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Henry Hathaway

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Henry Hathaway
Marquis Henri Léopold de Fiennes

(1898-03-13)March 13, 1898
DiedFebruary 11, 1985(1985-02-11) (aged 86)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeHoly Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California
  • Film director
  • Film producer
Years active1925–1974
Blanche "Skip" Gonzales
(m. 1932)
(† 1995)

Henry Hathaway (March 13, 1898 – February 11, 1985) was an American film director and producer. He is best known as a director of Westerns, especially starring Randolph Scott and John Wayne. He directed Gary Cooper in seven films.


Henry Hathaway was born Henri Léopold de Fiennes, in Sacramento, California.[1] Hathaway’s father, Rhody Hathaway, carried the title of nobility. Rhody became a theatrical manager and married Hathaway’s mother, a Hungarian, who acted under the name Jean Hathaway (some citations claim Hathaway was her maiden name).[2][3]

His title of Marquis was inherited from his paternal great grandfather J.B. de Fiennes, a Belgian nobleman and barrister[4] in service to King Leopold I of Belgium. When his great grandfather failed in his commission to secure the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) for Belgium, the disgraced elder Marquis self-exiled to San Francisco in 1850.[5][6] There he established a law practice and married.

Early career[edit]

Juvenile roles and film technician, 1908-1917[edit]

In 1908, at 10-years-of-age, Hathaway began appearing as a child actor with the American Film Company under the mentorship of director Allan Dwan.[7] Dwan’s prolific output of one and two-reels shorts, filmed near the U.S.-Mexico border between 1908-1912, influenced Hathaway’s later interest in Western-themed movies productions.[8]

Hathaway left school in 1912 at the age of fourteen to become an assistant property master at Universal Pictures, and began playing adolescent roles in 1917.[9] With the entry of the United States into World War I, Hathaway served as a gunnery instructor at Fort Winfield Scott in San Francisco for the duration of the conflict.[10]

Assistant director, 1921-1932[edit]

After his discharge from the U.S. Army in 1919, Hathaway made a brief but unsuccessful foray into high finance with the Morris Audit Company. He returned to Hollywood in 1921 as property man for producer/director Frank Lloyd, the latter notable for his adaptation of literary classics.[11]

In 1923, Hathaway began working in silent films as an assistant to directors such as Victor Fleming and Josef von Sternberg and made the transition to sound with them. He was the assistant director to Fred Niblo in the 1925 version of Ben-Hur starring Francis X. Bushman and Ramon Novarro. During the remainder of the 1920s, Hathaway continued as an assistant, helping direct actors such as Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, Adolphe Menjou, Fay Wray, Walter Huston, Clara Bow, and Noah Beery.[12]

First films as director[edit]

Randolph Scott Westerns[edit]

Henry Hathaway made his directorial debut with a Western film production at Paramount, Heritage of the Desert (1932). Based on a Zane Grey novel, Hathaway gave Randolph Scott his first starring role in the film leading to his lengthy career in cowboy roles.[13]

It began a series of Hathaway-directed Scott Westerns from Grey novels, Wild Horse Mesa (1932), The Thundering Herd (1933), Sunset Pass (1933), To the Last Man (1933), Man of the Forest (1933) and The Last Round-Up (1934).

Hathaway directed an action film set in the Philippines, Come On Marines! (1934) starring Richard Arlen and Ida Lupino, followed by a drama The Witching Hour (1934), and an early Shirley Temple film, Now and Forever (1934). The latter also starred Carole Lombard and Gary Cooper

Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935) and Action Films[edit]

Hathaway's next film was with Cooper, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935). Encouraged by director Paul Bern, Hathaway traveled to India for nine months in the 1920s to collect documentary footage on Hindu religious pilgrimages. The project was never completed, but Hathaway’s experience with the Far East earned him an offer to direct The Lives of a Bengal Lancer.[14]

Hathaway got the job because the film changed directors and Cooper, who had director approval, admired Hathaway's films.[15][16] The movie was a hit and received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and for which Hathaway won his only nomination for the Academy Award for Directing. [17][18]

Hathaway was now established as one of the main directors on the Paramount lot.[19] He made another with Cooper, Peter Ibbetson (1935). This was followed by The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936), his first color movie, for which Walter Wanger borrowed him, paying him $1000 a week.[20] He also worked on the troubled I Loved a Soldier (1936) which was never finished, and did a Mae West movie, Go West, Young Man (1936).

Hathaway was back with Cooper for the anti-slaving adventure story, Souls at Sea (1937), co-starring George Raft. With Raft and Henry Fonda he made Spawn of the North (1938).

The Real Glory (1939), with Cooper, was a reprise of Bengal Lancers set in the Philippines. After this he had a fight with Paramount and left to join Fox.[21]

20th Century Fox[edit]

Hathaway worked for 20th Century Fox directing the studio's biggest male star, Tyrone Power, in Johnny Apollo (1940) and Brigham Young (1940). Hathaway adored working for Darryl Zanuck calling him the finest filmmaker in America. He says he never turned down a script Zanuck offered him. "Some dogs, yes, but a lot of good ones too," he said.[22]

He returned to Paramount to direct John Wayne in The Shepherd of the Hills (1941). For Walter Wanger, he made another Imperial action film, Sundown (1941).

Back at Fox he made Ten Gentlemen from West Point (1942), China Girl (1942), Wing and a Prayer (1944), Home in Indiana (1944) and Nob Hill (1945).

During the 1940s, Hathaway began making films in the semidocumentary genre, often using the film noir style. These included The House on 92nd Street (1945), for which he was nominated for a Best Director award by the New York Film Critics Circle, The Dark Corner (1946), 13 Rue Madeleine (1947), Kiss of Death (1947) and Call Northside 777 (1948), in which Hathaway presented one of the first on-screen uses of a Fax machine.

Hathaway returned to adventure films with Down to the Sea in Ships (1949). He was reunited with Power for The Black Rose (1950). Hathaway had some time off for a cancer operation then returned to make The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel (1951) was a biopic of General Rommel. It was followed by Fourteen Hours (1951), a noir about a man going to commit suicide, You're in the Navy Now (1951), a military comedy with Cooper, and two with Power: Rawhide (1951), a Western, and Diplomatic Courier (1952).

Hathaway directed the film noir Niagara (1953) which was Marilyn Monroe's breakthrough role and White Witch Doctor (1953) with Susan Hayward and Robert Mitchum. He was reunited with Cooper on Garden of Evil (1954), a Western, then did the swashbuckler Prince Valiant (1954).

After The Racers (1955), with Zanuck's mistress Bella Darvi, Hathaway left Fox.[23]

Post-Fox career[edit]

He made two thrillers with Van Johnson: The Bottom of the Bottle (1956) and 23 Paces to Baker Street (1956).

John Wayne hired him to make Legend of the Lost (1957) for Wayne's company. Back at Fox he made the Western, From Hell to Texas (1958). During the movie, Dennis Hopper attempted to assert himself artistically on the set. Perhaps influenced by his recent experience with fellow actor James Dean's rebellious attitude on the sets of Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Giant (1956), Hopper forced Hathaway to shoot more than 80 takes of a scene before he acquiesced to Hathaway's demands. After the shoot, Hathaway reportedly told the young actor that his career in Hollywood was over. Hopper later admitted he was wrong to have disrespected Hathaway as a youth and called him "the finest director I have ever worked with," working again with Hathaway on The Sons of Katie Elder (1965) and True Grit (1969).

Hathaway then made a melodrama Woman Obsessed (1959) and thriller Seven Thieves (1960). He was reunited with Wayne on the comedy-action "northern," North to Alaska (1960).

Later career[edit]

Hathaway was one of three directors on the Cinerama Western, How the West Was Won (1962), directing the bulk of the film, including the river, prairie and train robbery sequences. He was meant to direct McLintock but the producers would not meet his salary.[24]

He visited Spain to work with Wayne again on Circus World (1964). Wayne asked Hathaway to cast John Smith in the role of Steve McCabe in the film; from 1959 to 1963, Smith had played the part of rancher Slim Sherman on NBC's Laramie series. According to Smith's Internet biography, Hathaway developed an intense dislike for Smith and stopped him from landing choice roles thereafter in Hollywood.[25]

Circus World was a box-office disappointment but Wayne and Hathaway's next movie together, The Sons of Katie Elder (1965), was a hit. So too was Nevada Smith (1966), a Western starring Steve McQueen that was extrapolated from a brief section of Harold Robbins' novel The Carpetbaggers.

He visited Africa to make The Last Safari (1967), then did the Western 5 Card Stud (1968) with Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum. It was a mild success, but True Grit (1969), produced by Hal B. Wallis, was a success at the box-office and won John Wayne a Best Actor Oscar.

He stepped in for George Seaton in directing some winter outdoor scenes for the all-star Airport (1970), which starred Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin. He did it as a favour for Seaton but took no money.[26]

Hathaway made a war movie with Richard Burton, Raid on Rommel (1971), then made another Western for Wallis, Shoot Out (1971). Hathaway's 65th and final film was Hangup (1974), a blaxploitation movie. He turned down Rooster Cogburn as he did not like the script.[27]


Hathaway died from complications of a heart attack at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles on February 11, 1985, at the age of 86.[3] He is interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. His body of work earned him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1638 Vine Street.



  1. ^ "Hollywood Star Walk: Henry Hathaway". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 20, 2013.
  2. ^ Canham, 1973 p. 139: “...Rhoady took his wife’s maiden name of Hathaway..,”
  3. ^ a b Krebs, Albin (February 13, 1985). "Henry Hathaway Dies at 86; Directed More Than 60 Films". The New York Times. p. D27. Retrieved January 30, 2024.
  4. ^ Jarves, James Jackson (1847). History of the Hawaiian Islands: Embracing Their Antiquities, Mythology, Legends, Discovery by Europeans in the Sixteenth Century, Re-discovery by Cook, with Their Civil, Religious and Political History, from the Earliest Traditionary Period to the Present Time. C.E. Hitchcock. pp. 215, 228.
  5. ^ Canham, 1973 p. 139
  6. ^ "Henry Hathaway, un marquis devenu roi du western à Hollywood" [Henry Hathaway, a marquis who became king of the western in Hollywood]. L'Echo (in French). August 7, 2013. grandson of the Marquis de Fiennes who had settled in California after acting as intermediary between the first Belgian king and the Hawaiian authorities in the 1860s.
  7. ^ Canham, 1973 p. 139: “...he became a protege” of the director.
  8. ^ Canham, 1973 p. 179: “Dwan made over four-hundred” of these short films…”as a child actor, Hathaway picked up the smatterings of Western lore...developed into one of his greatest assets professionally in later years.”
  9. ^ Canham, 1973 p. 139-140
  10. ^ Canham, 1973 p. 140
  11. ^ Canham, 1973 p. 140-141
  12. ^ Canham, 1973 p. 142, p. 148: Hathaway “worked with Randolph Scott eight times; John Wayne on six, ; Tyrone Power on five; Richard Widmark on four...Cooper appeared on seven occasions” in films directed by Hathaway.”
  13. ^ Canham, 1973 p. 179: See Filmography
  14. ^ Canham, 1973 p. 141
  15. ^ "BECALMED HOLLYWOOD SHAKES OUT HER SAILS". New York Times. July 29, 1934. ProQuest 101195511.
  16. ^ Eyman p 6
  17. ^ Canham, 1973 p. 141: Hathaway’s “first popular success as a director.”
  18. ^ Canham, 1973 p. 154: “Hathaway had a great respect for Gary Cooper as an actor before coming to direct him, and this respect is reflected in the natural ease of Cooper’s performances in his work for Hathaway.”
  19. ^ Canham, 1973 p. 141: Hathaway’s “first popular success as a director.”
  20. ^ Eyman p 6
  21. ^ Eyman p 7
  22. ^ Eyman p 10
  23. ^ "HESTON KEPT BUSY IN 4 SCREEN ROLES". New York Times. August 23, 1954. p. 2.
  24. ^ Eyman p 12
  25. ^ "John Smith Biography". tonygill.co.uk. Archived from the original on June 22, 2021. Retrieved October 11, 2012.
  26. ^ Eyman p 12
  27. ^ Eyman p 12


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