan Never Sleeps (1962).

French director Jean Renoir once said that "Leo McCarey understood people better than any other Hollywood director."[6]


"I only know I like my characters to walk in clouds, I like a little bit of the fairy tale. As long as I'm there behind the camera lens, I'll let somebody else photograph the ugliness of the world." - Leo McCarey [7]

"It's larceny to remind people of how lousy things are and call it entertainment."[2]


Leo McCarey died in 1969, aged 70, from emphysema.[8] He was interred in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. His brother, director Ray McCarey, had died 21 years earlier.

Partial filmography[edit]

(As director, unless otherwise specified)

Academy Awards[edit]



External links[edit]