Men Behind the Stars — George Cukor (1936) 🇺🇸
No graduate of the Broadway stage has pitched into the more intricate task of picture directing with more enthusiasm or more success than George Cukor.
Cukor’s list of film successes, including “Little Women,” David Copperfield, “The Royal Family,” Dinner at Eight, and the forthcoming Romeo and Juliet, reads like a list of banner attractions of the past five years. Certainly no director can point with greater pride over what he has accomplished since he set foot in Hollywood. Making five such distinctive pictures almost on top of each other is an accomplishment closely allied with genius.
A young man, filled with tremendous force and vitality, but still ranked as one of the most patient and considerate of Hollywood’s cinema-makers, this director makes no secret of his preference for the screen over the so-called “legitimate” stage.
Hollywood has helped the stage by giving it new ideas,” he says. “At the same time the films have shot far ahead of the best the stage can possibly do, in point of entertainment, vigor, and scope. I approached pictures with great skepticism. Sound had not been in vogue very long when I first arrived in Hollywood, and everyone told me Eastern stage directors weren’t very welcome. I was most happily surprised. Not only was I made to feel like a long lost relative, but I discovered motion pictures offered far more engrossing and interesting problems than had the stage.
“I think the fact that Dickens and now Shakespeare have been intelligently and effectively handled for films deals a body blow, for once and all, to the critics who used to say movies were handicapped from a literary standpoint. The movies can, and will, do anything that is both literate and good entertainment. Best of all, producers have approached famous authors with a freshness of mood that is a great asset. Dickens is not somebody to be taken out of moth balls and handled in a stereoptican slide manner.”
Some of Cukor’s greatest triumphs have been scored with multiple-star casts. “David Copperfield,” for example, had a star, virtually, for every character part. “Dinner at Eight” had a dozen starring names, and “Romeo and Juliet” has Norma Shearer, Leslie Howard, John Barrymore, Edna May Oliver, Basil Rathbone, Reginald Denny and other luminaries. Cukor has the knack, apparently, of being better able to make all these diverse temperaments flow more smoothly together than any other director in Hollywood.
Director Cukor has an easy way with his players — if you consider kindness and constructive criticism count more than harshness and “bossism” in getting results. His expression: “That’s very nice” has become proverbial in Hollywood. Whenever a player finishes a scene, whether it is exactly right or not, the director is quick to respond with a word of praise or encouragement. The players, naturally being human, respond more quickly and are always striving to please him.
Born in New York, Cukor graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School just in time to become a member of the student training corps for the duration of the war.
After the war he determined to ally himself with the theatre. He got a job in 1919 as assistant stage manager of the Chicago company of The Better ‘Ole. He proved himself such a skilled technician that his services were widely sought by stage producers. He interested the Shuberts and Edgar Selwyn and eventually became the stage manager for several of their productions. He also conducted a stock company in Rochester, N.Y., that proved one of the most successful in the country. With his stage enterprises he was soon recognized as one of the best talent pickers. He had such an aptitude for all branches of stage production that it became only a question of time before Hollywood bid for his services. And got him.
He is unmarried, six feet tall, athletic, fond of swimming, and goes to the movies and theatre incessantly, perhaps more than anyone else in Hollywood. The stage may not be his first love now, but he still has a soft spot for it. In fact he makes special trips to Broadway to take in the latest shows. It’s his hobby.
Director Cukor visits Norma Shearer in her dressing-room to discuss progress of shooting “Romeo and Juliet.”
Source: Motion Picture, September 1936