Gregory La Cava


Director
Gregory La Cava

About

Also Known As
Gregory Lacava, George Gregory La Cava
Birth Place
Towanda, Pennsylvania, USA
Born
March 10, 1892
Died
March 01, 1952
Cause of Death
Heart Attack

Biography

Often overshadowed by Howard Hawks, Ernst Lubitsch and Preston Sturges, director Gregory La Cava was a fine practitioner of the screwball comedy while earning a reputation for drawing out the best from his leading performers, thanks to a penchant for on-set improvisation. He began his career as a cartoonist, making over 100 animated shorts during the silent era before making the switch t...

Family & Companions

Beryle Morse
Wife
Divorced.
Grace Garland
Wife
Married in 1940; divorced.

Biography

Often overshadowed by Howard Hawks, Ernst Lubitsch and Preston Sturges, director Gregory La Cava was a fine practitioner of the screwball comedy while earning a reputation for drawing out the best from his leading performers, thanks to a penchant for on-set improvisation. He began his career as a cartoonist, making over 100 animated shorts during the silent era before making the switch to live-action features, collaborating with the likes of Richard Dix and W.C. Fields. He successfully transitioned to the sound era with "Laugh and Get Rich" (1931) and "What Every Woman Knows" (1934), while finding more critical success with "The Affairs of Cellini" (1934). He made occasional excursions into drama with "Symphony of Six Million" (1932) and the overtly political "Gabriel Over the White House" (1933), but often his more serious films failed to live up to even his more middling comedies. Meanwhile, La Cava was Oscar-nominated for directing "My Man Godfrey" (1936), starring William Powell and Carole Lombard, which was considered by many historians to be one of the greatest screwball comedies ever made. He followed that with another Academy Award-worthy comedy, "Stage Door" (1937), which marked the pinnacle of his career. From there, he hit a precipitous downward slide with a number of box office failures that basically ended his career in the early 1940s. Though he was often forgotten by later generations, La Cava no doubt left behind an inviting oeuvre of exceptional comedies that ranked alongside the works of better known directors.

Born on March 10, 1892 in Towanda, PA, La Cava studied painting at the Chicago Institute of Art and the Art Students League of New York, before being forced to leave due to financial considerations. Instead, he abandoned his studies altogether to take a job as a newspaper reporter in Rochester, NY, and later worked as a cartoonist for both the New York Globe and the Evening World. In 1913, he moved on to performing odd jobs at the studio of silent era animator, Raoul Barré, and two years later, he was an animator on the "Animated Grough Chasers" series. Toward the end of 1915, La Cava was hired as the editor-in-chief of the International Film Service, an animation studio founded by William Randolph Hearst, where he worked with the likes of Walter Lantz on "The Katzenjammer Kids" and "Silk Hat Harry." Despite an unlimited budget, La Cava was hampered by his own limited creativity in the genre, as his works were clearly derivative of newspaper comic strips, while his rivals - particularly at Bray Studio - were making more successful animated shorts with more original characters. La Cava stayed with IFS until the money ran out in 1918.

La Cava continued making animated shorts, this time latching on to producer John Terry's studio, only to again find himself out of work when the well went dry just a few months later. Instead of joining his fellow out-of-work animators at the newly formed Goldwyn-Bray studio, La Cava moved westward to Hollywood where he was hired as a gag writer for one- and two-reel shorts. He made his feature debut as a director with "His Nibs" (1921), starring Colleen Moore, and went on to helm a series of all-star comedy two-reelers starring Charlie Murray. La Cava eventually directed a number of silent films, including the melodrama "Restless Wives" (1924), the comedy "Womanhandled" (1925) and "So's Your Old Man" (1926), starring W.C. Fields. After directing frequent collaborator Richard Dix in the comedy "Let's Get Married" (1926), La Cava reunited with Fields for the classic "Running Wild" (1927), which featured the popular comedian in the typical role of henpecked husband and meek employee who becomes more assertive after being put under a spell by a vaudeville hypnotist. La Cava finished out the silent era with forgotten films like "Paradise for Two" (1927), "Gay Defender" (1927), "Half a Bride" (1928) and "Feel My Pulse" (1928).

La Cava entered the sound era with the partial talkie "Saturday's Children" (1929) and a rare crime drama "Big News" (1929), starring Robert Armstrong and Carole Lombard. Following a return to comedy with "Laugh and Get Rich" (1931) and "The Half-Naked Truth" (1932), he directed Irene Dunn and Ricardo Cortez in the drama, "Symphony of Six Million" (1932). He next helmed the overtly political comedy, "Gabriel Over the White House" (1933), which starred Walter Huston as a corrupt Warren G. Harding-like U.S. president who revokes the Constitution, becomes dictator, and solves all the nation's woes. La Cava's audacious support of fascism drew both ire and admiration, though in the end it remained nothing more than a historical curiosity. After the Helen Hayes comedy "What Every Woman Knows" (1934), he directed the Oscar-nominated "The Affairs of Cellini" (1934), which earned nods for Best Actor (Frank Morgan), Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography. Taking another brief excursion into drama territory, La Cava guided Claudette Colbert to an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for her performance as the head of a mental hospital contending with a disgruntled head doctor (Charles Boyer) in "Private Worlds" (1935).

Though he displayed considerable gifts throughout his career, few were prepared for what became his masterwork, "My Man Godfrey" (1936), a landmark screwball comedy that showcased Carole Lombard at her most definitive in her only Oscar-nominated role, while earning six Academy Award nominations altogether, including Best Director. Lombard played a flighty Depression-era socialite who stumbles upon an eccentric hobo, Godfrey (William Powell), during a scavenger hunt and brings him home, where she makes him her butler. Of course, nothing is as it seems, as the hobo turns out to be a wealthy Bostonian who dropped out of life after an unhappy romance and restored his humanity among the dregs in the city dump. Naturally, she falls in love and determines to make Godfrey her husband, while he tries to save her family from their own pretensions. La Cava earned his second nomination for Best Director with his follow-up effort, "Stage Door" (1937), an impressive film that easily shifted between comedy and drama, and featured a mainly female cast headed by Katharine Hepburn, that also included Ginger Rogers, Lucille Ball, Eve Arden and Ann Miller. Hepburn starred as a young woman from a wealthy family trying to make it as an actress while slumming with other aspirants in a boarding house. Like he did on many of his films, La Cava allowed his talent to improvise their lines, which resulted in a number of witty exchanges.

While "Stage Door" was the only film La Cava made that earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, it also marked the first of three consecutive collaborations with actress Ginger Rogers. The two next worked together on the comedy "Fifth Avenue Girl" (1939), where she played an unemployed girl given the chance to see how the other half lives by a neglected millionaire (Walter Connolly) and ultimately falls in love with the man's son (Tim Holt). In their third and final film together, "Primrose Path" (1940), Rogers went against type to play the daughter and granddaughter of prostitutes who vows to stay away from the business, only to confront unavoidable consequences that may indeed lead her down an undesirable path. From there, La Cava worked with star Irene Dunne on a pair of comedies, "Unfinished Business" (1941) and "Lady in a Jam" (1942), both of which failed at the box office - particularly the latter, which was one of the most expensive comedies made at the time. With his career in shambles due to increasing alcoholism, La Cava's output dropped to nil over the next few years. He returned behind the camera with the musical comedy "Living in a Big Way" (1947), starring Gene Kelly, and was uncredited on "One Touch of Venus" (1948), with Robert Walker and Ava Gardner. Four years later, on March 1, 1952, La Cava died of a heart attack in Malibu, CA. He was just 59 years old.

By Shawn Dwyer

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Living in a Big Way (1947)
Director
Lady in a Jam (1942)
Director
Unfinished Business (1941)
Director
Primrose Path (1940)
Director
Fifth Avenue Girl (1939)
Director
Stage Door (1937)
Director
My Man Godfrey (1936)
Director
She Married Her Boss (1935)
Director
Private Worlds (1935)
Director
Gallant Lady (1934)
Director
What Every Woman Knows (1934)
Director
The Affairs of Cellini (1934)
Director
Bed of Roses (1933)
Director
Gabriel over the White House (1933)
Director
Symphony of Six Million (1932)
Director
The Half Naked Truth (1932)
Director
The Age of Consent (1932)
Director
Laugh and Get Rich (1931)
Director
Smart Woman (1931)
Director
Saturday's Children (1929)
Director
Big News (1929)
Director
His First Command (1929)
Director
Half a Bride (1928)
Director
Feel My Pulse (1928)
Director
The Gay Defender (1927)
Director
Tell It to Sweeney (1927)
Director
Running Wild (1927)
Director
Paradise for Two (1927)
Director
Say It Again (1926)
Director
Let's Get Married (1926)
Director
So's Your Old Man (1926)
Director
Womanhandled (1925)
Director
Restless Wives (1924)
Director
The New School Teacher (1924)
Director
His Nibs (1921)
Director
The Breath of a Nation (1919)
Director

Writer (Feature Film)

Living in a Big Way (1947)
Screenwriter
Living in a Big Way (1947)
Original Story
Unfinished Business (1941)
Original Story
Primrose Path (1940)
Screenwriter
Private Worlds (1935)
Screenplay and Adapted
Moulin Rouge (1934)
Contract Writer
Gallant Lady (1934)
Contract Writer
Bed of Roses (1933)
Dial
The Half Naked Truth (1932)
Screenwriter
Laugh and Get Rich (1931)
Screenwriter
Running Wild (1927)
Story

Producer (Feature Film)

Primrose Path (1940)
Producer
Fifth Avenue Girl (1939)
Producer

Production Companies (Feature Film)

Living in a Big Way (1947)
Company
Lady in a Jam (1942)
Company
Unfinished Business (1941)
Company
Primrose Path (1940)
Company
My Man Godfrey (1936)
Company
She Married Her Boss (1935)
Company
What Every Woman Knows (1934)
Company

Producer (Short)

Cartoons on Tour (1915)
Producer

Life Events

1913

Hired as an animator by Barre studios (date approximate)

1915

Appointed editor-in-chief of an animation studio founded by William Randolph Hearst; worked with Walter Lantz on "The Katzenjammmer Kids" and "Silk Hat Harry"

1918

Worked at Bray studio until it discontinued its animation unit

1921

Moved to Los Angeles (date approximate)

1922

First feature, "His Nibs"

1924

Returned to feature filmmaking with "Restless Wives" and "The New School Teacher"; wrote screenplay for the latter

1925

Signed to a four-year contract by Famous Players-Lasky Corportation; made 10 silent films, many starring Richard Dix

1926

First film with W C Fields, "So's Your Old Man"

1927

Helmed second Fields vehicle, "Running Wild"

1928

Made what is arguably his best silent comedy "Feel My Pulse", with Bebe Daniels

1929

Shot "Saturday's Children" as a silent; film reissued as a partial talkie

1931

Put under contract at RKO; directed "Smart Woman"

1933

Enjoyed a box-office hit with "Gabriel Over the White House" for MGM

1934

Garnered praise for his direction of "The Affairs of Cellini"

1936

Helmed the Claudette Colbert comic vehicle "She Married Her Boss"

1936

Earned first Oscar nomination for Best Director for the screwball comedy "My Man Godfrey"

1937

Received second Best Director Academy Award nomination for "Stage Door"; first of three films with Ginger Rogers

1940

Co-wrote screenplay (with Allan Scott) and directed "The Primrose Path", featuring a strong performance from Ginger Rogers

1947

Last directorial credit, "Living in a Big Way"

1948

Began filming "One Touch of Venus"; reportedly walked off the set after 11 days of shooting and replaced by William A Seiter

Videos

Movie Clip

Half Naked Truth, The (1933) - Douse The Haberdashery Crafty agent Jimmy (Lee Tracy) stops Broadway producer Farrell (Frank Morgan) from dropping the curtain, interrupting the fake Turkish princess act so Teresita (Lupe Velez) can do her saucy "Carpenter" number (by Edward Eliscu and Harry Akst), in Gregory La Cava's The Half Naked Truth, 1932.
Half Naked Truth, The (1933) - Thirty Pounds Of Raw Meat Scamming promoter Jimmy (Lee Tracy) with sidekick "Achilles" (Eugene Pallette), angered at a Broadway producer's tactics, gets an idea to boost his phony Turkish princess Teresita (Lupe Velez), leading to a riff by director Gregory La Cava, in The Half Naked Truth, 1932.
Half Naked Truth, The (1933) - All Turkish Harems Arrived in New York embarking on a new scam, carnival man Jimmy (Lee Tracy) conjures new identities for his cohorts Teresita (Lupe Velez) and Achilles (Eugene Pallette), and neatly bamboozles the concierge (Franklin Pangborne), in Gregory La Cava's The Half Naked Truth, 1931.
What Every Woman Knows (1934) - I'm An Individual Collectivist! First scene for Helen Hayes, as chronically un-married Maggie, returning to her Scottish home town with brother David (Donald Crisp), met by other brother James (Dudley Digges) with news of another failed romance, all meeting young porter Shand (Brian Aherne), in What Every Woman Knows, 1934, from a J.M. Barrie play.
Stage Door (1937) - Miss Randall's Baggage Part of the arrival of Terry (Katharine Hepburn) at the theatrical boarding house, meeting Miss Luther (Constance Collier) and her brassy roommate Jean (Ginger Rogers) in Gregory La Cava's Stage Door, 1937.
Stage Door (1937) - Getting Over The DT's Jean (Ginger Rogers) and Annie (Ann Miller) at dance class, meet the producer Tony Powell (Adolphe Menjou), who has a reputation, early in Gregory LaCava's Stage Door, 1937.
Stage Door (1937) - Nice Big Whale Caviar Eve (Arden) and Judy (Lucille Ball) waiting to see producer Powell (Adolphe Menjou), Kay (Andrea Leeds) getting stood-up, Terry (Katharine Hepburn) arriving to settle the score, in Stage Door, 1937, from the play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman.
What Every Woman Knows (1934) - I Never Laughed In Me Life! The Scottish Wylies (Helen Hayes as notably un-married Maggie, Donald Crisp and Dudley Digges her brothers, David Torrence her father) discover that the person sneaking into their library has been local train porter Shand (Brian Aherne), who acquits himself ably, early in MGM’s What Every Woman Knows, 1934.
Half Naked Truth, The (1933) - As We Say In Trigonometry The disgruntled press agent (James Donlan) lights up exotic dancer Teresita (Lupe Velez), who goes gunning for carnival barker Jimmy (Lee Tracy), interrupting his spiel to the boss (Robert McKenzie), but sparking inspiration, early in Gregory La Cava's The Half Naked Truth, 1932.
Stage Door (1937) - The Well-Dressed Roommate Jean (Ginger Rogers) with Terry (Katharine Hepburn), boarding-house rival Linda (Gail Patrick) and pals (Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, Ann Miller), then dumping Bill (William Corson), en route to a date with a producer in Stage Door, 1937.
Gabriel Over The White House (1933) - I Fired Him! Secretary of State Brooks (Arthur Byron) and the cabinet are startled as President Hammond (Walter Huston) seems changed upon his recovery from a coma, in Gregory LaCava's Gabriel over the White House, 1933.
Gabriel Over The White House (1933) - Dictatorship! Pretty sure Senator Langham (Henry Kolker) is still in office, interrupted here by President Hammond (Walter Huston) seeking dramatic action before a joint session of Congress in Gabriel over the White House 1933.

Trailer

Family

Pascal La Cava
Father
Musician.

Companions

Beryle Morse
Wife
Divorced.
Grace Garland
Wife
Married in 1940; divorced.

Bibliography