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George Cukor

George Cukor

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Also Known As: George Dewey Cukor Died: January 24, 1983
Born: July 7, 1899 Cause of Death: natural causes
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA Profession: director, stage manager

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

er triumph also came with adversity. Hired by Warner Bros. to helm their film adaptation of the Broadway musical "My Fair Lady," Cukor was faced with conflicts both in front of and behind the camera. There were frequent disagreements with designer Cecil Beaton, while star Audrey Hepburn ¿ already a controversial choice due to her lack of singing ability ¿ upset the crew with her numerous diva-like demands. Critics were also unkind to the final result, with many noting that Cukor¿s serene pace stifled the musical¿s ebullience. Despite these issues, the film went on to be one of the biggest hits of the decade, and earned Cukor his first and only Oscar for Best Director, as well as Golden Globe and Directors Guild accolades. It would also serve as the final high note of his long and storied career.There would be more films in the two decades following "My Fair Lady;" some inconsequential jobs for hire, like 1969¿s "Justine," on which he replaced Joseph Strick. Others were hopeless boondoggles, like "Travels with My Aunt" (1972), a project he had hoped would star Katherine Hepburn. However, studio interference led to her abandoning the project under a cloud of litigation, and the resulting film now...

er triumph also came with adversity. Hired by Warner Bros. to helm their film adaptation of the Broadway musical "My Fair Lady," Cukor was faced with conflicts both in front of and behind the camera. There were frequent disagreements with designer Cecil Beaton, while star Audrey Hepburn ¿ already a controversial choice due to her lack of singing ability ¿ upset the crew with her numerous diva-like demands. Critics were also unkind to the final result, with many noting that Cukor¿s serene pace stifled the musical¿s ebullience. Despite these issues, the film went on to be one of the biggest hits of the decade, and earned Cukor his first and only Oscar for Best Director, as well as Golden Globe and Directors Guild accolades. It would also serve as the final high note of his long and storied career.

There would be more films in the two decades following "My Fair Lady;" some inconsequential jobs for hire, like 1969¿s "Justine," on which he replaced Joseph Strick. Others were hopeless boondoggles, like "Travels with My Aunt" (1972), a project he had hoped would star Katherine Hepburn. However, studio interference led to her abandoning the project under a cloud of litigation, and the resulting film now starring Maggie Smith was largely ignored. Worse still was "The Blue Bird" (1976), a glossy fantasy based on a Russian fable with an all-star cast led by Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Fonda and Ava Gardner. Filmed entirely in the Soviet Union, Cukor found himself stranded with an uncooperative and frequently mutinous cast, and a Russian crew that spoke no English, which required him to direct via improvised sign language.

Cukor found greater success on the small screen with a pair of intimate dramas, both starring Hepburn. "Love Among the Ruins" (ABC, 1975) teamed Hepburn with Laurence Olivier as an aging London theater star who retained an old flame (Olivier) to defend her in a legal case against an alleged former lover. Originally intended as a vehicle for legendary stage performers Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, the TV movie reaped Emmy Awards for Cukor and both stars. Hepburn and Cukor would reunite for the tenth and final time for "The Corn is Green" (CBS, 1979), a remake of the 1945 Bette Davis film, with Hepburn netting another Emmy nomination as a middle-aged schoolmistress who aided a Welsh miner in reaching his academic potential.

In 1981, the 82-year-old Cukor replaced Robert Mulligan on his final motion picture, "Rich and Famous," with Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen. The film had all the earmarks of a classic Cukor film: a drama about two college friends who, in rising to their chosen professions, were tested at every turn by financial success and failure, relationships, and their own changing identities. Though not a hit with viewers or critics, what scant praise it received was reserved for Cukor himself, whose sophisticated style shone through the wan material. The following year, he was feted by the Venice Film Festival with the Career Golden Lion, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Directors Guild. On Jan. 24, 1983, Cukor died from a heart attack. He was buried in an unmarked grave at Forest Lawn Memorial Cemetery in Glendale, CA.th Hepburn as a brassy socialite caught between her playboy ex-husband (Cary Grant), a do-gooder reporter (James Stewart) and the man (John Howard) she believed she needed to marry, was among the crown jewels of Hollywood comedies, and helped to re-establish Hepburn as a movie star after years as "box office poison." He bookended his time at MGM with "Gaslight" (1944), a memorable thriller about a woman (Ingrid Bergman) who believed that her husband (Charles Boyer) was planning to murder her. It received seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Bergman. Between these efforts was the courtroom drama "A Woman¿s Face" (1941), with Joan Crawford as a disfigured blackmailer in turmoil over returning to her criminal life after her appearance is corrected by plastic surgery, and two major failures ¿ "Two-Faced Woman" (1945), a dismal comedy that marked the end of Greta Garbo¿s film career, and "Her Cardboard Lover" (1942), which rang down the curtain on Norma Shearer¿s life on screen as well.

In 1942, the 43-year-old Cukor enlisted in the Army Signal Corps, where he produced training films for military personnel. The experience was a disappointment for him, as he found it difficult to give direction to his superiors. He also never advanced beyond the rank of private, despite intervention from Frank Capra, and suspected that his sexual orientation was the stumbling block. Cukor was honorable discharged in 1944 and returned to MGM, where his career picked up where he had left off.

Key to his third act success was a collaborative relationship with writers Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon, whom he had met at his home in 1939 before they married in 1941. Together, they forged some of the most sparkling Hollywood comedies of the late `40s and early 1950s, including two of the best Katherine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy films, "Adam¿s Rib" (1949) and 1952¿s "Pat and Mike, as well as "Born Yesterday" (1950), an extraordinary comedy about a politician¿s mistress (Judy Holliday) who, upon discovering her own innate intelligence, throws off her boorish lover (Broderick Crawford) to fall for her tutor (William Holden). The picture earned Cukor a fourth Oscar nomination, and made a star of Holliday, who won the Oscar for her performance in the film. She would go on to appear in two more hits for Cukor, "The Marrying Kind" (1952), which introduced war hero-turned-actor Aldo Ray, and "It Should Happen to You" (1954), which brought a young comic actor named Jack Lemmon to audiences¿ attention.

In 1952, Cukor experienced one of the greatest disappointments of his career with the 1952 remake of "A Star is Born." Cukor had turned down the original version in 1937, much to Selznick¿s dismay, and did the same for producer Sid Luft, who was mounting the new version as a Technicolor musical remake for his wife, Judy Garland, at Warner Bros. Cukor was hesitant, as the film¿s plot was remarkably similar to his "What Price Hollywood?" but the opportunity to direct a color musical with a script by Moss Hart proved too enticing to turn down. He envisioned Cary Grant, but the actor refused the part, which ended their professional and personal relationships. Warner Bros. chief Jack Warner rejected Cukor¿s next considerations, Humphrey Bogart and Frank Sinatra, and eventually decided on James Mason as the male lead. The production soon proved to be one of Cukor¿s most trying, with script changes arriving daily, as well as the challenges of dealing with Garland¿s addictions and personal issues. A 210-minute cut was assembled in 1954 prior to Cukor leaving for Europe and then India to begin production on "Bhowani Junction" (1954). The original cut received stellar reviews, but Warner executives, fearing its length would turn away ticket buyers, trimmed the final cut down to 154 minutes.

The creative failure of "A Star is Born" marked the end of Cukor¿s career as a consistent producer of top-quality films. He would bounce between hits like the Golden Globe-winning musical "Les Girls" (1957) with Gene Kelly and Mitzi Gaynor and commercial flops like "Heller in Pink Tights" (1960), a Western comedy with Sophia Loren and Anthony Quinn that, despite its lavish sets and visuals, was a personal low point for Cukor, who disowned the final product. There was also the collapse of "Something¿s Got to Give" (1962), which found Cukor shooting around an increasingly unreachable Marilyn Monroe. After a month of shooting, he had less than 10 minutes of usable footage with the often overly medicated and consistently late actress, who was summarily fired by Fox executives before the entire picture was abandoned. Two months after its collapse, Monroe was found dead at age 36 in her Hollywood home.

Cukor¿s greatest triumph care

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Rich and Famous (1981) Director
2.
  Corn Is Green, The (1979) Director
3.
  Blue Bird, The (1976) Director
4.
  Love Among the Ruins (1975) Director
5.
  Travels with My Aunt (1972) Director
6.
  Justine (1969) Director
7.
  My Fair Lady (1964) Director
8.
  The Chapman Report (1962) Director
9.
  Heller in Pink Tights (1960) Director
10.
  Let's Make Love (1960) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 MGM: When the Lion Roars (1992) (Archival Footage)
2.
 Bhowani Junction (1956) Man on train
4.
 Hollywood: The Selznick Years (1961) Interviewee
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1917:
Served in sudent Army Training Corps
1919:
Hired as stage manager in Chicago for "The Better 'Ole"
1919:
Became a Broadway stage manager, first for Edgar Selwyn organization, then for the Shuberts
1922:
General manager and actor with the Lyceum Players (Rochester, New York) where he made stage directing debut
1925:
Broadway directorial debut, credited as co-stager of "Antonia"
1926:
Enjoyed first success as a Broadway director with "The Great Gatsby"
1929:
Went to Hollywood under contract to Paramount and earned first screen credit, as dialogue director for "River of Romance"
1930:
First film as co-director (with Cyril Gardner), "Grumpy"
1931:
Solo film directing debut, "The Tarnished Lady"
1932:
Put under contract by RKO
1932:
First film with Katharine Hepburn, "A Bill of Divorcement"
1933:
Loaned to MGM for "Dinner at Eight"
1933:
Directed Hepburn in "Little Women"; received first Best Director Oscar nomination
1935:
Signed contract with MGM
1936:
Helmed both "Camille" with Greta Garbo and "Romeo and Juliet" with Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard
1938:
Guided Hepburn and Cary Grant through "Holiday", an engaging adaptation of Philip Barry's romantic comedy
1939:
Directed an all-star cast in "The Women"
1939:
Did uncredited tests for "The Wizard of Oz"
1939:
Was fired from "Gone with the Wind"
1940:
Reteamed with Hepburn and Grant for another Philip Barry adaptation "The Philadelphia Story"; earned second Academy Award nomination as Best Director; James Stewart received the Best Actor Oscar
1941:
Directed Garbo in her final screen appearance in "Two-Faced Woman"
1942:
Enlisted in Army Signal Corps at age of 43; honorably discharged a year later and returned to MGM
1944:
Helmed "Gaslight", a thriller starring Ingrid Bergman (in an Oscar-winning performance), Charles Boyer and Angela Lansbury
1947:
Received third Best Director Oscar nod for "A Double Life", a drama about an actor who takes playing Othello a little too close to heart; star Ronald Coleman picked up a Best Actor Oscar
1949:
Helmed "Adam's Rib", which teamed Hepburn and Spencer Tracy
1950:
Guided Judy Holiday to a Best Actress Oscar in "Born Yesterday"; received fourth Best Director nomination
1952:
Again directed Holiday in "The Marrying Kind"
1952:
Reunited with Tracy and Hepburn for "Pat and Mike"
1954:
Last film with Holiday, "It Should Happen to You"
1954:
Made first color film, "A Star Is Born", teaming Judy Garland and James Mason
1957:
Helmed the musical "Les Girls", with Gene Kelly and Mitzi Gaynor
1960:
Directed Marilyn Monroe in "Let's Make Love"
1962:
Signed to direct Marilyn Monroe in "Something's Got to Give"; film never completed
1964:
Won Best Director Oscar for helming "My Fair Lady", starring Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn; last film for five years
1969:
Returned to features as director of "Justine", adapted from one of Lawrence Durrell's novels that comprised "The Alexandria Quartet"
1972:
Helmed "Travels with My Aunt"; star Maggie Smith garnered a Best Actress Oscar nomination
1975:
First TV-movie, "Love Among the Ruins" (ABC), starring Katharine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier; won Emmy Award
1976:
Went to Russia to direct the first Soviet-US co-production, the misguided "The Blue Bird", starring Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner and Jane Fonda
1979:
Final TV-movie, a remake of "The Corn Is Green" (CBS) starring Katharine Hepburn
1981:
Final feature film, "Rich and Famous"
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Education

DeWitt Clinton High School: New York , New York -

Notes

"Women's director! Well, I'm very pleased to be considered a master of anything, but remember, for every Jill there was a Jack. People like to pigeonhole you--it's a shortcut, I guess, but once they do, you're stuck with it." --George Cukor in 1979, quoted in his The New York Times obituary, January 26, 1983.

"You have to know when to shut up. A director can talk a lot and theorize and shut off whatever creative thing they [actors] have. You can be quiet, but you can't be inhibited." --George Cukor, quoted in his The New York Times obituary, January 26, 1983.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Victor Cukor. Worked for Manhattan District Attorney. Married Ilona Gross in 1894.
mother:
Helen Cukor. Married Victor Cukor in 1894.
sister:
Elsie Cukor. Born in 1895; predeceased him.

Bibliography close complete biography

"Cukor" Secker & Warburg
"George Cukor: A Critical Study and Filmography" McFarland
"On Cukor" G.P. Putnam's Sons
"George Cukor: A Double Life" St. Martin's Press
"George Cukor, Master of Elegance: Hollywood's Legendary Director and His Stars" William Morrow
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