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Filmography | Awards | Teresa Wright on Wyler | Image Credits | THE LITTLE FOXES
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THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES
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One of the legendary filmmakers of Hollywood's golden age,
director William Wyler distinguished himself from his peers through his
cinematic achievements rather than by a signature style of filmmaking.
Consequently, he holds the distinction among directors for: receiving the most
Academy Award nominations (12); having guided the most Oscar-nominated
performances (35) and the most Oscar-winning performances (14); having directed
the most Best Picture Oscar-nominated (13) and -winning films (3). The only
director to have won more Oscars for directing was John
Ford, who surpassed Wyler's three statuettes with four of his own.
But before all the honors came the films, and Wyler's resume
includes some of the most popular and critically acclaimed films in the history
of Hollywood, primarily because he started with good stories and didn't allow
any individual's style of craftsmanship or performance to distract from the
telling of it.
A poster for WUTHERING HEIGHTS, one of seven films Wyler made
for independent producer Samuel
Goldwyn between 1936 and 1946. Starring Merle Oberon and
Laurence Olivier with Donald
Crisp and David Niven, WUTHERING HEIGHTS was nominated for
the Best Picture Oscar and earned Wyler a
Best Director nomination in 1939. Despite its critical plaudits however,
the film piqued Wyler, being the scene of a significant 'creative difference'
between himself and Goldwyn
-- a frequent occurrence over their tenure together. After Wyler had
shot the final scene of WUTHERING HEIGHTS,
Goldwyn demanded that it be
re-shot to include ghostly images of Heathcliff and Cathy walking away
together on the moors. Wyler disliked the idea and refused to re-shoot
the footage, so Goldwyn
finished the film without him.
Goldwyn's ending was used in
the final print and Wyler never quite got over it.
Theme" (clip) from WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1939) by
Newman (a .MP3 file).
As a director, Wyler was known for retaking a scene over and over
again until every aspect of it played just the way he wanted. This
approach allowed him to use fewer, longer takes in the finished film, giving
individual scenes a feeling of continuity without the frequent cuts that might
distract an audience from the developing story. "Forty-Take" Wyler's
perfectionism proved trying for his actors however. As a result, very few
ever made more than two films with him. One of the most important stars in
Wyler's 3-or-more club was Bette Davis
who earned Academy Award nominations for each of her three films with Wyler --
JEZEBEL (1938), THE LETTER (1940) and THE
LITTLE FOXES (1941) -- each of which, in turn, earned Oscar nominations as
Best Picture of their respective years.
from JEZEBEL (1938) by Max Steiner (a .MP3 file
courtesy RCA Victor).
Posters from JEZEBEL (1938) (above) co-starring Henry
Fonda, and THE LETTER (1940) (left), another of Wyler's Best
Sometimes prone to histrionics
when playing forceful, passionate characters,
Davis gave some of her best
performances under Wyler's strong hand. Though their on-the-set
relationship had its ups and downs, and
Davis even walked off the set of
THE LITTLE FOXES for two weeks over a difference of opinion about how her
character should be played, Davis
held Wyler in high regard and counted him among her favorite directors.
Title" from THE LETTER (1940) by
(a .MP3 file courtesy RCA Victor).
(For help opening any of the multimedia files, visit the plug-ins
Another member of Wyler's 3-or-more club was
Audrey Hepburn whom he directed to a
Best Actress Oscar in her American film debut,
ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953), a romantic
comedy about a princess who spends a day escaping from her royal duties while in
the company of a newspaper reporter (played by
Gregory Peck). Hepburn's
subsequent films for Wyler included the lesbian-themed drama THE CHILDREN'S HOUR
(1961) (an adaptation of Lillian Hellman's play, which Wyler had previously
filmed as THESE THREE in 1936) and HOW TO STEAL A MILLION (1966), another
romantic comedy, this time about a Parisian art heist, co-starring
Incidentally, Teresa Wright,
Cathy O'Donnell, Miriam Hopkins
and Walter Brennan are the only
other actors to have worked with Wyler in 3 or more films.
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