What a range! And obviously, what an ability to work with diverse larger-than-life personalities. From Bette Davis (Best Actress Oscar) and Henry Fonda in Jezebel; Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier in Wuthering Heights; Davis again in The Letter; Greer Garson (Best Actress Oscar) and Walter Pidgeon in Mrs Miniver (also Best Director and Best Picture); Davis again in The Little Foxes; Myrna Loy, Frederick March (Best Actor Oscar), Dana Andrews in The Best Years of Our Lives (also Best Director and Best Picture); Olivia de Haviland (Best Actress Oscar) and Montgomery Clift in The Heiress; Audrey Hepburn (Best Actress Oscar) and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday; Charlton Heston (Best Actor Oscar) in Ben Hur (also Best Director and Best Picture); and all the way up to Barbra Streisand (Best Actress Oscar, but a tie with Katherine Hepburn for The Lion in Winter) in Funny Girl.
The legacy of director William Wyler (1902-1981), the “bona fide perfectionist.” Born in France to Alsatian Jews. Worked for a while as a shirt seller in Paris. Related to Universal’s Carl Laemmle through his mother’s family. Emigrated to Hollywood. Both his wives were named Margaret. Convenient for when you’re calling that name out in the throes of passion.
All told, fourteen of his actors won Oscars, out of a record thirty-six of his actors being nominated.
According to anecdote, noted violinist Toscha Seidel (famed for his lush tone, and who made his career in the studios of Hollywood movies) told Wyler: “Mr Wyler, you do not vibrato by shaking your leg.” The director wanted a more visually demonstrative expression of the player’s emotion.
Wyler himself was quite pithy: “I made over forty Westerns. I used to lie awake nights trying to think up new ways of getting on and off a horse.” “It’s eighty percent script and twenty percent you get great actors. There’s nothing else to it.” And “Stills belong in the lobby, not on the screen.”
So, dust off your Netflix subscription, stop binge watching House of Cards, and spend some time with a legend or two.
© 2014 by Frank Daykin, for Innovative Music Programs