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Robert Wise

Robert Wise

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Also Known As: Robert Earl Wise Jr., Robert E Wise Died: September 14, 2005
Born: September 10, 1914 Cause of Death: heart failure
Birth Place: Winchester, Indiana, USA Profession: producer, director, editor, music editor, assistant cutter, sound effects apprentice

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Veteran Hollywood director Robert Wise was credited with helming 39 feature films from 1944 to 1989, establishing an admirable reputation in such a wide variety of genres as to prompt some critics to unfairly posit that there was no "Wise style." At the beginning of his career, he worked with equal facility in horror ("The Curse of the Cat People") (1944), film noir ("Born to Kill") (1947), Westerns ("Blood on the Moon") (1948), sports ("The Set-Up") (1949) and sci-fi ("The Day the Earth Stood Still") (1951), demonstrating a visual and narrative dexterity that other filmmakers could only marvel at. After earning his stripes in the 1950s, Wise went on to become one of the most successful and revered directors of the following decade, winning four Oscars for his work on the musical extravaganzas "West Side Story" (1961) and "The Sound of Music" (1965). As film budgets â¿¿ and studio expectations â¿¿ skyrocketed, more personal projects, such as the uncompromising Steve McQueen war drama "The Sand Pebbles" (1966), became increasingly difficult for Wise to mount. And although one of his final directorial efforts, the big-budget spectacular "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" (1979), may not have been greeted...

Veteran Hollywood director Robert Wise was credited with helming 39 feature films from 1944 to 1989, establishing an admirable reputation in such a wide variety of genres as to prompt some critics to unfairly posit that there was no "Wise style." At the beginning of his career, he worked with equal facility in horror ("The Curse of the Cat People") (1944), film noir ("Born to Kill") (1947), Westerns ("Blood on the Moon") (1948), sports ("The Set-Up") (1949) and sci-fi ("The Day the Earth Stood Still") (1951), demonstrating a visual and narrative dexterity that other filmmakers could only marvel at. After earning his stripes in the 1950s, Wise went on to become one of the most successful and revered directors of the following decade, winning four Oscars for his work on the musical extravaganzas "West Side Story" (1961) and "The Sound of Music" (1965). As film budgets â¿¿ and studio expectations â¿¿ skyrocketed, more personal projects, such as the uncompromising Steve McQueen war drama "The Sand Pebbles" (1966), became increasingly difficult for Wise to mount. And although one of his final directorial efforts, the big-budget spectacular "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" (1979), may not have been greeted with the unqualified praise the studio had hoped for, it nonetheless demonstrated the work of a master craftsman, still in full possession of his artistic powers. When responding to the charges of some that Wise never left a personal, artistic imprint on his films, the director replied that it was not the directorâ¿¿s job to tailor the film to themselves, but rather, to tailor themselves to the film.

Born Robert Earl Wise on Sept. 10, 1914 in Winchester, IN to parents Olive and Earl Wise, he attended Connersville High School, prior to a brief stint at Franklin College near Indianapolis. Forced to drop out of college in the midst of the Great Depression, Wise â¿¿ a life long film devotee â¿¿ followed his older brother to Los Angeles, where he secured a job in the editorial department at RKO Pictures. In the decade that followed his arrival in Hollywood, Wise worked his way through the ranks; first, as an assistant, then an apprentice sound effects editor, and eventually, film editor. After editing such notable films as Lon Chaneyâ¿¿s "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1939), Wise went on to earn an Oscar nomination for his work on Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941) and following it up with some early uncredited â¿¿ and somewhat controversial â¿¿ directorial work on Wellesâ¿¿ troubled "The Magnificent Ambersons" (1942). An even greater influence than Welles on the young Wise was B-movie producer Val Lewton, who tapped him to take over for the faltering Gunther von Fritsch as director of the low-budget horror picture "The Curse of the Cat People" (1944). Wise's first three directorial projects â¿¿ also including "Mademoiselle Fifi" (1944) and "The Body Snatcher" (1945) â¿¿ were all under Lewton's aegis at RKO, and Wise benefited greatly from his mentor's affinity for literate material, psychological drama, and a deeply atmospheric style.

RKO finally provided Wise with his first "A" film budget for the ambitious Western "Blood on the Moon" (1948), which starred Robert Mitchum, but it was Wiseâ¿¿s work on his final RKO film, the boxing feature "The Set-Up" (1949), that established him as a leading Hollywood talent. Praised for its uncompromising realism, the virtuoso editing of the fight sequences, and the quasi-expressionistic reaction shots of the ringside crowd, "The Set-Up" won the Critics' Prize at Cannes. Wise departed RKO for a three-year, non-exclusive contract with 20th Century-Fox, where he helmed the landmark science fiction classic "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951), a so-called "message movie" in a genre given little credibility or respect at the time. The cautionary tale of an extraterrestrial emissary of peace (Michael Rennie) was blatantly anti-nuclear at the height of the Cold War, and a significant step in sci-fi's development away from the simple whiz-bang storytelling of the past. Wise later entered the MGM fold to direct the multifaceted tale of a company power struggle, "Executive Suite" (1954), the first of four collaborations with esteemed screenwriter Ernest Lehman. He reteamed with Lehman for the second time on "Somebody Up There Likes Me" (1956), adapted from the autobiography of the middleweight boxing champion Rocky Graziano. It became Wise's biggest hit of the 1950s, and offered an outstanding performance by Paul Newman in only his second film role, in addition to noteworthy debuts by Steve McQueen and Robert Loggia.

On a roll, the young director continued to work with the best and brightest in Hollywood, on such projects as the psychological WWII naval drama "Run Silent, Run Deep" (1958), co-starring leading men icons Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster. That same year, Wise earned his first Oscar nomination as Best Director for "I Want to Live!" (1958), a pointedly anti-capital punishment prison drama, which won star Susan Hayward the Best Actress statuette for her portrayal of a woman condemned to death for a crime she may or may not have committed. A few short years later, Wise followed with "West Side Story" (1961), a spectacular updating of Shakespeareâ¿¿s "Romeo and Juliet" set in the streets of modern day New York City. The musical went on to win a grand total of 10 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. Shifting gears once again, the chameleon-like director returned to the genre of horror with "The Haunting" (1963). Regarded by many as one of the best haunted house movies ever committed to film, the story would later be frequently imitated, but never duplicated. At the height of his professional career, Wise returned with another musical, this one following the exploits of a governess and a brood of musically gifted children in Nazi-controlled Austria during World War II. "The Sound of Music" (1965) â¿¿ the film that made an international superstar of Julie Andrews â¿¿ would earn Wise another Best Director Oscar, as well as one for Best Picture, going on to become the most financially successful picture of its time. Wise returned one year later with the sprawling war saga "The Sand Pebbles" (1966), starring Steve McQueen as a sailor on a U.S. gunboat in China at the outbreak of the countryâ¿¿s civil war in the 1920s. The film, seen by many as an implicit anti-Vietnam War statement, earned Wise another Oscar nomination for Best Picture, as well as one for McQueen as Best Actor â¿¿ his only Academy Award nomination.

As the 1960s drew to a close, so too did Wiseâ¿¿s halcyon days as an in-demand director. In keeping with her two-picture deal with 20th Century Fox, Julie Andrews signed on for the lead in Wiseâ¿¿s next project, "Star!" (1968), a musical chronicling the life of legendary British entertainer Gertrude Lawrence. Unfortunately, the American publicâ¿¿s appetite for musical spectaculars had dropped off as the decade wore on, and audiences expecting a "Sound of Music" reprisal were wholly disappointed. The film suffered from indifference at the box office, as well as last-minute retooling by the studio, and was soon consigned to the cinematic equivalent of persona-non-grata. The venerable director bounced back with a return to science fiction in the moderately successful "The Andromeda Strain" (1971). Based on the novel by Michael Crichton, the film told the story of a small team of scientists in a race against time as they investigate a deadly organism of extraterrestrial origin. Working on a much grander scale, Wise directed the historical disaster epic "The Hindenburg" (1975), featuring and an all star cast that included George C. Scott and Anne Bancroft. Despite its impressive array of special effects and Wiseâ¿¿s usual keen attention to detail, the film was savaged by critics and eschewed by audiences. Not fairing much better was "Audrey Rose" (1977), a metaphysical thriller about reincarnation, wrong-headedly promoted by the studio as a shocker in the vein of "The Exorcist" (1973).

With "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" (1979), Wise found himself once more at the helm of a science fiction project, but also resurrecting one of the more beloved properties in television history ⿿ not to mention working on a budgetary scale larger than anything he had previously attempted. The production was plagued by problems from the start, soon running over budget and over schedule. When the "Star Trek" feature film arrived in theaters it was met with mixed reactions, and despite earning impressive box office returns, was not the blockbuster Paramount Studios had hoped for. It would be 10 years before Wise would return to the director⿿s chair with "Rooftops" (1989), an urban crime drama, infused with a combative dance style known as capoeira. The film, starring Jason Gedrick, was clearly an attempt to revisit Wise⿿s "West Side Story" glory days, but instead became a rare blemish on the revered filmmaker⿿s lengthy résumé after receiving a nearly unanimous drubbing from critics. Sadly, this would mark Wise⿿s final theatrical effort as a director. A decade later, Wise directed his first made-for-television movie "A Storm in Summer" (Showtime, 2000), starring Peter Falk and written by the late Rod Serling. The highly regarded and decidedly unsentimental family drama would be his final film. In 2005, Robert Wise died of a heart attack at the age of 91.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Storm in Summer, A (2000) Director
2.
  Rooftops (1989) Director
3.
4.
  Audrey Rose (1977) Director
5.
  The Hindenburg (1975) Director
6.
  Two People (1973) Director
7.
  The Andromeda Strain (1971) Director
8.
  Star! (1968) Director
9.
  The Sand Pebbles (1966) Director
10.
  The Sound of Music (1965) Director

CAST: (feature film)

2.
 All Is Brazil (1998)
3.
 Stupids, The (1996) Stanley'S Neighbor
4.
6.
 50 Years of Action! (1986) Himself
7.
8.
 Hollywood Screen Tests: Take Two (2001) Interviewee
9.
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Grew up in Connorsville, Indiana
1933:
After dropping out of college moved to Southern California, where his brother worked as an accountant at RKO Pictures
1933:
Hired by RKO as general editing gofer; promoted to apprentice sound editor after nine months; then music editor (i.e., "The Gay Divorcee" 1934 and "Top Hat" 1935)
1937:
Moved up to assistant picture editor, working under William Hamilton
1939:
First three films as co-editor (with Hamilton); "Fifth Avenue Girl", "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"
1940:
First two films as sole editor; "My Favorite Wife" and "Dance, Girl, Dance"
:
Edited both "Citizen Kane" (1941) and "The Magnificent Ambersons" (1942) for Orson Welles; earned Oscar nomination for his work on "Citizen Kane"
1944:
First film as co-director (due to illness and slowness of project's original director, Gunther von Fritsch), "The Curse of the Cat People"
1944:
First film as sole director, "Mademoiselle Fifi"
1947:
Helmed the supertough cult film noir "Born to Kill"; uncharacteristically mean-spirited for Wise
1949:
Made first boxing picture "The Set-Up", starring Robert Ryan
:
RKO (then in the hands of Howard Hughes) dropped Wise's contract; departed for three-year, nonexclusive contract with 20th Century-Fox
1951:
Directed the sci-fi classic "The Day the Earth Stood Still"
:
Teamed with two former RKO editors, director Mark Robson and producer Theron Warth, to form Aspen Productions; company released only two pictures, Wise's "The Captive City" (1952) and Robson's "Return to Paradise" (1953)
1954:
Brought into MGM fold to direct "Executive Suite"; following its preview, MGM signed Wise to three-year contract
1956:
Provided Paul Newman his big break in "Somebody Up There Likes Me", the boxing tale of Rocky Graziano; Wise's biggest hit of the 1950s
1958:
Received second Oscar nomination (this time for Best Director) for "I Want to Live!", starring Susan Hayward
1959:
First film as producer, "Odds Against Tomorrow"; also directed
1961:
Co-directed "West Side Story" with Jerome Robbins; also was one of the film's producers; won Best Director Oscar and Best Picture Oscar
1963:
Completed original commitment to MGM with a return to the horror genre, "The Haunting"
1965:
Earned third and fourth Oscars for directing and producing "The Sound of Music", starring Julie Andrews
1968:
Experienced box-office failure with "Star!", a biopic of Gertrude Lawrence starring Julie Andrews
1970:
Joined with Robson (again), James Bridges and former Paramount vice president Bernard Sonnenfield to form the Filmmaker's Group
1971:
Produced and directed film adaptation of Michael Cricton's first novel "The Andromeda Strain"
1979:
Boarded the Enterprise to direct "Star Trek--The Motion Picture"
1989:
Directed last feature to date, "Rooftops", an urban B musical about a teenaged white male, his forbidden Hispanic girlfriend, drug pushers and a form of "combat dancing" (martial arts without the sound of bones snapping)
1996:
Screen acting debut in John Landis' "The Stupids"
1998:
Received American Film Institute Life Achievement Award
2000:
Returned to directing at the helm of the Showtime remake of the TV-movie "A Storm in Summer"
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Education

Franklin College of Indiana: Franklin , Indiana -

Notes

The library of the Directors Guild of America was named in honor of Wise in 1998.

Received the first Sidney P. Solow Memorial Award from the Technology Council (1992)

"In 1947, I had just finished editing a film called 'My Favorite Wife', when my boss asked if I knew Orson Welles. The studio had just given him a green light, and he needed an editor. I was aware of his remarkable record on the stage in New York and on radio but had never met him. To meet him, I visited a stage where he was shooting a test. We chatted for just a few minutes and I headed back to the editing department. My boss told me Orson had already called and wanted me to edit 'Citizen Kane'. It was an incredible experience.

"I've been asked many times if Orson looked over my shoulder and directed the editing. He never came into the editing room. I worked with him as I had with any other director. I would take notes on his comments when we ran dailies. There was a lot of give and take. There was a certain timing and rhythm he was after." --Robert Wise, from American Society of Cinematographers press material on the occasion of his receiving their Board of Governors Award

"On 'I Want to Live!' Susan Hayward wanted us to use a cameraman that she liked very much, someone who had made other pictures with her and had a knack for the glamorous look. Well, he had been last on my list for this particular drama, which was a gritty sort of crime story, the Barbara Graham murder trial piece.

"I had liked [Lionel] Curly Lindon's texture on a couple of films that he gave a documentary-like look to. So, I had a set-to with Susan Hayward and then a stand-off. Her agent finally got us to meet. And she said, 'So-and-so is free to do this,' and I said he won't be able to give us the documentary look we want. She finally decided to go along with us and won the Academy Award for best actress. But she sure watched the rushes." --Robert Wise in DAILY VARIETY, February 21, 1997

Inducted into the Producers Guild Hall of Fame in 1999

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Patricia Doyle. Actor. Married from May 25, 1942 until her death in 1975.
wife:
Millicent Franklin. Married on January 29, 1977.

Family close complete family listing

mother:
Olive R Wise.
father:
Robert Earl Wise Sr. Meat packing executive.
brother:
David Wise. Accountant. Worked at RKO; helped secure brother's first job at RKO.
son:
Robert A Wise. Born c. 1943; mother, Patricia Doyle.
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