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Friday, September 16, 2005

Robert Wise (1914-2005)
Robert WiseBesides being American film legends, what do these names have in common: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, John Ford, Orson Welles, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, Val Lewton, Dorothy Arzner, Lucille Ball, Robert Ryan, Susan Hayward, Gort the Robot, Steve McQueen, Brigitte Bardot, Rita Moreno, Julie Andrews and Captain Kirk? One man worked with them all -- Robert Wise.

The veteran filmmaker passed away in Los Angeles this week at the age of 91.

Wise landed his first job in the shipping room at RKO studios, where his older brother was an accountant. He lugged film cans up to projection rooms, spliced films together, etc. He soon got a shot at an assistant sound editor, working on Fred and Ginger musicals and John Ford's The Informer (1935). He then worked his way up to assistant film editor with films like Fred and Ginger's The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), then a full fledged editor with his own assistant.

Fate knocked on his door when Orson Welles fired the studio-appointed editor on Citizen Kane, and Wise got the job because of his youth. He was hired again for Welles' second film The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), but when disaster struck for Welles, the young Wise got his first big break. After Welles flew off to South America to begin filming his would-be third film It's All True, The Magnificent Ambersons began to receive disastrous test notices and the studio ordered it cut. Wise cut some 25 minutes out of the film, and was forced to direct several new "bridge" scenes for continuity's sake.

Two years later, the legendary B-movie producer Val Lewton was working on The Curse of the Cat People (1944) and found that he needed to fire the first director for moving too slow. Wise got the job and finished the picture quickly, going on to direct two more outstanding films for Lewton, Mademoiselle Fifi (1944) and The Body Snatcher (1945).

Wise was nominated for seven Oscars; winning four of them (two for Best Director and two for Best Picture for West Side Story and The Sound of Music) plus the special Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1967.

I had the honor of interviewing Mr. Wise in 2001, and he was a kind soul, quick to laugh, and a great storyteller. He will be missed.
:: posted by Jeffrey M. Anderson, 9/16/2005 Comments (0)
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