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William Wyler DIRECTOR


William Wyler was one of the most esteemed directors of his time. He was a 'bona fide perfectionist' and it showed in his work. He became so successful through the way he packed so much raw emotion into each of his pictures, and would not stop production on each film until it was absolutely faultless. During the 1930's and 1940's, he was one of Hollywood’s most bankable movie makers, due to his gifted ability to adapt classic literature into giant box office hits with immense critical acclaim. In his forty-five year directing spree, which lasted from the silent film era to the invention of sound movies, he managed to receive twelve Academy Award nominations and three wins. He has the most Academy Award nominations of any director, and has the second best record for most Oscar wins, right behind John Ford. In 1966, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rewarded him with the Irving Thalberg Award, one of their most prestigious honors. Wyler’s work so exalted that he was also only the fourth person to receive the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Obviously, he was a force to be reckoned with.

The director was born on July 1, 1902, to a Jewish family in Mulhouse, Alsace – then apart of Germany. As a child, he constantly saw his town exchange hands between Germany and France during the initial month of the war, but it remained German territory for the remainder of World War I. The war front was only a few miles away, but Wyler found it wildly enthralling. After the war, his parents sent him to study in a part of Switzerland, but he was soon expelled. His father let him work in his shop, which eventually led to an apprenticeship in Paris, but Wyler hated the trade and quit. In 1920, his mother, out of desperation, arranged for him to work under her cousin, the head at Universal Pictures, in America. Wyler became quickly intrigued and asked to be sent to Hollywood, where he became an assistant to the assistant directors.

In 1925 he graduated to director, his debut film being the twenty four minute long “The Crook Buster” (1925), which eventually led up to his first full length feature, “Lazy Lightning” (1926).  For the next few years, he turned out mostly 'B' Universal movies, with a great emphasis on low budget silent westerns. In 1929 he finally came out with his first 'A' picture, “Hell’s Heroes” (1929), which was also Universal’s earliest all-sound movie shot outside of a studio. He continued creating successful films for the studio, like John Barrymore’s legal drama “Counsellor at Law” (1933) and the early comedy act by Preston Sturges, “The Good  Fairy” (1935).

Wyler also worked with the infamous MGM producer Samuel Goldwyn, beginning with “These Three” (1936), based on the lesbian-themed play, “The Children’s Hour”, by Lillian Hellman. However, his first success with Goldwyn was “Dodsworth” (1936), an adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’ portrayal of an American marriage that was falling to pieces. This was the first feature Wyler received a Best Director Oscar nomination for, as well as a Best Picture nomination.

Due to his perfectionism, Wyler would force his actors to retake scenes multiple times, often creating tension and conflict with his performers. This anal directing style led him to be nicknamed “90-Take Wyler” and “Once-More Wyler”. While more actors have won Academy Awards in this director’s films than any other, they rarely were seen in his movies more than once. One such actor was Bette Davis, while not devoid of clashes with Wyler, filmed three with him, “Jezebel” (1938), “The Letter” (1940), and “The Little Foxes” (1941). When working on his Oscar nominated picture “Wuthering Heights” (1940), he made actress Merle Oberon reshoot a storm scene multiple times – so many in fact she started vomiting and was later sent to the hospital with a fever. Nevertheless, Wyler continued producing successful hits for Goldwyn, including “Dead End” (1937), “The Westerner” (1940), and “The Little Foxes” (1941). In 1942, the director put out “Mrs. Miniver” (1942), which not only gave him his first Oscar win, but became a classic.

In the forties he also spent time documenting World War II, travelling throughout Europe and joining bombing raids to experience and capture what it was like during the war. His footage can be seen in the documentaries, “The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress” (1944), “The Fighting Lady” (1944), and later, “Thunderbolt” (1947). The first movie Wyler made upon returning to the states was the war drama “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946), which gave the director his second Academy Award win. It also, though, was the last film he would make for Goldwyn because the producer refused to pay Wyler his full share of the profits.

After the war, he directed a number of critically acclaimed pictures. Starting in 1948 after a failed attempt with his own studio, Liberty Films, he signed with Paramount Pictures and produced five features. “The Heiress” (1949) was the first of these, and boasted actress Olivia de Havilland and actor Ralph Richardson. It also gave Wyler another Oscar nomination. Next came the innovatively realistic “Detective Story” (1951) and the Italian filmed “Roman Holiday” (1953), both of which nabbed the director another Academy Award nomination. “The Desperate Hours” (1955) was the last of his Paramount features. However, the very next film that he put out, “Friendly Persuasion” (1956), earned him another Oscar nomination, but not until “Ben-Hur” (1959) was released did Wyler get his third Academy Award.

The director’s star seemed to be dying out after the fifties, for he found success with only two films in the sixties, the vicious adaptation of the John Fowles novel, “The Collector” (1966), and the Barbara Streisand musical “Funny Girl” (1968). Following the failure of “The Liberation of L.B. Jones” (1970), Wyler retired. He and his family spent the rest of their time together travelling and attending drive-in movies. On July 27, 1981, the famed director died from a heart attack in Beverly Hills, California. However, he passed away one of the most accomplished and remembered directors of all time. He sure lived true to one of his quotes – “I'm here to make good pictures. If I don't see it, I won't touch it” – and it showed in his several celebrated films, many of which transformed into cherished classics.

1970       The Liberation of L.B. Jones 

1968       Funny Girl 

1966       How to Steal a Million

1965       The Collector 

1961       The Children's Hour 

1959       Ben-Hur 

1958       The Big Country 

1956       Friendly Persuasion 

1956       Producers' Showcase 

1955       The Desperate Hours 

1953       Roman Holiday 

1952       Carrie 

1951       Detective Story 

1949       The Heiress 

1947       Thunderbolt 

1946       The Best Years of Our Lives

1944       The Fighting Lady 

1944       The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress 

1942       Mrs. Miniver 

1941       The Little Foxes 

1940       The Letter 

1940       The Westerner 

1939       Wuthering Heights 

1938       The Cowboy and the Lady

1938       Jezebel 

1937       Dead End 

1936       Come and Get It

1936       Dodsworth 

1936       These Three 

1935       Barbary Coast 

1935       The Gay Deception 

1935       The Good Fairy 

1934       Glamour 

1933       Counsellor at Law 

1933       Her First Mate 

1932       Tom Brown of Culver 

1931       A House Divided 

1930       The Storm 

1929       Hell's Heroes 

1929       The Love Trap 

1929       The Shakedown 

1928       Anybody Here Seen Kelly? 

1928       Thunder Riders 

1927       Desert Dust 

1927       The Border Cavalier

1927       Daze of the West 

1927       The Horse Trader 

1927       The Square Shooter

1927       The Phantom Outlaw

1927       Gun Justice 

1927       The Home Trail

1927       The Ore Raiders

1927       The Lone Star 

1927       Hard Fists

1927       The Haunted Homestead 

1927       Galloping Justice 

1927       Shooting Straight

1927       Blazing Days 

1927       The Silent Partner 

1927       Tenderfoot Courage 

1927       Kelcy Gets His Man 

1927       The Two Fister 

1926       The Stolen Ranch

1926       Lazy Lightning 

1926       Martin of the Mounted 

1926       The Pinnacle Rider 

1926       Don't Shoot 

1926       The Fire Barrier

1926       Ridin' for Love 

1926       The Gunless Bad Man 

1925       The Crook Buster 

Matinee Classics - Detective Story starring Kirk Douglas, Eleanor Parker, William Bendix, George Macready, Lee Grant, Gerald Mohr and Frank Faylen
Matinee Classics - Roman Holiday starring Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Eddie Albert, Hartley Power, Harcourt Williams, Margaret Rawlings, Tullio Carminati, Paolo Carlini, Claudio Ermelli, Paola Borboni, Alfredo Rizzo, Laura Solari and Gorella Gori
Matinee Classics - The Best Years of Our Lives starring Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, Cathy O'Donnell, Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Russell, Gladys George, Roman Bohnen, Ray Collins, Minna Gombell, Walter Baldwin, Steve Cochran and Dorothy Adams
Matinee Classics - The Children's Hour starring Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, James Garner, Miriam Hopkins, Fay Bainter, Karen Balkin, Veronica Cartwright, Mimi Gibson, William Mims, Sally Brophy and Hope Summers
Matinee Classics - The Collector starring Terence Stamp, Samantha Eggar, Mona Washbourne, Maurice Dallimore, Allyson Ames, William Bickley, Gordon Barclay, David Haviland and Edina Ronay
Matinee Classics - The Desperate Hours starring Humphrey Bogart, Fredric March, Arthur Kennedy, Martha Scott, Dewey Martin, Gig Young, Mary Murphy, Richard Eyer and Robert Middleton

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