William Wyler


Director
William Wyler

About

Also Known As
Lt. Col. William Wyler
Birth Place
Germany
Born
July 01, 1902
Died
July 27, 1981
Cause of Death
Heart Attack

Biography

Few film directors demonstrated the depth, range, longevity, and sensitivity that William Wyler served up on the American silver screen over his decades-long career. Having made a number of silent pictures in the 1920s, Wyler emerged in the talkie era as a director of respectable adaptations of plays and literary works like "These Three" (1936) and "Come and Get It" (1936). But it was hi...

Photos & Videos

Friendly Persuasion - Behind-the-Scenes Photo
The Letter - Movie Posters
Roman Holiday - Movie Posters

Family & Companions

Margaret Sullavan
Wife
Actor. Married in 1934; divorced in 1936.
Bette Davis
Companion
Actor. Began on-again, off-again relationship in the late 1930s; collaborated on three films together: "Jezebel" (1938), "The Lettter" (1940) and "The Little Foxes" (1941).
Margaret Tallichet
Wife
Married from 1938 until his death; died on May 3, 1991.

Bibliography

"A Talent for Trouble: The Life of Hollywood's Most Acclaimed Director, William Wyler"
Jan Herman, G.P. Putnam's Sons (1996)

Notes

While serving with the US Air Force in England during WWII, Wyler made two documentaries about bombing assignments over Germany; "Memphis Belle" (1944) and "Thunderbolt" (1945; co-directed with John Sturges). In 1990 Wyler's daughter Catherine made her feature film producing debut (with David Puttnam)--"Memphis Belle."

He received the Air Medal after serving with US bomber troops in England.

Biography

Few film directors demonstrated the depth, range, longevity, and sensitivity that William Wyler served up on the American silver screen over his decades-long career. Having made a number of silent pictures in the 1920s, Wyler emerged in the talkie era as a director of respectable adaptations of plays and literary works like "These Three" (1936) and "Come and Get It" (1936). But it was his collaboration with actress Bette Davis - which was punctuated by an on-again, off-again romance - that elevated his career to the next level, starting with "Jezebel" (1938). He went on to earn Academy Award nominations for "Wuthering Heights" (1939), "The Letter" (1941) and "The Little Foxes" (1941), before winning his first Oscar for "Mrs. Miniver" (1942). Following a brief sojourn to Europe to film "The Memphis Belle" (1944) for the war effort, Wyler earned greater acclaim for with "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946) and "The Heiress" (1949) before embarking on a string of well-received genre films, covering film noir, Westerns and romantic comedy. He had his grandest achievement with "Ben-Hur" (1959), an epic in every sense of the word that earned 11 Academy Awards. Wyler wound down his career in the next decade, helming hits like "How to Steal a Million" (1966) and "Funny Girl" (1968) before calling it a career in 1970. When he did, Wyler had cemented his place as a legendary director whose greatness spanned decades.

Born on July 1, 1902 in Mulhausen, Germany, Wyler was raised by his father, Leopold, a dry goods merchant, and his mother, who was a cousin of Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle. A wayward child who was expelled from a number of schools for bad behavior, Wyler was exposed to opera and the theater through his mother, and studied music for several months at the Paris Conservatoire. He prepared himself to follow in his father's footsteps and enter the haberdashery business, but a meeting with Laemmle changed his course. In 1920, Wyler moved to the United States and began working as a shipping clerk at Universal Studios in New York. After deciding to become a director, he moved to Los Angeles and worked various odd jobs on set before being hired on by an assistant director. He was soon offered the chance to cut his directorial teeth on low-budget Westerns and made his debut with "The Crook Buster" (1925). He went on to direct dozens of two-reel Westerns, as well as several that were feature-length, with titles that included "Ridin' for Love" (1926), "The Two Fister" (1927), "Tenderfoot Courage" (1927), "Galloping Justice" (1927) and "Desert Dust" (1927). Wyler directed his first comedy, "Anybody Here Seen Kelly?" (1928), while receiving his United States citizenship that same year.

Over the next decade Wyler built a reputation as a director of popular and respectable film adaptations of classic literary works and contemporary theater. In 1936, he signed with Samuel Goldwyn Productions and established a working relationship with playwright Lillian Hellman. They reworked her controversial Broadway drama, "The Children's Hour," into a sensitive, albeit sanitized film, "These Three" (1936), starring Joel McCrea. At the time, Wyler also started working with cameraman Gregg Toland, who would develop the deep-focus technique that would greatly enhance his films. Their collaboration began with the Frances Farmer drama "Come and Get It" (1936), and continued with the gangster drama "Dead End" (1937), which featured a young Humphrey Bogart as New York mobster, Baby Face Martin. Wyler next directed Bette Davis in her Oscar-winning performance as a fiery Southern belle in "Jezebel" (1938). Off the screen, Wyler - who by this time was divorced from his first wife, actress Margaret Sullivan - embarked on an on-again, off-again romance with the tempestuous Davis, with the actress once declaring him the love of his life.

Wyler embarked on an amazing string of acclaimed hits that continued with "Wuthering Heights" (1939), a stunning adaptation of Emile Brontë's romantic novel starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon that earned him nominations for Best Director and Best Picture. He was Oscar-nominated again with "The Letter" (1940), a brooding melodrama about a coldly calculating woman (Bette Davis) whose story about why she shot and killed a man (David Newell) is increasingly questioned. Wyler next directed "The Little Foxes" (1941), which focused on a conniving, turn-of-the-century aristocrat (Davis), who stops at nothing to take control of a profitable cotton mill. Once again, the film earned nominations for Best Picture and Best Director, but Wyler went home empty handed. The opposite was true with "Mrs. Miniver" (1942), an uplifting tale of a British family's fortitude in the face of the hardships of WWII that earned six Academy Awards, including for Best Picture and Best Director. Meanwhile, like most of Hollywood, Wyler contributed to the war effort, directing the documentary "The Memphis Belle" (1944), which chronicled the final mission of the famed B-17 Flying Fortress - the first-ever heavy bomber to complete over 25 missions in the European theater.

Wyler's time with the U.S. Army Air Force was fraught with danger, since he flew actual combat missions in order to gather footage. Over time, he lost his hearing due to the incessant rumble of the aircraft's engines. Following the war he ended his long association with Goldwyn on an exceptionally high note with "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946), which starred Fredric March, Myrna Loy and Dana Andrews. A story of three returning American war veterans, the drama won Wyler his second Oscar for Best Director and proved to be one of the top box office earners of the decade. In 1947, he rallied to counteract the stinging accusations of the Congressional House Un-American Activities Committee investigations of Hollywood by helping to form - along with John Huston and Phillip Dunne - the Committee for the First Amendment. The next year, he and fellow directors Frank Capra, George Stevens and Samuel Briskin formed their own production company, Liberty Films, which was later taken over by Paramount Pictures.

Because their production company was taken into the Paramount fold, Wyler began another exclusive association with a major studio that lasted for the first half of the 1950s. He directed Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift in the widely hailed drama, "The Heiress" (1949), which once again put Wyler in Oscar contention again, marking an end to arguably one of the most acclaimed decades of any director's career. In the 1950s, Wyler's work embraced several genres while giving him opportunity to work with the day's top actors. He helmed a film noir with "Detective Story" (1951), starring Kirk Douglas and Eleanor Park; the melodrama "Carrie" (1952), reuniting him with Laurence Olivier; a romantic comedy with "Roman Holiday" (1953), which paired Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck; and another film noir, "The Desperate Hours" (1955), with an ailing Humphrey Bogart and Frederic March. After directing Gary Cooper as a Quaker who must reconcile his opposition to violence when the Civil War breaks out in "Friendly Persuasion" (1956), Wyler helmed "The Big Country" (1958), an often underappreciated entry into the Western canon that starred Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons and Charlton Heston.

It was with Heston that Wyler directed his grandest picture, "Ben-Hur" (1959), a spectacular Biblical epic that followed the tale of a Jewish prince (Heston) in the time of Christ, who refuses to help a childhood friend round up dissidents for the Romans, leading to enslavement on a galley ship. But when the ship sinks and he saves the life of the captain, the prince regains prominence while never letting go of wanting to exact revenge against his former friend. An epic of grand scale and stature, "Ben-Hur" featured a stunning chariot race that became a legendary cinematic moment in the annals of Hollywood history. "Ben-Hur" made further history by becoming the first movie to win 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Wyler's third statue for Best Director. Having achieved his greatest accomplishment, it was no surprise that Wyler had a hard time climbing such summits again, though he did receive warm reviews for the drama "The Children's Hour" (1961), with Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine and James Garner, and "The Collector" (1965), a thriller starring Terrence Stamp as a recluse who kidnaps the girl of his dream (Samantha Eggar) after she rebuffs his romantic advances.

By this time, Wyler had long cemented his status as a legendary director, though his output in the 1960s slowed considerably. He teamed with Audrey Hepburn for what turned out to be the final time with the heist comedy, "How to Steal a Million" (1966), which starred the popular actress as a young woman who enlists the help of a private detective (Peter O'Toole) to recover a phony painting sold by her father (Hugh Griffith) to a Paris museum. An aging Wyler next directed Barbra Streisand in her famed Oscar-winning role as Broadway star Fanny Brice in "Funny Girl" (1968). Her electric performance - which was widely hailed from all corners - overshadowed Wyler's direction, though it no doubt owed something to the director's calls. His last film, "The Liberation of L.B. Jones" (1970), proved to be a critical and box-office disappointment and Wyler retired shortly thereafter. In 1976, he became the third recipient of the prestigious Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute, only to slip back into retirement due to poor health. On July 27, 1981, Wyler died from a heart attack just three days after granting daughter, producer Catherine Wyler, an on-camera interview for the PBS documentary, "Directed by William Wyler." He was 79 years old and left a widow of third wife, Margaret Tallichet, whom he had married in 1938.

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

The Liberation of L. B. Jones (1970)
Director
Funny Girl (1968)
Director
How to Steal a Million (1966)
Director
The Collector (1965)
Director
The Children's Hour (1961)
Director
Ben-Hur (1959)
Director
The Big Country (1958)
Director
Friendly Persuasion (1956)
Director
The Desperate Hours (1955)
Director
Roman Holiday (1953)
Director
Carrie (1952)
Director
Detective Story (1951)
Director
The Heiress (1949)
Director
Thunderbolt (1947)
Director
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Director
Memphis Belle (1944)
Director
Mrs. Miniver (1942)
Director
The Little Foxes (1941)
Director
The Letter (1940)
Director
The Westerner (1940)
Director
Wuthering Heights (1939)
Director
Jezebel (1938)
Director
Dead End (1937)
Director
Dodsworth (1936)
Director
These Three (1936)
Director
Come and Get It (1936)
Director
The Gay Deception (1935)
Director
The Good Fairy (1935)
Director
Glamour (1934)
Director
Her First Mate (1933)
Director
Counsellor at Law (1933)
Director
Tom Brown of Culver (1932)
Director
A House Divided (1931)
Director
Hell's Heroes (1930)
Director
The Storm (1930)
Director
The Shakedown (1929)
Director
The Love Trap (1929)
Director
Thunder Riders (1928)
Director
Anybody Here Seen Kelly? (1928)
Director
The Border Cavalier (1927)
Director
Straight Shootin' (1927)
Director
Hard Fists (1927)
Director
Shooting Straight (1927)
Director
Desert Dust (1927)
Director
Blazing Days (1927)
Director
Kelcy Gets His Man (1927)
Director
The Square Shooter (1927)
Director
The Ore Raiders (1927)
Director
The Silent Partner (1927)
Director
The Haunted Homestead (1927)
Director
The Phantom Outlaw (1927)
Director
Daze of the West (1927)
Director
Galloping Justice (1927)
Director
The Two Fister (1927)
Director
Gun Justice (1927)
Director
The Home Trail (1927)
Director
Tenderfoot Courage (1927)
Director
The Lone Star (1927)
Director
The Stolen Ranch (1926)
Director
Lazy Lightning (1926)
Director
The Gunless Bad Man (1926)
Director
The Pinnacle Rider (1926)
Director
Don't Shoot (1926)
Director
Martin of the Mounted (1926)
Director
The Fire Barrier (1926)
Director
Ridin' for Love (1926)
Director
Ben-Hur (1925)
Assistant Director
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
Assistant Director

Cinematography (Feature Film)

Memphis Belle (1944)
Photography

Producer (Feature Film)

The Children's Hour (1961)
Producer
The Big Country (1958)
Producer
Friendly Persuasion (1956)
Producer
The Desperate Hours (1955)
Producer
Roman Holiday (1953)
Producer
Carrie (1952)
Producer
Detective Story (1951)
Producer
The Heiress (1949)
Producer

Film Production - Main (Feature Film)

Ben-Hur (1925)
Production Manager

Production Companies (Feature Film)

The Liberation of L. B. Jones (1970)
Company
Funny Girl (1968)
Company
How to Steal a Million (1966)
Company
The Collector (1965)
Company
The Children's Hour (1961)
Company
Mrs. Miniver (1942)
Company
The Letter (1940)
Company
Jezebel (1938)
Company
The Good Fairy (1935)
Company

Cast (Special)

Directed By William Wyler (1986)
Himself

Misc. Crew (Special)

Directed By William Wyler (1986)
Other

Life Events

1920

Invited to US by cousing Carl Laemmle, head of Universal Studios

1921

Transferred to Universal City, Hollywood

1922

Immigrated to USA

1923

First film as assistant director, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"

1925

Film directing debut at age 23, "Crook Busters"

1936

Left Universal; began working for independent producer Samuel Goldwyn; first collaboration with cinematographer Gregg Toland

1942

Served in England with US Air Force during WWII; produced, wrote and co-photographed documentary, "Memphis Belle" (1944) and co-directed (with John Sturges) documentary "Thunderbolt" (1945), discharged as lieutenant colonel

Photo Collections

Friendly Persuasion - Behind-the-Scenes Photo
Here is a photo taken behind-the-scenes during production of Friendly Persuasion (1956), produced and directed by William Wyler and starring Gary Cooper.
The Letter - Movie Posters
Here are a few original-release American movie posters for The Letter(1940), starring Bette Davis.
Roman Holiday - Movie Posters
Here are a few original release American movie posters for William Wyler's Roman Holiday (1953), starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.
The Best Years of Our Lives - Movie Posters
Here are a few original release American movie posters for The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), produced by Samuel Goldwyn.
Ben-Hur (1959) - Behind-the-Scenes Photos - William Wyler
Here are a number of photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Ben-Hur (1959), directed by William Wyler.
Wuthering Heights - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Samuel Goldwyn's production of Wuthering Heights (1939), starring Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
The Children's Hour - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for The Children's Hour (1962), directed by William Wyler. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.

Videos

Movie Clip

Wuthering Heights (1939) - I'm Neither Thief Nor Stranger Returned from America, making an obscured reference to their childhood romance, Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) tells Cathy (Merle Oberon), her husband Edgar (David Niven) and his sister Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald) he's home to stay, in Wuthering Heights, 1939, the Samuel Goldwyn production directed by William Wyler, from the Emily Bronte novel.
Roman Holiday (1953) - Open, No Sign Of The Strain Following credits confirming the all-location shooting in Rome, Audrey Hepburn in her de-facto debut, the princess of a pointedly not-named country, beginning her Academy Award-winning performance, opening William Wyler's Roman Holiday, 1953, co-starring Gregory Peck.
Roman Holiday (1953) - Care To Make A Statement? The ending of the escape from official guest quarters by visiting Princess Anne (Audrey Hepburn), only beginning to feel the effect of a sleep medication, and the introduction of reporter Joe (Gregory Peck) and buds, especially cameraman Irving (Eddie Albert), in William Wyler's Roman Holiday. 1953.
Roman Holiday (1953) - Did You Bring Me Here By Force? American reporter Joe (Gregory Peck) awakens Princess Anne (Audrey Hepburn), whose minders consider missing, but whom he in fact rescued, roaming the city while on sleep medication, not revealing that he knows who she is, in Roman Holiday, 1953.
Letter, The (1940) - Just Out Of Prison On the evening of her acquittal, Leslie (Bette Davis) finds a dagger outside her bedroom, then is dragged into the party by Frieda (Dorothy Joyce), in William Wyler's The Letter, 1940, from W. Somerset Maugham's play.
Dodsworth (1936) - The Smartest Crowd In Paris Sam (Walter Huston) and Fran (Ruth Chatterton) disagree about the social crowd Fran has adopted in their travels around Europe in William Wyler's Dodsworth, 1936, from the Sinclair Lewis novel.
Dodsworth (1936) - About Your Wife Pal Cubby (Harlan Briggs), friend of Sam, the title character (Walter Huston as the retiring auto executive), expresses himself immoderately about business and about his wife (Ruth Chatterton), who before long is within earshot, in William Wyler's film from the Sinclair Lewis novel, Dodsworth, 1936.
Dodsworth (1936) - Americans Are Always Such Snobs Newly retired American auto magnate Samuel Dodsworth (Walter Huston, title character) and wife (Ruth Chatterton) have just set sail for Europe, their attitudes not in synch, meeting English Locket (David Niven), in William Wyler's film from the Sinclar Lewis novel, Dodsworth, 1936.
Dodsworth (1936) - You Do Need Soothing Abandoned on the deck by his wife and her handsome new friend, retiring American auto manufacturer Sam (Walter Huston, title character) is giddy about seeing land on his first trip to England, supported by a steward (Wilson Benge) then worldly Edith (Mary Astor), in William Wyler’s Dodsworth, 1936.
Dodsworth (1936) - The Most Amusing Friends Early in her Paris stay, eager American Fran (Ruth Chatterton), wife of the retiring auto executive title character, Walter Huston, whom she forgets to meet, aims to impress French pal Renee (Odette Myrtle) and her cultured associate Iselin (Paul Lukas, his first appearance), in William Wyler’s Dodsworth, 1936.
Jezebel (1938) - I'm Scandalized Banker Preston (Henry Fonda) meets Aunt Belle (Fay Bainter) guardian General Bogardus (Henry O'Neill), en route to confront his rebellious fianceè Julie (Bette Davis), the Olympus ball that evening, in William Wyler's Jezebel, 1938.
Jezebel (1938) - Pleasant Evening Noteworthy work by director William Wyler and cinematographer Ernest Haller, reluctant but resolute Pres (Henry Fonda) arrives at the ball with rebel fianceè Julie (Bette Davis) in her outrageous red dress, former boyfriend Buck (George Brent) taking some heat, in Jezebel, 1938.

Trailer

Jezebel - (Re-issue Trailer) Bette Davis received her second Academy Award portraying a fiery Southern belle in Jezebel (1938).
Westerner, The (1940) -- (Original Trailer) A drifter (Gary Cooper) accused of horse stealing faces off against the notorious Judge Roy Bean (Walter Brennan).
Friendly Persuasion - (British Trailer) Gary Cooper plays a Quaker whose pacifism is tested during the Civil War in Friendly Persuasion, 1956, directed by William Wyler.
Dead End - (Original Trailer) A killer (Humphrey Bogart) returns to the mean streets that made him in William Wyler's Dead End (1937) co-starring Sylvia Sidney and Joel McCrea.
Best Years Of Our Lives, The - (Re-issueTrailer) Seven Oscars including Best Picture went to this story of America immediately after World War II, The Best Years Of Our Lives (1946).
Big Country, The - (Original Trailer) Feuding families vie for water rights in the old West in William Wyler's epic drama, The Big Country, starring Gregory Peck. Charlton Heston, Burl Ives and Jean Simmons (Telluride Film Festival honoree 2008).
Roman Holiday - (Original Trailer) A runaway princess (Audrey Hepburn) in Rome finds love with a reporter (Gregory Peck) who knows her true identity in Roman Holiday (1953).
Detective Story -- (Original Trailer) A rigid police detective (Kirk Douglas) accidentally uncovers his wife's shady past life in William Wyler's Detective Story (1951).
How To Steal a Million - (Original Trailer) Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole learn How to Steal a Million (1966) in William Wyler's heist comedy.
Letter, The - (Original Trailer) Bette Davis pumps bullets into a man's body. Was it self-defense? Only The Letter (1940) can answer.
These Three - (Re-issue trailer) Scandal destroys the lives of two small-town schoolteachers in William Wyler's adaptation of Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour, These Three (1936).
Mrs. Miniver - (Original Trailer) A British family struggles to survive the first days of World War II in Mrs. Miniver (1942), directed by William Wyler and starring Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon and Teresa Wright.

Promo

Family

Robert Wyler
Brother
Catherine Wyler
Daughter
Producer. Born on July 25, 1939; was executive producer of documentary "William Wyler Directs" (1986) and producer of "Memphis Belle" (1990); mother Margaret Tallichet.
Judith Wyler
Daughter
Born on May 21, 1942; mother, Margaret Tallichet.
David Wyler
Son
Mother, Margaret Tallichet; in late 1970s worked as assistant director and production assistant on some films.
Melanie Ann Wyler
Daughter
Born on November 25, 1950; mother Margaret Tallichet.

Companions

Margaret Sullavan
Wife
Actor. Married in 1934; divorced in 1936.
Bette Davis
Companion
Actor. Began on-again, off-again relationship in the late 1930s; collaborated on three films together: "Jezebel" (1938), "The Lettter" (1940) and "The Little Foxes" (1941).
Margaret Tallichet
Wife
Married from 1938 until his death; died on May 3, 1991.

Bibliography

"A Talent for Trouble: The Life of Hollywood's Most Acclaimed Director, William Wyler"
Jan Herman, G.P. Putnam's Sons (1996)

Notes

While serving with the US Air Force in England during WWII, Wyler made two documentaries about bombing assignments over Germany; "Memphis Belle" (1944) and "Thunderbolt" (1945; co-directed with John Sturges). In 1990 Wyler's daughter Catherine made her feature film producing debut (with David Puttnam)--"Memphis Belle."

He received the Air Medal after serving with US bomber troops in England.

Under his direction, a record 35 actors received Oscar nominations and 13 won the award (14, if you count supporting actor Oscar winner Walter Brennan in "Come and Get It", co-directed by Wyler and Howard Hawks).