Victor Fleming


Director
Victor Fleming

About

Birth Place
Pasadena, California
Born
February 23, 1889
Died
January 06, 1949
Cause of Death
Heart Attack

Biography

Were director Victor Fleming’s legacy limited to his two best-known films – "The Wizard of Oz" (1939) and "Gone with the Wind" (1939) – he would have one of the most successful track records of any figure in Hollywood history. But the prolific filmmaker also oversaw a number of other popular and critically acclaimed films during his three-decade long career behind the camera, from "The V...

Photos & Videos

The Wizard of Oz - Behind-the-Scenes Stills
Test Pilot - Movie Posters
Gone With the Wind - Behind-The-Scenes Photos

Family & Companions

Clara Bow
Companion
Actor. Had relationship in the 1920s.
Lucille Rosson
Wife
Survived him.

Biography

Were director Victor Fleming’s legacy limited to his two best-known films – "The Wizard of Oz" (1939) and "Gone with the Wind" (1939) – he would have one of the most successful track records of any figure in Hollywood history. But the prolific filmmaker also oversaw a number of other popular and critically acclaimed films during his three-decade long career behind the camera, from "The Virginian" (1929) and "Red Heat" (1932) to "Treasure Island" (1934), "Captains Courageous" (1937) and "Joan of Arc" (1948). Furthermore, he was the guiding hand for some of the industry’s most legendary figures in their most acclaimed roles, from Spencer Tracy’s Oscar-winning turn in "Captains Courageous" to Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in "Gone with the Wind." A tough, unsentimental director who was not above getting results from his actors by physically assaulting them, Fleming enjoyed a career that, while rarely spoken of in the same reverent tones as many of his peers, had more highlights than most of the canonized figures in critical and historical circles.

Born Victor Lonzo Fleming on Feb. 23, 1889, he was the son of William Alonzo Fleming and his wife, Elizabeth Evaleen. His parents moved to Southern California shortly before his birth in La Canada; at the time, nearby Pasadena and its neighboring towns were so underdeveloped that Fleming’s father participated in building the area’s public water supply. For a period, the Flemings operated an orange orchard, where William Fleming died of a heart attack when his son was only four years old. The event had a profound effect on the young man, who would later write that he had little use for sentiment or softer emotions. Fleming dropped out of school in his mid-teens to pursue a fascination for speed and mechanics. He worked in a wide variety of jobs peripheral to these interests, including taxi driver, bicycle and auto mechanic – even briefly, a racecar driver.

While in his twenties, Fleming met director Allan Dwan, for whom he acted as chauffeur before joining the ranks at Dwan’s Flying A Studios as a cameraman. There, he learned his craft, which he later applied to the "Ham and Bud" comedies at The Kalem Company before reuniting with Dwan at the Triangle Film Corporation, a studio that served as home base for three of the industry’s most powerful producer-directors: D.W. Griffith, Thomas Ince and Mack Sennett. There, he made the acquaintance of silent film star Douglas Fairbanks, with whom he shared a love of reckless athleticism. After serving as cameraman on several major Triangle productions, including Griffith’s epic "Intolerance" (1916), Fleming became Fairbanks’ chief cameraman. His tenure was briefly interrupted by service with the Signal Corps during World War I, which included duty as President Woodrow Wilson’s personal cameraman at the signing of the Versailles Peace Conference. After the war, Fleming reunited with Fairbanks at the newly formed United Artists, where he made his directorial debut with "When the Clouds Roll By" (1919), a romantic comedy that poked fun at the then-novel field of psychiatry that starred Fairbanks and featured the newbie director in a cameo as himself.

Fleming soon developed a reputation as an efficient, no-nonsense filmmaker with a particular knack for drawing exceptional performances from his stars with a minimum of direction. This talent allowed him to work with some of the biggest stars of the 1920s and 1930s, including Constance Talmadge in "Mama’s Affair" (1921), Richard Dix in "The Call of the Canyon" (1923), Wallace Beery in Fleming’s first hit, "Lord Jim" (1925), and Gary Cooper, who honed his stoic screen persona in "The Wolf Song" (1929) and "The Virginian" (1929). Though Fleming’s rough-and-tumble nature – which included off-camera barnstorming with Howard Hawks and big game safaris in Africa – pegged him as a director of "men’s pictures," he oversaw some of the most popular and acclaimed features by such female stars as Clara Bow, who later became his lover, in "Mantrap" (1926) and "Hula" (1927), Myrna Loy in "Renegades" (1930), and most notably, Jean Harlow in a trio of films – "Red Dust" (1932), "Bombshell" (1933) and "Reckless" (1935) – which helped to establish her as one of the most alluring actresses of the Depression Era. "Red Dust" was also notable for its male lead, Clark Gable, who would not only regard Fleming as his favorite director in later years, but heavily influence the decision to instate Fleming as director of one of his biggest hits.

Though he exhibited skill in nearly every genre, some of Fleming’s most memorable films were focused around children. He directed Jackie Cooper and Wallace Beery in one of the best-loved film versions of "Treasure Island" (1934), and sketched a sensitive portrait of a young man’s growth into maturity in "Captains Courageous" (1939), with Freddie Bartholomew and Spencer Tracy in his Oscar-winning role. After directing Gable in the thrilling "Test Pilot" (1938) and helping to complete "The Great Waltz" (1938) after director Julien Duvivier was fired, Fleming was selected to direct one of the greatest children’s films ever made: "The Wizard of Oz." Producer Mervyn LeRoy had just fired director Richard Thorpe after test footage had come back with less than optimal results, and turned to Fleming to help save the picture. But Fleming initially resisted the offer because nearly all of its pre-production – from scripts to sets – had been completed. But having recently become both a husband and father to two little girls, he saw in "Oz" an opportunity to make a film that both adults and children could love. He signed on to direct.

Fleming and screenwriter John Lee Mahin added several significant elements to the final version of "Oz." Chief among them was the addition of the third farmhand, Zeke, at Dorothy’s farm, who would become the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) in the Oz sequences. He also commissioned songwriters Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen to pen one of the film’s key numbers, "Follow the Yellow Brick Road," which sets Dorothy and her companions on their adventure to find the Wizard. He also brought a degree of resolve to Dorothy, who in the initial screenplay, came across as tender but somewhat weak. Imbuing this quality into Judy Garland’s performance proved a challenge, as the actress was painfully self-conscious and untried as a screen star. At one point, Fleming slapped her across the face and sent her to her dressing room after she repeatedly blew a key scene. Though shocking by modern standards, Fleming’s tight control of and commitment to "Oz" helped to keep the production from collapsing under the weight of its own ambitions, and in doing so, produced a screen classic for the ages.

Fleming left "Oz" shortly before shooting the scenes in Dorothy’s drab Kansas home, leaving silent film master King Vidor to complete these B&W scenes. Fleming had already been contracted by producer David O. Selznick to save another film in dire straits – a project that would complete his brilliant, rarely matched one-two punch in 1939. Selznick was hip-deep into a sprawling adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s antebellum romance "Gone with the Wind," and the production, with its countless extras and epic battle scenes, had gotten perilously out of control. In desperation – and at the behest of an insecure Clark Gable, who feared initial director George Cukor was more of a "woman’s director" – Selznick fired Cukor and brought in Gable’s suggestion, Fleming, who immediately demanded revisions on the script. With Selznick and screenwriter Ben Hecht, Fleming hammered out a new "Gone with the Wind" over the course of five 20-hour days that left all three men physically spent.

Once on set, Fleming focused his attention on the relationship between Gable’s Rhett Butler and Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara. Gable had initially been concerned that in the hands of a director like Cukor, the difficult part of Butler would come across as soft and secondary to Leigh and co-star Olivia de Havilland. But Fleming soothed the star’s worries by turning Rhett and Scarlett into proud combatants in love, unable to resist each other, yet too stubborn to admit it. Gable, in turn, drew much of the character’s roguish charm from Fleming himself, who again established himself as a formidable figure behind the camera by verbally brawling with the headstrong Leigh throughout production. Their struggles informed Scarlett’s fierce independence in the face of Rhett’s relentless pursuit; at one point, after being requested by Fleming to "resist, but not too much" as Gable reached for her, Leigh responded with an improvised slap across the actor’s face. Fleming was pleased by the spontaneity of the reaction, which was clearly a reaction to the direction, and kept the shot in the picture.

"Gone with the Wind" was a grueling experience for Fleming. A ceaseless barrage of memos from Selznick, combined with editing duties on "Oz" in the evening, while shooting "Gone with the Wind" during the day and a steady diet of vitamins and pills to maintain the schedule, forced him to drop out of the picture for almost three weeks on doctor’s orders, following a rumored nervous breakdown. Staff director Sam Wood took over direction during his absence, but Fleming returned to the sprawling set to complete shooting and assist in the editing. In the end, he had saved not one but two of the greatest films in movie history from complete disaster, and the Best Director Oscar he took home for "Gone with the Wind" was a testimony to the breadth of his talents. But the exertion of bringing the films to fruition took a serious toll on his health, and Fleming would only direct a handful of films in their wake.

He reunited with Spencer Tracy for a remake of the Oscar-winning 1931 film version of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1941) that relied on the actor’s talents to depict his transformation from the kindly doctor to his beastly alter ego, rather than the groundbreaking makeup seen in the previous film. It was not a success, and Fleming and Tracy quickly moved to their next project, an adaptation of John Steinbeck’s "Tortilla Flat" (1942). A lightweight drama about the lives of Mexican-American fishermen in a small California town, it was highlighted by a touching dramatic turn by the Wizard of Oz himself, Frank Morgan, who earned an Oscar as a kindly dog owner. The charming fantasy "A Guy Named Joe" (1943), with Tracy as a pilot who attempted to keep the woman of his dreams happy from the afterlife by keeping her new love (Van Johnson) safe during a dangerous Air Force mission, would be the actor’s final collaboration with Fleming.

In 1945, Fleming reunited with Gable, who was freshly returned from duty in World War II, for the romance "Adventure" (1945), about a roguish sailor who learned to settle down through his love for a librarian (Greer Garson). He soon began work on "Joan of Arc" (1948), a biopic of the French religious heroine with Ingrid Bergman in the title role. The film was a troubled experience for the director, who struggled with its unwieldy length of two-plus hours and allegedly, a failed relationship with Bergman. It was edited by some 45 minutes prior to its release, which received mixed reviews and only a modest box office return, but seven Oscar nominations and two wins for costume design and cinematography. Fleming, however, would not live to see the ceremony: he was felled by a massive heart attack on Jan. 6, 1949, two months after its release. In subsequent years, his film career rarely received the praise for its breadth and consistent quality, save for the iconic status of "Oz" and "Gone with the Wind." However, a 2009 biography, Victor Fleming: American Movie Master, by Michael Sragow, made a compelling case for his status as one of Hollywood’s most accomplished and versatile directors.

By Paul Gaita

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Joan of Arc (1948)
Director
The Yearling (1947)
Director of footage shot in 1941
Adventure (1946)
Director
A Guy Named Joe (1944)
Director
Tortilla Flat (1942)
Director
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)
Director
Gone With the Wind (1939)
Director
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Director
The Great Waltz (1938)
Director of retakes
The Crowd Roars (1938)
Retakes Director
Test Pilot (1938)
Director
The Good Earth (1937)
Director
Captains Courageous (1937)
Director
The Farmer Takes a Wife (1935)
Director
Reckless (1935)
Director
Treasure Island (1934)
Director
The White Sister (1933)
Director
Bombshell (1933)
Director
Red Dust (1932)
Director
The Wet Parade (1932)
Director
Around the World in Eighty Minutes with Douglas Fairbanks (1931)
Director
Renegades (1930)
Director
Common Clay (1930)
Director
Abie's Irish Rose (1929)
Director
The Virginian (1929)
Director
Wolf Song (1929)
Director
The Awakening (1928)
Director
The Way of All Flesh (1927)
Director
Hula (1927)
Director
The Rough Riders (1927)
Director
The Blind Goddess (1926)
Director
Mantrap (1926)
Director
Lord Jim (1925)
Director
The Devil's Cargo (1925)
Director
Adventure (1925)
Director
A Son of His Father (1925)
Director
Empty Hands (1924)
Director
Code of the Sea (1924)
Director
Dark Secrets (1923)
Director
The Call of the Canyon (1923)
Director
To the Last Man (1923)
Director
The Law of the Lawless (1923)
Director
Anna Ascends (1922)
Director
Red Hot Romance (1922)
Director
The Lane That Had No Turning (1922)
Director
Woman's Place (1921)
Director
Mama's Affair (1921)
Director
The Mollycoddle (1920)
Director
When the Clouds Roll by (1919)
Director

Cinematography (Feature Film)

Around the World in Eighty Minutes with Douglas Fairbanks (1931)
Photography
Reaching for the Moon (1917)
Camera
Down to Earth (1917)
Camera
Wild and Woolly (1917)
Camera
In Again--Out Again (1917)
Camera
The Man from Painted Post (1917)
Camera
The Americano (1917)
Camera

Writer (Feature Film)

Captains Courageous (1977)
Source Material

Film Production - Main (Feature Film)

Mystery of the Leaping Fish (1916)
Photography

Production Companies (Feature Film)

Joan of Arc (1948)
Company
Adventure (1946)
Company
A Guy Named Joe (1944)
Company
Tortilla Flat (1942)
Company
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)
Company
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Company
Test Pilot (1938)
Company
Captains Courageous (1937)
Company
The White Sister (1933)
Company
Bombshell (1933)
Company
The Wet Parade (1932)
Company
Red Dust (1932)
Company

Cast (Short)

Cavalcade of the Academy Awards (1940)
Himself

Life Events

1910

Began film career as assistant cameraman to Allan Dwan (at American Film Company)

1915

Hired as director of photography at Triangle

1919

First film as director (with Ted Reed) "When the Clouds Roll By"

1920

First film as solo director with "The Mollycoddle"

1932

Joined MGM as contract director

Photo Collections

The Wizard of Oz - Behind-the-Scenes Stills
Here are some photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's The Wizard of Oz (1939), directed by Victor Fleming.
Test Pilot - Movie Posters
Here are a few original-release American movie posters for Test Pilot (1938), starring Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, and Spencer Tracy.
Gone With the Wind - Behind-The-Scenes Photos
Here are a number of photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of David O. Selznick's Gone With the Wind (1939), starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh and directed by Victor Fleming and George Cukor.
Reckless - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Reckless (1935), starring Jean Harlow and William Powell and directed by Victor Fleming.
Gone With the Wind - Behind-the-Scenes Stills - Production Staff
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of Gone With the Wind (1939). These stills hightlight some of the many staff memebers at Selznick International Pictures that worked on the film.
Tortilla Flat - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for MGM's Tortilla Flat (1942), starring Spencer Tracy, Hedy Lamarr, and John Garfield. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Captains Courageous - Movie Posters
Here are a few original-release movie posters for MGM's Captains Courageous (1937), starring Spencer Tracy and Freddie Bartholomew.
The Wizard of Oz - Movie Posters
Here are a few original-release American movie posters from MGM's The Wizard of Oz (1939), starring Judy Garland.

Videos

Movie Clip

Wet Parade, The (1932) - A Menacing Group Of Bluenose Puritans New York 1916, the presidential election looming, boozy hotelier "Pow" Tarleton (Walter Huston) speaks for Woodrow Wilson, as a less impressive campaigner (Clarence Wilson) supports Charles Evans Hughes, in Victor Fleming's The Wet Parade, 1932, from the Upton Sinclair novel.
Wet Parade, The (1932) - Four Years More! Election day 1916, Southern author Roger (Neil Hamilton) arrives in New York, greeted by Democrats "Pow" Tarleton (Walter Huston), his son Kip (Robert Young) and newsman friend Jerry (Wallace Ford), when surprising news arrives from California, in The Wet Parade, 1932.
Wet Parade, The (1932) - Just A Low Down Cowardly Drunkard Increasingly dissolute Southern patriarch Chilcote (Lewis Stone) resists when daughter Maggie (Dorothy Jordan) snatches him from the saloon, early in Victor Fleming's The Wet Parade, 1932, from an Upton Sinclair novel.
Adventure (1946) - Can You Imitate A Rooster? Pal-ing around now outside San Francisco with now less-uptight librarian Emily (Greer Garson), beached sea captain Harry (Clark Gable) is helping steal chickens from her crooked neighbors, leading to hijinks and action, her friend Joan Blondell welcoming their escape, in MGM’s Adventure, 1946.
Captains Courageous (1937) - He's A Jonah! Portugese fisherman Manuel (Spencer Tracy) takes the fall for rescued schoolboy Harvey (Freddie Bartholomew), after privately forcing him to confess to his misdeed against Long Jack (John Carradine) in Captains Courageous, 1937.
Captains Courageous (1937) - In Coventry New England schoolmaster Tyler (Donald Briggs) counsels then places spoiled Harvey (Freddie Bartholomew) in a silent place called Coventry (an idiom borrowed from English public schools), in this early scene from Captains Courageous, 1937.
Adventure (1946) - Sap From The Tree Of Knowledge In San Francisco, supporting mate Mudgin (Thomas Mitchell), who’s distraught because he’s broken promises made to the almighty to bring about rescue from their last shipwreck, captain Harry (Clark Gable) agrees to seek knowledge at the library, meeting fetching Emily (Greer Garson), in Adventure, 1946.
Adventure (1946) - I Bless The Old Tub Myself Parting with a Mexican port girlfriend (Lina Romay), merchant marine captain Harry (Clark Gable) reminds his soused mate Mudgin (Thomas Mitchell) he’s coming along, and deals with the younger and older Estados (Tito Renaldo, Philip Merivale), early in MGM’s Adventure, 1946, also starring Greer Garson.
Test Pilot (1938) - What's A Little Weather? Just after the opening, mechanic Gunner (Spencer Tracy) perhaps not surprised but annoyed to find his pilot pal Jim (Clark Gable) not resting up before the flight, though he bounces back to meet sponsor Drake (Lionel Barrymore) before take-off, in Victor Fleming's Test Pilot, 1938.
Test Pilot (1938) - I Forgot My Hat Leaving in a huff now that his plane's been fixed, cross-country test pilot Jim (Clark Gable) and Kansas local girl Ann (Myrna Loy) act like they don't care, his buddy Gunner (Spencer Tracy) offering consolation, in MGM's Test Pilot, 1938.
Guy Named Joe, A - I'll Scratch Your Eyes Out American flyer Pete (Spencer Tracy) with pal Al (Ward Bond) in Scotland awaiting a visit from girlfriend and cargo pilot Dorinda (Irene Dunne), early in director Victor Fleming's A Guy Named Joe, 1944.
Guy Named Joe, A - Twin Hooks, Rhode Island Monitoring in-training pilot Ted (Van Johnson) at a night-spot, deceased aviator Pete (Spencer Tracy) encourages him to approach Ellen (Esther Williams), who's worried about recruit Sanderson (Charles Smith), in A Guy Named Joe, 1944.

Trailer

Wizard of Oz, The (1939) -- (1949 Re-issue Trailer) A Kansas farm girl dreams herself into a magical land where she must fight a wicked witch to escape in The Wizard of Oz (1939), starring Judy Garland.
Tortilla Flat - (Original Trailer) Spencer Tracy, Hedy Lamarr and John Garfield star in Tortilla Flat (1942), based on the novel by John Steinbeck.
Gone With the Wind (1939) -- (1961 Re-Issue Trailer) Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) fights to save her beloved plantation and find love during the Civil War in Gone With the Wind (1939).
Captains Courageous - (Re-issue Trailer) A spoiled rich kid is lost at sea and rescued by a fishing boat, where hard work and responsibility help him become a man.
Good Earth, The - (Wide release trailer) The Good Earth (1937) is an epic adaptation of the Pearl Buck classic about Chinese farmers battling the elements and stars Luise Rainer & Paul Muni.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) - (Original Trailer) Spencer Tracy plays a scientist whose investigations into the nature of good and evil transform him into a dangerous split personality - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941). It co-stars Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner and was based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel.
Crowd Roars, The (1938) - (Original Trailer) This time, The Crowd Roars (1938) about boxing as a fighter's hard-drinking father gets his son (Robert Taylor) mixed up with the underworld.
Test Pilot - (Original Trailer) An irresponsible test pilot's wife and best friend try to get him to grow up in Test Pilot (1938), starring Clark Gable & Myrna Loy.
Reckless - (Original Trailer) A theatrical star (Jean Harlow) gets in over her head when she marries a drunken millionaire (William Powell) in Reckless (1935).
Guy Named Joe, A -- (Re-issue Trailer) A downed World War II pilot (Spencer Tracy) becomes the guardian angel for his successor (Van Johnson) in love and war in A Guy Named Joe (1943).
Red Dust - (Re-issue Trailer) A plantation overseer in Vietnam is torn between a married woman and a prostitute in the pre-code drama Red Dust (1932) starring Clark Gable & Jean Harlow.
Adventure - (Original Trailer) Gable's back and Garson's got him! was the tagline for Adventure (1945), Clark Gable's first movie after World War II.

Promo

Companions

Clara Bow
Companion
Actor. Had relationship in the 1920s.
Lucille Rosson
Wife
Survived him.

Bibliography