Sister Celluloid

Where old movies go to live

From Laurel & Hardy to James Dean and Beyond: A Love Letter to George Stevens

You know how with some people, you say “I love their work!” but really, let’s face it, you’re actually in love with them?

That’s me with George Stevens. Today is his birthday, and yet it’s not even a national holiday. That’s just wrong. But we’re celebrating here at Sister Celluloid, sharing behind-the-scenes glimpses of the man at work. (And at lunch. And at chess. And at checkers. Oh and I threw in a baby picture, because look at that face!)

What does Swing Time have in common with Giant? Or The More the Merrier with The Diary of Anne Frank? Or Alice Adams with Shane? Or I Remember Mama with Gunga Din? Or Annie Oakley with A Place in the Sun? George Stevens.That’s it. Silent slapstick, rousing adventures, poignant slices of life, heartbreaking history, romantic comedies, tragic melodramas, elegant musicals, iconic westerns… there was nothing he couldn’t do and do brilliantly, with great heart.

Stevens, whose parents were popular vaudeville actors, started out with Hal Roach Studios in 1922, when he was just 17. “There were no unions, so it was possible to become an assistant cameraman if you happened to find out just when they were starting a picture,” he recalled modestly. “There was no organization—if a cameraman didn’t have an assistant, he didn’t know where to find one.”

Honing his craft on low-budget westerns, the first star he trained his camera on was Rex the Wonder Horse. But after just a couple of years, he was working as a cinematographer and gag writer for Laurel and Hardy—after rescuing Stan Laurel’s film career almost before it began. In the early 1920s, most filmmakers used orthochromatic film stock, which is mostly “blue blind,” making it impossible to capture the actor’s pale, almost luminescent eyes. Stevens had learned about panchromatic stock, which is far more color-sensitive, and tracked down a supply. And much like a silent-film hero, he saved the day.

Laurel’s daughter Lois said the young cameraman always doted on her when she visited the lot as a child. “Dad, Uncle Babe [Hardy] and George were bosom buddies,” she remembered. Stevens even shot some of her family’s home movies.

Laurel and Hardy’s comic sensibilities meshed perfectly with the humane, character-driven style of storytelling Stevens was already developing. “We did a lot of crazy things in our pictures,” Oliver Hardy once said, “but we were always real.”

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“I looked at these two men and I realized that these guys understood human nature,” Stevens said of his lifelong friends. “By some artistic instinct they had this wonderful business of being in touch with the human condition.”

Less enthralled was Roach, who preferred pratfalls to personality studies. “It was the kind of comedy you see where the comedian is falling into stuff and getting up,”  Stevens remembered. “It just bored me to death.” Even this early in his career—and with the Depression making jobs hard to come by—he’d give no ground on his vision: he began turning down tedious assignments and creating projects of his own. In November 1931, Roach fired him.

Which was a bit like trading Babe Ruth to the Yankees.

A former Roach stage manager recommended Stevens for a job at Universal, where he thrived until the studio ran out of money in 1933. He was soon picked up by RKO, and after the surprise success of the low-budget Laddie—a sort of rural Romeo-and-Juliet tale—he was on the studio’s radar for Katharine Hepburn’s next project. And she needed a hit. Coming off a series of flops, she’d been labeled “box office poison,” and was counting on Alice Adams, an adaptation of the popular Booth Tarkington novel, to turn things around.

Seeking a director she felt safe with, Hepburn turned to her friend George Cukor, but he was working on David Copperfield and recommended either William Wyler or Stevens. She leaned toward the more prestigious Wyler, but RKO boss Pandro Berman preferred the much cheaper Stevens—who then launched into a charm offensive of his own. Which was so effective that Hepburn was soon torn between Wyler and this new kid on the lot. Eager to get underway, Berman suggested a coin toss to settle things, and noticed she seemed a bit disappointed when it came up Wyler. So he offered to toss it again, and this time she was much happier with the outcome.

So was the studio: Alice Adams became one of RKO’s biggest hits. The film and Hepburn—who often credited Stevens with softening her brittle persona and encouraging her to show a more vulnerable side—garnered Oscar nods. “By nature she was averse to the role, but she fell in with it and loved doing it,” Stevens said of his star. “She liked the girl she became when she sat in the swing, and we explored the fact that what she was becoming in the story was really what Kate was herself. At that time she particularly liked to appear very sophisticated, yet she had a very generous heart.” (Much more on the film, and the goings-on behind the scenes, here.)

If Stevens thought his future in drama was now secure, imagine his surprise when he was next assigned a western—Annie Oakley, starring Barbara Stanwyck—followed by two Fred Astaire musicals: A Damsel in Distress and Swing Time, the dancer’s sixth pairing with Ginger Rogers and the film many consider their best. It was also Rogers’ favorite: “George gave us a certain quality, I think, that made it stand out above the others.”

With a cameraman’s keen eye, Stevens made audacious use of light and movement in the film, as some scenes almost float off the screen, even when the stars aren’t dancing. And in what became a signature strength, he somehow combined brisk pacing and snappy patter with warmth, elegance and tenderness.

Helping matters along was a Jerome Kern score with gorgeous numbers such as Pick Yourself UpThe Way You Look Tonight and Never Gonna Dance—which may be what Fred and Ginger were thinking after it took 47 takes to complete that routine. Early in the evening, Stevens—who was pretty much the opposite of a taskmaster—had suggested knocking off for the day to give the weary hoofers a break. But with “only a little bit” left to finish, Astaire insisted on continuing… until they finally wrapped at ten o’clock if you believe choreographer Hermes Pan and four in the morning if you listen to Rogers. Though both agreed that by then, her feet were bleeding.

Pan, who needed a safe, relaxed space to do his best work, loved working with Stevens, who provided a soothing counterpart to the demanding Astaire. He also credited him with helping to advance the idea of using song and dance to move the story along. (Oh and Stevens playfully cast his father, Landers, as the pompous Judge Watson, who rejects Astaire as a potential son-in-law until his financial prospects improve.)

One of the reasons a Stevens set felt so comfortable was that he did so much of the work before anyone else showed up. He often spent months on pre-production—working with writers, dreaming up sets and scouting out locations. Which sometimes led to battles with his bosses, who, for instance, wanted to film Gunga Din on a soundstage. “To make that film in a studio would have been impossible and absurd,” Stevens once said. “And despite the seventy five days in that broiling desert heat and the terrific strain on everybody concerned physically and mentally, it was worth the struggle.

“Theater audiences miss the beautiful, breathtaking scenery we were accustomed to when silent films were made on location,” he added. “In Gunga Din we reverted to the good old silent days… but I admit that often when I crawled wearily into my camp cot at night, I muttered into my beard, ‘You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!'”

The challenges Stevens faced with Woman of the Year, the first pairing of Tracy and Hepburn, were entirely different—including a script that fell about forty pages short of the finish line. But he liked what little he saw. And Hepburn, who’d been a close friend since Alice Adams, was eager for him, rather than her frequent collaborator Cukor, to direct the film. “I just thought Spencer should have a big, manly man on his team, someone who could talk about baseball,” recalled Hepburn, sounding nothing like the modern Kate we love.

As it turned out, Tracy and the openly gay Cukor, who would go on to direct the pair in Keeper of the Flame, Adam’s Rib and Pat and Mike, became good friends, while Stevens and the prickly actor didn’t hit it off at all—especially after the director inadvertently upstaged him.

“If there were only two or three people in the room, George was the funniest man you ever saw in your life,” recalled his first wife, Yvonne. “On the set, there was a [physical] bit that Spencer Tracy had to do, and Tracy didn’t quite get it, so George said ‘This is the way you do it.’ The lights went on, and George got up and did this scene, and, well, everybody just died the way he did it! So Tracy called him over and he said, ‘Don’t ever do that again.’ Because Tracy had to get up and do the same scene, and it wasn’t as funny.”

When producers Louis B. Mayer and Joe Mankiewicz decided on an ending for the film—with Hepburn botching breakfast as she strives to win over her lord and master—it was Stevens who wasn’t laughing. But both Mank and Mayer felt it was essential that Tess be taken down a peg. “Now, women could turn to their husbands and say, ‘She may know the President, but she can’t make a cup of coffee, you silly bastard!'” said Mankiewicz. (I’ll just wait here while you gag…)

Mercifully, the star of Stevens’ next two films, Jean Arthur, wasn’t taken down a single notch in either one of them. Which is the case in almost all his movies: Stevens was at least as much of a “woman’s director” as Cukor—and his strong, spirited heroines generally got to stay that way.

Shooting on The Talk of the Town started up  just six weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The cast and crew hunkered down in the cozy set, relieved to be working on a breezy comedy—about an accused murderer who’s escaped from prison and a gathering lynch mob. Good times! Not surprisingly, Stevens somehow found a way to seamlessly blend comedy, politics, edgy satire and romance.

He also did something he’d never done before: shoot two endings and let preview audiences decide who wins the leading lady’s hand—in this case Ronald Colman or Cary Grant. They picked the wrong man. But some of their comments were priceless:  “Colman’s beard arouses suspicions and makes him unsympathetic.” “Grant got Barbara Hutton in real life so let Colman get Arthur on the screen.” “Colman is such a well-established gracious loser. Fans enjoy seeing him suffer.”

The afterglow from The Talk of the Town carried over into The More the Merrier, maybe the best romantic comedy ever made. And Stevens, who had already decided to join the service, saw this as his fond farewell to film, unsure if he’d ever return to movies—or return at all. “You know, you might as well have some fun because you might not be around too long,” he recalled thinking at the time. (Much more on the making of the film, which I recently picked as the best movie to win over non-classic movie fans, here.)

Stevens, who called Arthur “one of the greatest comediennes the screen has ever seen,” also knew how vulnerable she was off screen. “She was interesting because she seemed to be rising above her personality,” Stevens recalled. “You had to treat her like a child when you directed her, because she was terribly anxious about everything.”

Arthur once described herself in almost exactly the same terms: “I am not an adult—that’s my explanation of myself. Except sometimes when I am working on a set, I have all the inhibitions and shyness of the bashful, backward child.” But she felt safe enough with Stevens to be playful even when the cameras weren’t rolling.

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In the winter of 1942, Stevens sat alone in a darkened screening room to watch the most compelling and most appalling film he’d ever seen: Triumph of the Will, Leni Riefenstahl’s love letter to Hitler and Aryan supremacy. He said he decided to enlist that very night, to fight the evil unfolding in Europe by doing for the Allies exactly what Riefenstahl was doing for the Third Reich.

In January 1943, Stevens signed up to cover the war in Europe for the Army Signal Corps, and headed to New York for his immunization shots and a military flight to Europe the following month. But weakened by a recent appendectomy, he quickly came down with pneumonia, which was complicated by his chronic asthma. He spent almost two months in a hospital on Governor’s Island before he was deemed well enough to be released. But the illness that slowed him down also saved his life: the plane he was scheduled to be on in February had crashed, killing all on board.

By the time The More the Merrier premiered across the United States in the spring of 1943, its director was heading to North Africa.

Stevens saw himself as a propagandist for the good guys, as well as a critical liaison between those who were fighting and their loved ones waiting and worrying back home. He wrote in his diary: “Prepare the civilians by sharing the soldiers’ experiences, for resuming relationships with men who have been away… make the casualties easier to bear for those who have suffered bereavement… construct a celluloid monument for those who have been the ones to go.”

With his own 16mm camera, Stevens captured the only Allied color footage of the D-Day invasion. He was also on hand to film the gloriously exuberant liberation of Paris and the historic meeting of U.S. and Soviet forces at the Elbe River. The Library of Congress lauded his work as “an essential visual record” of the war.

After the war, Stevens was assigned to film the nightmarish conditions at the liberated Dachau and Duben concentration camps.

“After seeing the camps, I was an entirely different person,” Stevens recalled. “I know there is brutality in war, and the SS were lousy bastards, but the destruction of people like this was beyond comprehension.

“I walked into a field of people… half were dead, half were alive, and the living ones had no vitality,” he added. “In the first place we had to film it, which we did reluctantly. Strange that when you find things at their worst, the most important things to film, you can’t do it the way you should do it. The people had gotten rid of the Germans, now what are these other bastards doing sticking a camera in their face.

“I don’t know how many people were in the camp… but everybody’s lying there, pleading for water,” he recalled. “So I wonder if we can find the medics… we go bursting through the barracks and go into a room where there’s a card game going on between a German major, a German captain and two nurses. This is the medical outfit, and they said, ‘We can’t do anything, we have no people, what the hell can we do?’ I said, ‘Well, you got water. Start carrying buckets.’ So we put them all to work.”

Stevens’ footage became crucial evidence at the Nuremberg Trials and was later released in documentary form, under the titles That Justice Be Done and The Nazi Plan.

“It must have changed my outlook entirely,” he said of the war. “Films were very much less important to me.” But his films, which now took on a more serious tone, were no less important to audiences, who welcomed him back.

When he returned home, Stevens was drawn to friends who were also struggling after documenting the horrors of the war first-hand. In 1946, he joined William Wyler and Frank Capra to form one of the earliest independent production companies of the studio era, Liberty Films. It failed after just one picture, a little number called It’s a Wonderful Life. Still, well before the age of the indie filmmaker, Stevens maintained almost complete control of his movies, from the initial drafts through the final editing. “For me it’s absolutely necessary to start from the very beginning,” he once said. “I can’t think of coming and contributing something anywhere along the line other than the very start.”

“To produce and direct a movie, a man really ought to have two heads,” he added. “It’s like trying to be a traffic cop and write a poem at the same time.”

Stevens’ first post-war film was a much-needed balm for his soul. “I’d seen I Remember Mama in New York, coming out of the Army, and it was a nice little play,” he recalled. “It was set in San Francisco, and I was a kid there during that period. I knew what the city looked like, and I knew who these people were. I thought it would be fun to reconstruct it on film.

“I have real affection for that movie in certain ways, in some of the most simple ways… and I know what it meant to the audience,” he added. “It was a story of a confirmed period of the past, disassociated from all the unresolved present.”

But real life crept in soon enough: Suddenly Stevens found himself fighting a war on the homefront, when a right-wing faction of the Directors Guild of America (DGA), led by Cecil B. DeMille, tried to oust the liberal Mankiewicz as president during the height of the House Un-American Activities Committee’s communist witch hunt. In August 1950, while Mankiewicz was in Europe, DeMille mailed out “Mandatory Loyalty Oaths” for members to sign and send back, knowing it was unlikely the current president would do so.

When Mankiewicz returned, he was stunned—and found that Stevens, who called the putsch “a goddamned conspiracy,” was his only public ally on the board. But DeMille was just getting started: Next, he and his cohorts convened a secret meeting at his Paramount office, where they crafted ballots reading simply, “This is a ballot to recall Joe Mankiewicz. Sign here—Yes.” The return address was the DGA office, leading voters to believe that this was official Guild business. Oh and one more thing: to ensure a majority of favorable responses, they purged the mailing list of anyone who might be inclined to vote No—if there had even been an option to do so.

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A group of 25 directors, including Mankiewicz, Stevens, Billy Wilder, Robert Wise, John Huston, Nicholas Ray, Vincente Minnelli and Fritz Lang, filed an injunction to halt the balloting, and Stevens set out to investigate the nefarious goings-on behind it. And at the next Guild meeting, he denounced the both the Loyalty Oath and the attempted recall and resigned from the board in disgust.

“George did the most incredible job of interrogation and pinning people down,” Mankiewicz recalled in A Filmmaker’s Journey, George Stevens Jr.’s superb film on his father. “He had been to the Guild office and taken testimony from secretaries and everybody… the work that George did of exposing what this was and the fact that the Guild had been run by DeMille for the benefit of a small group of men was absolutely perfect.”

Stevens later said he resented that while people like Huston, John Ford and Anatole Litvak “had served in World War II… some of those that stayed home, for whatever reasons—Ronald Reagan, John Wayne, Adolphe Menjou, and DeMille among them—had now become the judges of who were patriots or not.” He said defeating them was “the most thrilling experience. I drove 50 miles up the Ventura Freeway and back, I was so exhilarated by the victory that we’d won over the McCarthy thing.”

In the 1950s, Stevens produced what’s become known as his “American Trilogy,” starting with A Place in the Sun, which Charles Chaplin called “the greatest film ever made about America.”

Bucking the trend of the times, Stevens—who once remarked that Technicolor had an Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’ feel to it—shot A Place in the Sun in black and white. He felt color would be jarringly at odds with Theodore Dreiser’s tragic tale of a restless striver (Montgomery Clift) who falls in love with a socialite (Elizabeth Taylor) and all that her world has to offer, while growing increasingly resentful of the pregnant girl he left behind in his dreary factory town (Shelley Winters).

About the only thing Taylor and Winters had in common on the set was their affection for their director. “He didn’t make me feel like a puppet,” said Taylor. “He was an insinuating director. He gave indications of what he wanted but didn’t tell you specifically what to do or how to move. He would just say, ‘No, stop, that’s not quite right,’ and make you get it from your insides and do it again until it was the way he wanted it.”

Stevens also ran rushes for his young actors after each day’s shoot. “He would print several takes of each scene and then explain to us why one was better than the other,” recalled Winters. “The whole experience was a joy.”

Shooting from every angle was typical of Stevens, who always knew exactly what he wanted, but loved the adventure of getting there. According to his longtime cameraman William Mellor, he “probably used three times as much film as anyone else”—in this case 400,000 feet of it, which he and editor William Hornbeck worked on for more than a year. The final film earned 10 Oscar nods and six wins, including for Mellor, Hornbeck, and, at long last, Stevens.

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The director was no less protective of his film more than a decade later, when in 1965 he sued to prevent NBC from airing “a distorted, truncated and segmented version” of A Place in the Sun with commercial breaks.

“I believe the film is entitled to receive, and the public to enjoy, the same integrity in its presentation which led to its original acceptance,” Stevens said when he filed the complaint. “A motion picture should be respected as being more than a tool for selling soap, toothpaste, deodorant, used cars, beer and the whole gamut of products advertised on television. The audience, too, should be respected by being presented with a film as they remember it, and for those who have not seen it, as it was intended to be seen. Anything less is a degradation of the film and its audience.”

As you’ve probably guessed from barrage of ads that barge into most films on television, Stevens’ lawsuit did not succeed.

Next in the Trilogy was Shane, the story of an aging gunfighter who helps homesteaders fend off some of the nastiest outlaws on any side of the Pecos. (I love the shot above, of Jack Palance wildly out of character, chatting with a bicycling Stevens and Joan Fontaine.) As part of his usual meticulous research, Stevens consulted with technical advisers on everything, including what people wore on special occasions (women often trotted out their wedding dresses, as Jean Arthur does) to what they ate and how they cooked it.

But his greatest obsession was that the gunfire and its devastating effects be as realistic as possible. For the cold-blooded murder of Torrey, he had Elisha Cook Jr. rigged up to an intricate block-and-pulley system, so when he was shot by Jack Wilson (Palance), his entire body would be sent flying backward into the mud. The production department asked Stevens to tone the scene down, but he refused for the very reason they wanted him to: because it was so disturbing.

Stevens believed downplaying the effects of violence “was an outrage. I wanted to show that a .45, if you pull directly in a man’s direction, you destroy an upright figure… a living being is not able to get up again, and when a man is shot a life is over.”

He used sound effects to make the same point. “In most westerns, you know, people are shooting off guns all the time so you don’t even notice it any more,” he said. “I wanted people to be really jolted out of their seats the first time Shane uses his gun… so I got a little cannon, put it right off camera, and when Alan Ladd fires his gun, I had them shoot off the cannon and it made a tremendous roar.” For other gunshots, rifles were fired into metal barrels.

When Warren Beatty wanted to achieve the same effect in Bonnie and Clyde, he consulted Stevens and copied the techniques. But when his film premiered at Cannes, only the first shot rang out loudly; the rest blended into the background. Beatty sprinted upstairs to speak to the projectionist, who told him he’d “fixed” the sound problem. “The last time I got a film that was mixed that badly,” he told him, “was Shane!”

The final film in the Trilogy was the longest of Stevens’ career: the sprawling Giant, adapted from Edna Ferber’s novel about three generations of a Texas oil family. “George Stevens takes three hours and seventeen minutes to put his story across,” wrote Bosley Crowther in The New York Times. “That’s a heap of time to go on about Texas, but Mr. Stevens has made a heap of a film, and Giant, for all its complexity, is a strong contender for the year’s top-film award.” The movie went on to earn 10 Oscar nods, but only Stevens went home with the trophy.

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Leading with his heart, Stevens had originally wanted to cast his friend Alan Ladd, who was struggling to find work, in the pivotal role of Jett Rink. But Ladd, who was clearly too old for the role, was also unable to handle the physical demands of a long shoot in the blazing Texas sun. Just a few years later, Stevens would serve as a pallbearer after Ladd took his own life.

While casting for Giant was underway, James Dean was on the Warner’s lot working on Rebel Without a Cause. He was not yet the sensation he’d soon become—or even vaguely recognizable. But he’d heard about Giant from Stevens’ longtime collaborator, Fred Guiol, and he wanted in. “When we were finishing the script, this boy used to go by my office… he had to come in the back door because the girl in our office wouldn’t let him in,” Stevens remembered. “She said, ‘There’s this fellow out here, I don’t know who he is, he’s got a rope and he’s making tricks with it out there.’ Jimmy was not the man to play this part… it should have been a physically larger man… but this guy was absolutely fascinating.”

As it turned out, he and Dean fought almost constantly. Dean bristled at what he saw as suffocation, while Stevens, who favored naturalism, tried to rein in some of the young actor’s excesses. He succeeded on at least one front: during filming, he’d had forbidden Dean from so much as sitting behind the wheel of a sportscar. But in September 1955, just days after finishing his scenes and before the movie had even wrapped, Dean was killed on his way to a race in Salinas. Ironically, he wasn’t speeding, and the accident was not his fault. (Much more on Dean and the fatal crash here.)

In 1957, a year after Giant premiered, Stevens began work on a project that took more than two years to complete: The Diary of Anne Frank.

Before a script was even roughed out, he revisited the Dachau concentration camp, the memory of which had haunted him for years, as well as the Bergen-Belsen camp where Anne died. He worked closely with former members of the Dutch resistance to shape the screenplay. And he supervised the meticulous re-creation of the Amsterdam home where the family hid from the Nazis, which he visited with Anne’s father Otto, who consulted on the film.

“We went to the floor where they had the little paneled living quarters, as described in her book, and then there was a garret above that,” Stevens remembered. “And as I was walking up the ladder behind Mr. Frank, there was… this gabled window and it had blown open… and there was a pigeon, or some other large bird. We didn’t see it, but it made a great rustling of its wings and it flew out the window. And this man was a strong man, but he weakened on that ladder, you know, the sense of being there and not being seen, and being winged… and he was terribly shaken by that… as if it had been her spirit. And we sat up there in the garret for a long time… and finally when he got his breath, he said, ‘Let’s go for a canal ride and escape this, and then we’ll come back another day.'”

With the exception of the blow-ups with James Dean on Giant, you’d be hard-pressed to find much evidence of angst on a Stevens soundstage. He ran a very quiet set, giving actors the space they needed to concentrate. Even the clanks and clunks of the crew and their equipment were muffled as much as possible. “I feel that my real job as a director is to be a kind of host on the film set,” he explained. “I have to help create very tangible and convincing people on the screen, and blend that with the actors’ own interpretations of their roles, so the story is as convincing as possible.

“If an actor doesn’t need any help, don’t disturb his assurance in any way,” he added. “If an actor needs not only help but strength too, give them all of that. Give them something to stand up with, and if they are still lost, give them a concept of the role and a reading of the line. I think an actor has the right to call on a director whenever it is necessary.”

No wonder actors loved him. And so did his fellow directors. When production of The Greatest Story Ever Told became bogged down with technical problems (including a blizzard in Arizona, which prompting actor David Scheiner to quip, “I thought we were shooting Nanook of the North!”), David Lean and Jean Negulesco stepped forward to direct second units, the first time either had done so in decades.

His close friend Huston counted Stevens as one of his favorite directors, along with Wyler and Ford. “When I watch one of George’s films,” he said, “I get so caught up in the story, in the people, I forget I’m watching a movie.”

Stevens was also one of an elite handful of directors George Cukor invited to his home in November 1972, to celebrate Luis Buñuel’s birthday. (Oh and hop in the car, kids, because we are going to this party.) Standing are Robert Mulligan, Wyler, Cukor, Robert Wise, Jean-Claude Carrière, and Buñuel’s producer, Serge Silberman, and seated are Wilder, Stevens, Bunuel, Alfred Hitchcock and Rouben Mamoulian. (A frail Ford could stay only briefly.)

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Before there were film snobs fawning over their auteur of the month, there was George Stevens. He fought against greedy studio bosses, political demagogues and rampant commercialism—and for artistic freedom and integrity—before it was cool. Just because it was right.

And before “outsider films” became a thing, Stevens painted unforgettable portraits of underdogs such as Alice Adams, Leopold Dilg, Shane, Jett Rink and the misbegotten George Eastman. In an era of film factories, he was a humanist.

“To the young members of the Directors Guild who were idealists and who wanted to make good films, George was a sort of Pope, or certainly a cardinal,” remembered his close friend, Fred Zinnemann. “He was one of the few people who could stand up to the front office. We all learned that we could have some measure of success if we didn’t give up. Nobody at the studios took film seriously as a creative medium. George was one of the people who instilled in the studios that film was more than that.”

So Happy Birthday, my beloved George. Thank you for everything. Every Extraordinary Thing. Here’s loupin’ at you, kid.

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7 Comments

  1. Vienna

    Great director of classic comedy,drama,musical and westerns.
    Great pictures. Thanks.

  2. What a really beautiful piece. This is the kind of thing that blogs are meant for. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you so much, Steve!! That really means a lot to me. I feel like I’ve written the world’s longest love letter!! 🙂

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