William Wyler

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William Wyler
William Wyler.jpg
Born Willy Wyler
(1902-07-01)July 1, 1902
Mülhausen, Alsace, German Empire (present-day Mulhouse, Haut-Rhin, France)
Died July 27, 1981(1981-07-27) (aged 79)
Los Angeles, California
Cause of death
Heart attack
Nationality American, Swiss
Occupation Film director, producer
Years active 1925–1970
Spouse(s) Margaret Sullavan (1934–1936; divorced)
Margaret Tallichet (1938–1981; his death; 5 children)

William Wyler (July 1, 1902 – July 27, 1981) was an American film director, producer and screenwriter.[1] Notable works included Ben-Hur (1959), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and Mrs. Miniver (1942), all of which won Wyler Academy Awards for Best Director, as well as Best Picture in their respective years. Wyler won his first Oscar nomination for directing Dodsworth in 1936, starring Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton and Mary Astor, "sparking a 20-year run of almost unbroken greatness."[2]

Film historian Ian Freer calls Wyler a "bona fide perfectionist", whose penchant for retakes and an attempt to hone every last nuance, "became the stuff of legend."[3] His ability to direct a string of classic literary adaptations into huge box-office and critical successes made him one of "Hollywood's most bankable moviemakers" during the 1930s and 1940s and into the 60's. Other popular Wyler films include Funny Girl (1968), How to Steal a Million (1966), The Children's Hour (1961), The Big Country (1958), Roman Holiday (1953), The Heiress (1949), The Letter (1940), The Westerner (1940), Wuthering Heights (1939), Jezebel (1938), Dodsworth (1936), and Hell's Heroes (1930).

Early life[edit]

Wyler was born Willy Wyler[4] to a Jewish family[5] in Mulhouse, Alsace (part of the then-German Empire).[6] His Swiss father, Leopold, started as a traveling salesman which he later turned into a thriving haberdashery business in Mulhouse. His mother, Melanie (died February 13, 1955, Los Angeles, aged 77), was German, and a cousin of Carl Laemmle, founder of Universal Pictures. During Wyler's childhood, he attended a number of schools and developed a reputation as "something of a hellraiser", being expelled more than once for misbehavior.[7] His mother often took him and his older brother Robert to concerts, opera, and the theatre, as well as the early cinema. Sometimes at home his family and their friends would stage amateur theatricals for personal enjoyment.[8]

Wyler was supposed to take over the family business. After World War I he spent a dismal year working in Paris at 100,000 Chemises selling shirts and ties. He was so poor that he often spent his time wandering around the Pigalle district. After realizing that Willy was not interested in the haberdashery business, his mother contacted her distant cousin about opportunities for him. Laemmle was in the habit of coming to Europe each year, searching for promising young men who would work in America. In 1921, Wyler, while traveling as a Swiss citizen (his father's status automatically conferred Swiss citizenship to his sons), met Laemmle who hired him to work at Universal Studios in New York. As Wyler said: "America seemed as far away as the moon." Booked onto a ship to New York with Laemmle upon his return voyage, he met a young Czech man, Paul Kohner (later the famous independent agent), aboard the same ship. Their enjoyment of the first class trip was short-lived as they found they had to pay back the cost of the passage out of their $25 weekly income as messengers to Universal Pictures. After working in New York for several years, and even serving in the New York National Guard for a year, Wyler decided he wanted to go to Hollywood and be a director.[1]

Film career[edit]

Around 1923, Wyler arrived in Los Angeles and began work on the Universal Studios lot in the swing gang, cleaning the stages and moving the sets. His break came when he was hired as a second assistant editor. His work ethic was uneven with Irving Thalberg nicknaming him "Worthless Willy". After some ups and downs (including getting fired), he focused on becoming a director. He started as a third assistant director and by 1925 he became the youngest director on the Universal lot directing the Westerns that Universal was famed for turning out. In 1928, he became a naturalized United States citizen.[9]

He directed his first non-Western, the lost Anybody Here Seen Kelly?, in 1928. This was followed by his first part-talkie films, The Shakedown and The Love Trap. He proved himself an able craftsman, and in the early 1930s began directing such films as Hell's Heroes, Tom Brown of Culver, and The Good Fairy. He became well known for his insistence on multiple retakes, resulting in often award-winning and critically acclaimed performances from his actors. After leaving Universal he began a long collaboration with Samuel Goldwyn for whom he directed such classics as Dodsworth (1936), These Three (1936), Dead End (1937), Wuthering Heights (1939), The Westerner (1940), The Little Foxes (1941) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).[citation needed]

Laurence Olivier, whom Wyler directed in Wuthering Heights for his first-ever Oscar nomination, credited Wyler with teaching him how to act for the screen, despite clashing with Wyler on multiple occasions. Olivier would go on to hold the record for the most nominations in the Best Actor category. In 1950 Wyler and Olivier made a second film together, "Carrie". Although it was one of Wyler's best films, containing a superb performance by Olivier, it was not a commercial success. Bette Davis received three Oscar nominations for her screen work under Wyler, and won her second Oscar for her performance in Wyler's 1938 film Jezebel. Charlton Heston won his only nomination and Best Actor Oscar for his work in Wyler's 1959 Ben-Hur. Barbra Streisand won 1968's Best Actress Oscar (as did Katharine Hepburn for The Lion in Winter, in the only tie in Oscar history for this category) as entertainer Fanny Brice in Streisand's debut film, Funny Girl. Audrey Hepburn won an Oscar in her debut performance in Roman Holiday. 13 actors won Oscars under Wyler's direction. In 1941, Wyler directed Mrs. Miniver,[10]), a story of a middle class English family adjusting to the war in Europe. Mrs. Miniver won Wyler his first Academy Award for Best Director, as well as another five Oscars.

A perfectionist, Wyler earned the nickname "90-take Wyler". On the set of Jezebel Wyler forced Henry Fonda through 40 takes of one particular scene, his only guidance being "Again!" after each take. When Fonda asked for more direction, Wyler responded, "It stinks". Similarly, when Charlton Heston quizzed the director about the supposed shortcomings of his performance in Ben-Hur, Wyler dismissed his concerns with "Be better".[11]

World War II[edit]

Between 1942 and 1945, Wyler, who became a United States citizen in 1928, served as a major in the United States Army Air Forces and directed three documentaries: The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress (1944), the story of a Boeing B-17 and its U.S. Army Air Force crew, Thunderbolt! (1947), with Lester Koenig and John Sturges, the story of a P-47 fighter-bomber squadron in the Mediterranean, and The Fighting Lady," a portrait of life on a World War II aircraft carrier that won Best Documentary Oscar in 1945. Wyler filmed The Memphis Belle at great personal risk, flying over enemy territory on actual bombing missions in 1943; on one flight, Wyler passed out from lack of oxygen. Wyler's associate, cinematographer Harold J. Tannenbaum, was shot down and perished during the filming.[12][page needed] The exposure to the sound of the aircraft's engines resulted in Wyler losing his hearing in one ear.

Wyler also directed a film which captured the mood of the nation as it turned to peace after the war, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). This story of the homecoming of three veterans from World War II dramatized the problems of returning veterans in their adjustment back to civilian life. Arguably his most personal film, Best Years drew on Wyler's own experience returning home to his family after three years on the front. The Best Years of Our Lives won the Academy Award for Best Director (Wyler's second) and Academy Award for Best Picture, as well as seven other Academy Awards.

Postwar career[edit]

During the immediate postwar period, Wyler directed a handful of critically acclaimed and influential films. In 1949, he directed The Heiress, which earned Olivia de Havilland her second Oscar and garnered additional Oscars for Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, and Best Music. Roman Holiday (1953) introduced Audrey Hepburn to American audiences and led to Oscars for Best Actress (Hepburn), Costume Design (Edith Head), and Best Writing (Dalton Trumbo). Friendly Persuasion (1956) was awarded the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) at the Cannes Film Festival. In 1959, Wyler directed Ben-Hur, which won 11 Oscars (a feat equalled only by Titanic in 1997 and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003). Wyler won his third Academy Award for Best Director for Ben-Hur.

Wyler's films garnered more awards for participating artists and actors than any other director in the history of Hollywood. He received 12 Oscar nominations for Best Director in total, while dozens of his collaborators and actors won Oscars or were nominated. In 1965, Wyler won the Irving Thalberg Award for career achievement. Eleven years later, he received the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award. In addition to his Best Picture and Best Director Oscar wins, 13 of Wyler's films earned Best Picture nominations. Other late Wyler films include The Children's Hour, The Collector, Funny Girl, and his final film, The Liberation of L.B. Jones.

On July 24, 1981, Wyler gave an interview with his daughter, Catherine, for Directed by William Wyler, a PBS documentary about his life and career. Three days later, he died from a heart attack. He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Glendale, California.

Marriages[edit]

Wyler was briefly married to Margaret Sullavan (November 25, 1934 – March 13, 1936) and married Margaret "Talli" Tallichet on October 23, 1938. The couple remained together until his death; they had five children: Catherine, Judith, William Jr., Melanie and David.

Awards[edit]

Wyler is the most nominated director in Academy Awards history with 12 nominations. In addition to that, Wyler has the distinction of having won the Academy Award for Best Direction on three occasions, for his direction of Ben Hur, The Best Years of Our Lives, and Mrs. Miniver. He is tied with Frank Capra and behind John Ford, who won four Oscars in this category.

Wyler also has the distinction of having directed more actors to Oscar-nominated performances than any other director in history: thirty-six. Out of these nominees, fourteen went on to win Oscars.[1]

William Wyler received the fourth AFI LIfe Achievement Award in 1976.

Year Film Category Result
Academy Awards
1936 Dodsworth Best Director Nominated
1939 Wuthering Heights Best Director Nominated
1940 The Letter Best Director Nominated
1941 The Little Foxes Best Director Nominated
1942 Mrs. Miniver Best Director Won
1946 The Best Years of Our Lives Best Director Won
1949 The Heiress Best Motion Picture Nominated
Best Director Nominated
1952 Detective Story Best Director Nominated
1953 Roman Holiday Best Motion Picture Nominated
Best Director Nominated
1957 Friendly Persuasion Best Motion Picture Nominated
Best Director Nominated
1959 Ben-Hur Best Director Won
1965 The Collector Best Director Nominated
Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award Won
Directors Guild of America
1952 Detective Story Outstanding Directorial Achievement Nominated
1954 Roman Holiday Outstanding Directorial Achievement Nominated
1957 Friendly Persuasion Outstanding Directorial Achievement Nominated
1959 The Big Country Outstanding Directorial Achievement Nominated
1960 Ben-Hur Outstanding Directorial Achievement Won
1962 The Children's Hour Outstanding Directorial Achievement Nominated
1966 Lifetime Achievement Award
1969 Funny Girl Outstanding Directorial Achievement Nominated

Filmography[edit]

This is a list of films directed by William Wyler.

Silent films
Year Title Studio Genre Cast Notes
1925 The Crook Buster Universal Western Jack Mower, Janet Gaynor UMS*
1926 The Gunless Bad Man Universal Western UMS
1926 Ridin' for Love Universal Western UMS
1926 The Fire Barrier Universal Western UMS
1926 Don't Shoot Universal Western UMS
1926 The Pinnacle Rider Universal Western UMS
1926 Martin of the Mounted Universal Western UMS
1926 Lazy Lightning Universal Western UBSS**
1926 The Stolen Ranch Universal Western UBSS
1927 The Two Fister Universal Western UMS
1927 Kelcy Gets His Man Universal Western UMS
1927 Tenderfoot Courage Universal Western UMS
1927 The Silent Partner Universal Western UMS
1927 Blazing Days Universal Western UBSS
1927 Straight Shootin' Universal Western UBSS
1927 Galloping Justice Universal Western UMS
1927 The Haunted Homestead Universal Western UMS
1927 Hard Fists Universal Western UBSS
1927 The Lone Star Universal Western UMS
1927 The Ore Raiders Universal Western UMS
1927 The Home Trail Universal Western UMS
1927 Gun Justice Universal Western UMS
1927 The Phantom Outlaw Universal Western UMS
1927 The Square Shooter Universal Western UMS
1927 The Horse Trader Universal Western UMS
1927 Daze of the West Universal Western UMS
1927 The Border Cavalier Universal Western UBSS
1927 Desert Dust Universal Western Ted Wells
1928 Thunder Riders Universal Western Ted Wells
1928 Anybody Here Seen Kelly? Universal Comedy Bessie Love, Tom Moore
1929 The Shakedown Universal Drama James Murray, Barbara Kent Part-Talking film
1929 The Love Trap Universal Comedy Laura La Plante, Neil Hamilton Part-Talking film
* Universal's Mustang Series. Wyler made 21 two-reeler films for this series, all with a duration of 24 minutes.
** Universal's Blue Streak Series. Wyler made 6 five-reeler films for this series, all with a duration of an hour.
Sound films
Year Title Studio Genre Cast Notes
1930 Hell's Heroes Universal Drama Charles Bickford, Raymond Hatton, Fred Kohler
1930 The Storm Universal Drama Lupe Vélez, Paul Cavanagh, William Boyd
1931 A House Divided Universal Drama Walter Huston, Kent Douglas, Helen Chandler
1932 Tom Brown of Culver Universal Drama Tom Brown, H.B. Warner, Slim Summerville
1933 Her First Mate Universal Comedy Slim Summerville, Zasu Pitts, Una Merkel
1933 Counsellor at Law Universal Drama John Barrymore, Bebe Daniels
1934 Glamour Universal Drama Paul Lukas, Constance Cummings, Philip Reed
1935 The Good Fairy Universal Comedy Margaret Sullavan
1935 The Gay Deception Fox Comedy Frances Dee, Francis Lederer
1936 These Three Samuel Goldwyn Co. Drama Miriam Hopkins, Merle Oberon, Joel McCrea
1936 Dodsworth Samuel Goldwyn Co. Drama Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton, Mary Astor
1936 Come and Get It Samuel Goldwyn Co. Drama Joel McCrea, Edward Arnold, Frances Farmer, Walter Brennan Replaced Howard Hawks after 42 days
1937 Dead End Samuel Goldwyn Co. Crime Humphrey Bogart, Joel McCrea, Sylvia Sydney
1938 Jezebel Warner Bros. Romance Bette Davis, Henry Fonda, George Brent
1939 Wuthering Heights Samuel Goldwyn Co. Romance Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon
1940 The Westerner Samuel Goldwyn Co. Western Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan
1940 The Letter Warner Bros.
First National
Drama Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall
1941 The Little Foxes Samuel Goldwyn Co. Drama Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, Teresa Wright
1942 Mrs. Miniver MGM War Drama Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Teresa Wright
1944 The Memphis Belle First Motion Picture Unit War Documentary
First Technicolor film
1946 The Best Years of Our Lives Samuel Goldwyn Co. War Drama Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Harold Russell, Teresa Wright
1947 Thunderbolt! United States Air Force War Co-directed with John Sturges
Documentary / Short Film
1949 The Heiress Paramount Drama Olivia De Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Miriam Hopkins
1951 Detective Story Paramount Film-noir Kirk Douglas, Eleanor Parker
1952 Carrie Paramount Drama Laurence Olivier, Jennifer Jones, Miriam Hopkins
1953 Roman Holiday Paramount Romance Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck
1955 The Desperate Hours Paramount Film-noir Humphrey Bogart, Fredric March
1956 Friendly Persuasion Allied Artists Drama Gary Cooper DeLuxe Color film
1958 The Big Country Anthony Productions Drama Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Charlton Heston Technicolor film
1959 Ben-Hur MGM Drama Charlton Heston Technicolor film
1961 The Children's Hour Mirisch Productions Drama Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, James Garner, Miriam Hopkins
1965 The Collector Columbia Drama Terence Stamp, Samantha Eggar Technicolor film
1966 How to Steal a Million Fox Comedy Audrey Hepburn, Peter O'Toole Technicolor film
1968 Funny Girl Columbia / Rastar Drama Barbra Streisand Technicolor film
1970 The Liberation of L.B. Jones Columbia Drama Lee J. Cobb, Anthony Zerbe, Roscoe Lee Browne, Lola Falana Technicolor film

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Herman 1995, p. 37.
  2. ^ Freer 2009, p. 24.
  3. ^ Freer 2009, p. 57.
  4. ^ According to son, David Wyler
  5. ^ Wakeman 1987, p. 1220.
  6. ^ Madsen 1973, p. 3.
  7. ^ Wakeman 1987, p. 1222.
  8. ^ Wakeman 1987, p. 1223.
  9. ^ Madsen 1973, p. 73.
  10. ^ Template:Released in June 1942 which helped reinforce US support for Britain's suffering under Nazi bombings ref to release date of June 4, 1942 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mrs._Miniver_(film)
  11. ^ Wyler profile at palzoo.net Retrieved November 12, 2011.
  12. ^ Kozloff, Sarah. "Wyler's wars.", Film History, April 20, 2008.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Anderegg, Michael A. William Wyler. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979. ISBN 0-8057-9268-6.
  • Freer, Ian. Movie Makers: 50 Iconic Directors. London: Quercus Publishers, 2009. ISBN 978-1-84724-512-0
  • Herman, Jan. A Talent for Trouble: The Life of Hollywood's Most Acclaimed Director. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1995. ISBN 0-399-14012-3.
  • Madsen, Axel. William Wyler: the Authorized Biography. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1973. ISBN 0-491-01302-7.
  • Marcus, Daniel. “William Wyler’s World War II Films and the Bombing of Civilian Populations.” Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television, 29, March 2009, pp. 79–90.
  • Wakeman, John, ed. World Film Directors: Vol. I, 1890–1945. New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1987. ISBN 978-0-8242-0757-1.

External links[edit]