Cecil B. Demille


Director
Cecil B. Demille

About

Also Known As
Cecil Blount De Mille, Cecil B. De Mille
Birth Place
Ashfield, Massachusetts, USA
Born
August 12, 1881
Died
January 21, 1959
Cause of Death
Heart Ailment

Biography

Having emerged as a potent force during the birth of Hollywood, director Cecil B. DeMille was a crucial figure in the early development of the classic Hollywood narrative filmmaking style. Although less critically revered than D.W. Griffith, DeMille actually played a more important role in shaping the structure of the Hollywood system with films like "The Squaw Man" (1914), "Brewster's M...

Family & Companions

Constance Adams
Wife
Actor. Married in 1902; father was judge; died on July 17, 1960 at age 87.
Jeanie Macpherson
Companion
Screenwriter, author.

Bibliography

"Autobiography"
Cecil B DeMille, Prentice-Hall (1959)

Biography

Having emerged as a potent force during the birth of Hollywood, director Cecil B. DeMille was a crucial figure in the early development of the classic Hollywood narrative filmmaking style. Although less critically revered than D.W. Griffith, DeMille actually played a more important role in shaping the structure of the Hollywood system with films like "The Squaw Man" (1914), "Brewster's Millions" (1914) and "The Cheat" (1915). The commercial success of "The Cheat" allowed DeMille to expand his creative scope to include the popular comedy "Don't Change Your Husband" (1919) and his first attempt at "The Ten Commandments" (1923). After leaving the silent era behind for the brave new world of talkies, DeMille embarked on a highly-profitable partnership with Paramount Pictures that enabled him to make his most memorable films. Among the best was "Cleopatra" (1934), which harkened the penchant for grandeur and large-scale epics that became synonymous with his name. Following a string of lesser works like his first Technicolor venture, "Northwest Mounted Police" (1940), "Reap the Wild Wind" (1942), starring John Wayne, and the flag-waving drama "The Story of Dr. Wassell" (1944), DeMille made three of what many considered to be his finest films: "Samson and Delilah" (1949), "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1952) and his remake of "The Ten Commandments" (1956). It was the latter film, with its cast of thousands and groundbreaking visual effects, that cemented DeMille's legacy as a true innovator who helped pioneer modern day epic filmmaking.

Born on Aug. 12, 1881 in Ashfield, MA, DeMille was raised in Washington, NC by his father, Henry, a former playwright-turned-dramatist, and his mother, Beatrice, who also shared a love of the theater. When DeMille was 11, his father died suddenly after developing typhoid fever, leaving his mother to raise three children on her own. Ever resourceful, Beatrice used her home to open an acting workshop, the Henry C. DeMille School for Girls, and later became a successful Broadway promoter. Surrounded by the theater and the arts from birth, it was only natural for DeMille to follow in his parents footsteps. After graduating from Pennsylvania Military College at 15 years old, he studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and soon made his professional debut in a production of "Hearts Are Trumps" (1900). DeMille moved on to become a member of the Standard Opera Company, with which he both directed and performed, while also acting for legendary theater producer David Belasco. It was during this time that DeMille worked with several actors he later directed in some of his more famous movies, including Charlotte Walker and Mary Pickford. Meanwhile, he became the general manager of the DeMille Play Company, which was run by his mother, before making the transition to directing films in 1913.

DeMille entered filmmaking at the height of the silent era and made dozens of films during that time, including "The Squaw Man" (1914) - one of the earliest productions made by Paramount Pictures that he co-directed with Oscar Apfel - and the first of numerous film adaptations of the stage play "Brewster's Millions" (1914). Perhaps his most important picture at the time was "The Cheat" (1915), which, like D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" (1915), was instrumental in developing the rules of classic Hollywood filmmaking. The melodrama focused on an irresponsible society woman (Fannie Ward) who loses charity funds in the stock market, forcing her to borrow money from a wealthy Asian man (Sessue Hayakawa) in exchange for sexual favors. But when she finds another source for the money, the woman reneges on the deal, leading to violent retribution. Borrowing Belasco's pioneering stage lighting techniques, DeMille worked wonders with what could have been a hackneyed melodrama by giving it a unique visual style, featuring complex lighting and patterns of shadow suggestive of jail bars. Characters were surrounded by smoke, silhouetted behind screens and appeared from nowhere amidst pitch black - a clear antecedent to later film noir. In DeMille's hands, "The Cheat" became an intricate study of individual responsibility, handled with subtlety and sophistication, which helped propel his career as one of early Hollywood's foremost directors.

With the commercial success of "The Cheat," DeMille was able to expand his output over the next eight or so years to make both comedies and dramas that managed to capture an American society in transition. DeMille's initial works brought famous plays and novels to the screen for Famous Players-Lasky (later, Paramount Pictures) - "Joan the Woman" (1917), an acclaimed retelling of Joan of Arc (Geraldine Farrar), the sophisticated romantic drama "Old Wives for New" (1918), and the satirical comedy of manners "Male and Female" (1919), starring Gloria Swanson. He entered into the height of his silent career with the popular comedy "Don't Change Your Husband" (1919), starring Swanson and Elliott Dexter, before directing his first take on "The Ten Commandments" (1923). In this silent version, however, DeMille spent just the first half of his picture depicting the life of Moses (Theodore Roberts) , while the second portion was set in the modern day and focused on two brothers (Richard Dix and Rod La Rocque) who make morally opposed decisions that lead to one's downfall and the other's salvation. Budgeted at more than a million dollars, the film proved immensely profitable for Paramount. The film also marked one of the first times that DeMille used two-strip Technicolor for the Exodus part of the film, though over the years the color became badly faded and beyond restoration.

By the middle of the 1920s, a swaggering DeMille - who was already earning his reputation as a tyrannical director - rose up like the children of Abraham and forged his own exodus from the strict studio system, quitting Paramount in 1925 to set up his own studio. DeMille bought the old Thomas Ince Studios to form Cinema Corporation of America, which soon merged with Pathé-Cinéma. Now on his own, DeMille directed what many considered to be his best film, "King of Kings" (1927), a $2 million rendering of the life of Christ (H.B. Warner), which again used the Technicolor process for the ending Resurrection sequence. But due to the company's lack of success with other films, DeMille was forced to return to the studio system and sign a contract with MGM in 1928. Having tasted independence, the director clashed with the strictly controlling studio heads Louis B. Mayer and Nicholas M. Schenck. DeMille entered the Talkie era with the convoluted melodrama "Dynamite" (1929) before moving on to the truly bizarre and almost incomprehensible "Madam Satan" (1930). The director remade "The Squaw Man" (1931), which starred Warner Baxter and lost money upon its initial release. Fed up with MGM, DeMille left in 1932 and returned to Paramount, where he stayed for the remainder of his career.

During the 1930s and 1940s, DeMille became Paramount Picture's most bankable director, turning out hits like "The Sign of the Cross" (1932), a religious epic about early Christianity during Roman times that starred Fredric March and Claudette Colbert. DeMille was at his best with historical costume epics like "Cleopatra" (1934), which was nominated for five Academy Awards and starred Colbert as the seductive queen of Egypt. Meanwhile, DeMille directed and hosted a successful CBS radio show, "Lux Radio Theatre," from 1936 until 1945, when he refused to join the radio union and quit the program instead. He moved on to helm a number of successful films for Paramount, including the Gary Cooper Western "The Plainsman" (1937), the swashbuckling adventure "The Buccaneer" (1938), and another Western, "Union Pacific" (1939), starring Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea. With "Northwest Mounted Police" (1940), DeMille shot his first film in Technicolor, a Western that starred Gary Cooper as a Texas Ranger who joins the Canadian Mounted Police in an effort to quell a rebellion. He next directed "Reap the Wild Wind" (1942), which starred John Wayne as a 19th century salvage ship captain contending with piracy off the Florida Keys and a romantic entanglement with the rescued employee (Paulette Goddard) of a rival company.

Under president Barney Balaban and studio boss Y. Frank Freeman, DeMille helped make Paramount Pictures the most profitable of the studios during Hollywood's Golden Age. DeMille focused on the recent past with "The Story of Dr. Wassell" (1944), which told the tale of Dr. Corydon M. Wassell (Gary Cooper), a medical missionary working in pre-World War II China, who disobeys orders to leave the island of Java during a Japanese bombing in order to tend to wounded soldiers. Despite the built-in heroics of the main character, DeMille's take on the story lacked nuance in its straight-up Hollywood telling. He again reunited with Cooper for "Unconquered" (1947), an 18th century-set adventure that depicted the violent struggles between American colonists and the Native Americans. DeMille's dictatorial nature flared during production after co-star Paulette Goddard refused to participate in a scene that involved real flaming arrows, leading to the director refusing to ever work with the actress again. DeMille's career reached its apex for his next three films, starting with the biblical epic "Samson and Delilah" (1949), starring Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr as the titular characters. After becoming one of the biggest hits of the year, the film went on to earn five Academy Award nominations. Also that year, DeMille earned a Special Award from the Academy for 37 years of brilliant showmanship.

It was during the filming of "Samson and Delilah" that DeMille made his iconic cameo in "Sunset Boulevard" (1950), which starred Gloria Swanson as a delusional former silent film star who utters the iconic line, "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close up." In the late '40s and early '50s, he became a leader of the Hollywood right wing in the anti-Communist witch hunt while directing two of his best - and last - films. First was "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1952), a lavish showbiz drama set in the world of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus that centered on two rival trapeze artists (Betty Hutton and Cornel Wilde) vying for center ring. A large scale film with dramatic action sequences - including a massive circus train wreck - "Greatest Show" was a critical and financial hit that took home two Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture. DeMille saved his best for last with his spectacular remake of "The Ten Commandments" (1956), starring Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as Pharaoh Rameses II. An epic four-hour dramatization of the Israelites' flight from Egypt that featured a cast of thousands, "The Ten Commandments" was a visual effects tour-de-force punctuated by the iconic parting of the Red Sea. Despite numerous changes to the biblical account, the film nonetheless was a huge popular success for the director, earning seven Academy Award nominations and winning for Best Visual Effects.

Meanwhile, DeMille took a step back from filmmaking due to ill health, allowing son-in-law Anthony Quinn to direct the remake of his 1938 swashbuckler, "The Buccaneer" (1958), while serving as executive producer. DeMille was unhappy with the results and tried to salvage the film, but it was released to generally disappointing results. Having already suffered a heart attack while directing the Exodus sequence for "The Ten Commandments," DeMille succumbed to heart failure on Jan. 21, 1959. He was 77 years old and had been planning on doing a science fiction movie set in space. In the final analysis, DeMille was remembered as a titan of Hollywood's Golden Age, though he was perhaps his most instrumental during the silent era, when he was a key innovator of the classic narrative film - a form that would remain permanently dominant. His legacy was cemented in the latter half of the 20th century by newer generations of filmmakers who capitalized on his influence - particularly those who of Hollywood's second Golden Age in the 1970s - while his name was co-opted for the annual Cecil B. DeMille Award from the Hollywood Foreign Press/Golden Globes, which honored recipients for a lifetime of achievement in the film industry.

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

The Ten Commandments (1956)
Director
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
Director
Samson and Delilah (1950)
Director
California's Golden Beginning (1948)
Director
Unconquered (1947)
Director
The Story of Dr. Wassell (1944)
Director
Reap the Wild Wind (1942)
Director
Land of Liberty (1941)
Ed
Union Pacific (1939)
Director
The Buccaneer (1938)
Director
The Plainsman (1937)
Director
The Crusades (1935)
Director
Four Frightened People (1934)
Director
Cleopatra (1934)
Director
This Day and Age (1933)
Director
The Sign of the Cross (1932)
Director
The Squaw Man (1931)
Director
Madame Satan (1930)
Director
The Godless Girl (1929)
Director
Dynamite (1929)
Director
The King of Kings (1927)
Director
The Volga Boatman (1926)
Director
The Golden Bed (1925)
Director
The Road to Yesterday (1925)
Pers Director
Feet of Clay (1924)
Director
Triumph (1924)
Director
The Ten Commandments (1923)
Director
Adam's Rib (1923)
Director
Saturday Night (1922)
Director
Manslaughter (1922)
Director
Fool's Paradise (1922)
Director
The Affairs of Anatol (1921)
Director
Forbidden Fruit (1921)
Director
Why Change Your Wife? (1920)
Director
Something to Think About (1920)
Director
Don't Change Your Husband (1919)
Director
For Better, for Worse (1919)
Director
Male and Female (1919)
Director
We Can't Have Everything (1918)
Director
The Squaw Man (1918)
Director
Old Wives for New (1918)
Director
Till I Come Back to You (1918)
Director
The Whispering Chorus (1918)
Director
The Little American (1917)
Director
A Romance of the Redwoods (1917)
Director
The Devil Stone (1917)
Director
The Woman God Forgot (1917)
Director
The Dream Girl (1916)
Director
The Golden Chance (1916)
Director
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1916)
Director
Joan the Woman (1916)
Director
The Heart of Nora Flynn (1916)
Director
Maria Rosa (1916)
Director
The Kindling (1915)
Director
The Cheat (1915)
Director
The Captive (1915)
Director
Temptation (1915)
Director
The Arab (1915)
Director
Chimmie Fadden (1915)
Director
Chimmie Fadden Out West (1915)
Director
After Five (1915)
Director
The Warrens of Virginia (1915)
Director
Carmen (1915)
Director
The Girl of the Golden West (1915)
Director
The Wild Goose Chase (1915)
Director
The Unafraid (1915)
Director
The Virginian (1914)
Picturized by
The Master Mind (1914)
Director
Rose of the Rancho (1914)
Director
The Squaw Man (1914)
Director
The Only Son (1914)
Director
What's His Name (1914)
Director
The Ghost Breaker (1914)
Director
Brewster's Millions (1914)
Director
The Man from Home (1914)
Director
The Call of the North (1914)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

The Heart of Show Business (1957)
The Ten Commandments (1956)
Narrator
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
Narrator
Son of Paleface (1952)
Still photographer
Samson and Delilah (1950)
Narrator of foreword
Sunset Blvd. (1950)
Himself
Variety Girl (1947)
Star Spangled Rhythm (1943)
Himself
Estrellados (1930)
Free and Easy (1930)
Hollywood (1923)

Writer (Feature Film)

A Romance of the Redwoods (1917)
Story
The Little American (1917)
Scen
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1916)
Scen
The Love Mask (1916)
Story
The Captive (1915)
Scen
Chimmie Fadden Out West (1915)
Scen
The Girl of the Golden West (1915)
Scen

Producer (Feature Film)

The Buccaneer (1959)
Supervisor
The Ten Commandments (1956)
Producer
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
Producer
Samson and Delilah (1950)
Producer
Unconquered (1947)
Producer
The Story of Dr. Wassell (1944)
Producer
Reap the Wild Wind (1942)
Producer
Union Pacific (1939)
Producer
The Plainsman (1937)
Producer
The Squaw Man (1931)
Producer
Madame Satan (1930)
Producer
Dynamite (1929)
Producer
The King of Kings (1927)
Producer
Eve's Leaves (1926)
Presented By
Three Faces East (1926)
Presented By
Red Dice (1926)
Presented By
Bachelor Brides (1926)
Presented By
Silence (1926)
Presented By
Made for Love (1926)
Presented By
The Wedding Song (1925)
Supervisor
Hell's Highroad (1925)
Presented By
The Coming of Amos (1925)
Presented By
The Wedding Song (1925)
Presented By
Braveheart (1925)
Presented By
Changing Husbands (1924)
Supervisor
Triumph (1924)
Producer
Forbidden Fruit (1921)
Producer
For Better, for Worse (1919)
Producer
We Can't Have Everything (1918)
Producer
Till I Come Back to You (1918)
Producer
Old Wives for New (1918)
Producer
The Squaw Man (1918)
Producer
The Woman God Forgot (1917)
Producer
The Heart of Nora Flynn (1916)
Producer
The Golden Chance (1916)
Producer
Carmen (1915)
Producer

Production Companies (Feature Film)

The Buccaneer (1938)
Company
The Plainsman (1937)
Company
The Crusades (1935)
Company
Four Frightened People (1934)
Company
Cleopatra (1934)
Company
This Day and Age (1933)
Company
The Sign of the Cross (1932)
Company

Cast (Short)

History Brought to Life (1950)
Narrator
The Hollywood You Never See (1934)
Himself

Misc. Crew (Short)

Cecil B. DeMille (1962)
Archival Footage

Life Events

1900

Broadway acting debut in "Hearts Are Trumps"

1907

Acted for David Belasco

1910

Made general manager of mother's DeMille Play Company

1913

Formed motion picture firm Lasky Feature Play Company with Jesse L. Lasky, Samuel Goldfish (later Goldwyn) and Arthur Friend

1914

First film as co-producer and co-director (with Oscar C. Apfel) "The Squaw Man" (first US feature film)

1916

Helped devise a mechanical color tinting process for his "Joan the Woman"

1919

Formed California's first commercial airline, Mercury Aviation Company

1921

Formed Cecil B. DeMille Productions

1925

Left Paramount (previously Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company)

1925

Formed Cinema Corporation of America

1925

First film as independent producer, "The Road to Yesterday"

1928

With MGM

1931

Helped form the Screen Directors Guild

1937

Hired by Lever Brothers as sponsor of "Lux Radio Theater"

1938

Offered Republican senator nomination (California)

1945

Left "Lux Radio Theater"

1953

Helmed the Oscar-winning Best Picture "The Greatest Show on Earth"

Photo Collections

Samson and Delilah - Pressbook
Here is the campaign book (pressbook) for Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah (1949), starring Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr. Pressbooks were sent to exhibitors and theater owners to aid them in publicizing the film's run in their theater.

Videos

Movie Clip

The Story Of Dr. Wassell (1944) — (Movie Clip) We Were Such Fools In China Amid a hefty opening staged by producer-director C.B. DeMille, title character Gary Cooper is sorting wounded Americans from a damaged Navy cruiser in Java, 1942, taking flak from Stanley Ridges when Laraine Day appears as Madeline, their history unknown but intense, Irving Bacon and Ottola Nesmith intrigued, Signe Hasso on the train, in The Story Of Dr. Wassell, 1944.
The Story Of Dr. Wassell (1944) — (Movie Clip) Are You Interested In Snails? At a Dutch WWII jungle hospital in Java under Japanese attack, Philip Ahn tells fellow patients under the care of the title character (Gary Cooper) about his adventures as a medical researcher and missionary, lured into service by a photo of a volunteer nurse (Laraine Day) he meets at the dock, in C.B. DeMille’s The Story Of Dr. Wassell, 1944.
War Of The Worlds, The (1953) - Halfway To Pomona! Narration by Cedric Hardwicke surveys the solar system, and a fireball lands in California where Sylvia (Ann Robinson) and Pastor Collins (Lewis Martin) are attending a picture by C.B. DeMille, who owned and licensed the film rights to the original H.G. Wells story, in producer George Pal's The War Of The Worlds, 1953.
Madam Satan (1930) - Heaven Forgive Thee Kindly We’ve just met Kay Johnson as super-rich Angela, whose staff has been helping her ignore her husband having failed to come home, when he (Reginald Denny) and buddy Roland Young appear, and she provides them a graceful entrance, in the second feature in C.B. DeMille’s three-picture MGM deal, Madam Satan, 1930.
Madam Satan (1930) - Low Down Much talked about, the “other woman” to the husband of the wealthy couple Bob and Angela, Lillian Roth as performer and party-girl Trixie, Jack King, with Eddie Prinz on banjo and dancing, her accompanists, in a song by King and Elsie Janis, in Cecil B. DeMille’s unusual MGM musical-spectacle Madam Satan, 1930.
Madam Satan (1930) - The Cat Walk This is where the C.B. DeMille grandeur and MGM budget come forth, at the society ball on board a blimp where the neglected heroine is about to appear in exotic costume, with few identifiable actors, though the director’s daughter Katherine is one of the dancing cats, song by Herbert Stothart and Clifford Grey, in Madam Satan, 1930
Plainsman, The (1936) - Ain't Another Corpse Maker Like Him! Famous and relatively gritty scene from producer-director C.B. DeMille, Wild Bill Hickock (Gary Cooper) intervenes in a riverboat poker game in which his newly married and ingenuous friend Buffalo Bill Cody (James Ellison) is being had by a fancy gambler (Francis McDonald), in The Plainsman, 1936.
Plainsman, The (1936) - Has She Tamed You Yet? We haven’t learned the name yet of Gary Cooper, in St. Louis with a kid (George Ernest), whom he’s shown his watch-case photo of Jean Arthur, and told tales about Buffalo Bill (James Ellison), whom we soon learn is his pal, with his new wife (Helen Burgess), and we meet McCall (Porter Hall), C.B. DeMille at the helm, early in The Plainsman, 1936.
Plainsman, The (1936) - That's Just What I Told Custer Buffalo Bill Cody (James Ellison) and wife (Helen Burgess), who plan to open a hotel, in Kansas with new friend Calamity Jane (Jean Arthur) when her erstwhile boyfriend Wild Bill Hickock (Gary Cooper) appears, making a case on behalf of General Custer, and planning his own risky mission, in C.B. DeMille’s The Plainsman, 1936.
Plainsman, The (1936) - I Didn't Know You Could Read Director C.B. DeMille reveals that Calamity Jane (Jean Arthur) has a pretty spiky thing with boyfriend Wild Bill Hickock (Gary Cooper) as the riverboat carrying him, pal Buffalo Bill (James Ellison) and his new wife, along with gun-runner Lattimer (Charles Bickford), arrives Leavenworth, KS, in The Plainsman, 1936.
Plainsman, The (1936) - We Can't Sell Rifles To The Indians! Producer-director C.B. DeMille having his way with history, in Washington D.C., 1865, President Lincoln (Frank McGlynn) is off to the theater and unprincipled potentates, led by Granville Bates as Van Ellyn and Charles Bickford as Lattimer, make a grave mistake against the great man’s presumed will, opening The Plainsman, 1936.
Squaw Man, The (1914) - Beginning Of The Feud Wacky sequence from C.B. DeMille in his first feature, first in England, then hero Jim (Dustin Farnum) in scenes introducing the Indian characters (Joseph E. Singleton, Princess Red Wing) in The Squaw Man, 1914.

Trailer

Promo

Family

Henry Churchill de Mille
Father
Schoolteacher, theatrical producer, playwright. Of Dutch descent; died 1893 of typhus.
Beatrice Samuel
Mother
Actor, author's representative, playwright. English-Jewish.
William C de Mille
Brother
Playwright, producer. Older; died on March 8, 1955 at age 76; father of dancer-choreoagrapher Agnes de Mille.
Agnes de Mille
Sister
Died as infant.
Cecilia DeMille Presley
Daughter
Born in 1908.
John DeMille
Son
Adopted.
Katherine DeMille
Daughter
Adopted; married to actor Anthony Quinn from 1937 to 1965.
Richard de Mille
Son
Adopted; natural son of DeMille's brother William and actress Lorna Moon; born c. 1922.
Agnes de Mille
Niece
Dancer, choreographer.

Companions

Constance Adams
Wife
Actor. Married in 1902; father was judge; died on July 17, 1960 at age 87.
Jeanie Macpherson
Companion
Screenwriter, author.

Bibliography

"Autobiography"
Cecil B DeMille, Prentice-Hall (1959)