W. S. Van Dyke

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W. S. Van Dyke
Born Woodbridge Strong Van Dyke II
(1889-03-21)March 21, 1889
San Diego, California, U.S.
Died February 5, 1943(1943-02-05) (aged 53)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Years active 1917 – 1942
Spouse(s) Ruth Mannix (1935 – 1943)

Woodbridge Strong "Woody" Van Dyke, Jr. (March 21, 1889 – February 5, 1943) was an American motion picture director.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

Born in San Diego, California, Van Dyke was a child actor on the vaudeville circuit. His early adult years were unsettled, and he moved from career to career until arriving in Hollywood. His first movie assignment was as an assistant director on the D. W. Griffith feature motion picture Intolerance (1916). That same year he was cast as Charles Dickens in the now lost 1916 film Oliver Twist. He also was one of the assistant directors on the film. During the silent era he learned his craft and by the advent of the talkies was one of MGM's most reliable directors.


He came to be known as "One-Take Woody" or "One-Take Van Dyke", for the speed with which he would complete his assignments, and although not regarded as one of the screen's most talented directors[citation needed], MGM regarded him as one of the most versatile, equally at home directing costume dramas, westerns, comedies, crime melodramas and musicals. Many of his films were huge hits and top box office in any given year. He received Academy Award for Best Director nominations for The Thin Man (1934) and San Francisco (1936). He also directed the Oscar winning classic "Eskimo/Mala the Magnificent", in which he also has a featured acting role.

His other films include the island adventure White Shadows in the South Seas (1928), its follow up The Pagan (1929), Trader Horn (1931) filmed almost entirely in Africa, Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), Manhattan Melodrama (1934), and Marie Antoinette (1938). He is perhaps best remembered for directing Myrna Loy and William Powell in four Thin Man films: The Thin Man (1934), After the Thin Man (1936), Another Thin Man (1939) and Shadow of the Thin Man (1941); and Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in six of their greatest hits, Naughty Marietta (1935), Rose Marie (1936), Sweethearts (1938), New Moon (1940) (uncredited because halfway through filming Robert Z. Leonard took over), Bitter Sweet (1940) and I Married an Angel (1942).

The earthquake sequence in San Francisco is considered[by whom?] one of the best special-effects sequences ever filmed.[citation needed] To help direct, Van Dyke called upon his early mentor, D.W. Griffith, who had fallen on hard times. Van Dyke was also known to hire old-time, out-of-work actors as extras; because of his loyalty he was much beloved and admired in the industry.

Van Dyke was known for allowing ad-libbing (that remained in the film) and for coaxing natural performances from his actors. He made stars of Nelson Eddy, James Stewart, Myrna Loy, Johnny Weissmuller, Maureen O'Sullivan, Eleanor Powell, Ilona Massey and Margaret O'Brien. He was often called in to work a few days (or more), uncredited, on a film that was in trouble or had gone over production schedule.

Promoted to Major prior to World War II, the patriotic Van Dyke set up a Marine Corps recruiting center in his MGM office. He was one of the first Hollywood bigwigs to advocate early U.S. involvement, and he convinced stars like Clark Gable, James Stewart, Robert Taylor and Nelson Eddy to become involved in the war effort.

Final years and death[edit]

Ill with cancer and a bad heart, he directed one last film: Journey for Margaret. It was a heart-rending movie that made five-year old Margaret O'Brien an overnight star.

A devout Christian Scientist, Van Dyke refused most medical care during his last years. After finishing his last film, he said his goodbyes to his wife, children and studio boss Louis B. Mayer, and committed suicide on February 5, 1943[1][2] in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California. At his request, Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy both sang and officiated at his funeral.


Woody Van Dyke has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contribution to Motion Pictures, at 6141 Hollywood Boulevard.


  1. ^ a b "W. S. Van Dyke Dies, Film Director, 53". New York Times. February 6, 1943. Retrieved 2009-07-17. Marine Corps Reserve Major. Recently Had Completed 'Journey for Margaret'. Axtor at Age of 7 Months. Produced 'Trader Horn', 'Thin Man' and 'Naughty Marietta'. Once With D. W. Griffith. Woodbridge Strong Van Dyke 2d, motion-picture director, died at his home in Brentwood shortly before noon today. His age was 53 Van Dyke, ... 
  2. ^ Bill & Sue-On Hillman. "The Edgar Rice Burroughs Library - Shelf UV1". Retrieved 19 April 2009. 

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