Men Behind the Stars — Gregory La Cava (1938) 🇺🇸

Gregory La Cava |

January 15, 2022

Gregory La Cava, the rugged individualist of Hollywood — who won’t make a picture unless he is “sold” on the story — with himself as sole boss, was born in Towanda, Pa. In early boyhood he revealed artistic tendencies, and later in high-school at Rochester, N. Y., developed with brush and pencil.

Saving his money as a newspaper reporter he studied art in a Chicago art school, thence through the Arts Students League and the National Academy of Design in New York. In his formative years he became a cartoonist and gained a national reputation with the World and Herald.

Director of “Stage Door”

La Cava was a pioneer in animated cartoons and drew some of the first Mutt and Jeffs. He wrote and directed some early Johnny Hines comedies so successfully that he became a Paramount director in 1920, first directing W. C. Fields. He insists on directing a picture in his own peculiar way, yet he turns out nothing but “hit” pictures — usually on schedule and under the budget. His working crews and players swear by him. Among these “hit” pictures are “Gallant Lady,” “The Affairs of Cellini,” “Private Worlds,” “She Married Her Boss,” My Man Godfrey — and just recently, Stage Door. The New York movie critics in a recent vote honored La Cava as the best director of the year with his Stage Door.

We said the players swear by him. Lombard and Colbert call him “the answer to an actress’ prayer.” Bill Powell and Menjou credit him with aiding their outstanding performances. As for Hepburn and Ginger Rogers, neither star had worked with him before — and both were anxious for the experience. La Cava, not only had these two stars to direct in Stage Door, but he also had fifteen other girls — and Menjou.

And he had nerve enough to make one of the best pictures of 1937 — without a romantic leading man or a love story.

Gregory La Cava is a great kidder. Following his custom of giving a party on the set after completing a picture he invited the entire working crew, players, executives and a few friends on the set of Stage Door. The pièce de résistance was his valedictorian address tossed at the startled company over the “playback” while he hid high above the stage to watch the reactions of his victims. He satirized and lampooned their personal eccentricities unmercifully — but it was done in good fun — and the players loved it.

Here is what Katharine Hepburn has to say about Gregory La Cava. “For five years I have wanted to make a picture with Gregory. I admire and respect his mental gifts as well as his ability as a director. And he doesn’t pull his punches.” She admitted that she got along angelically with him. She admits having arguments but expected them with such a keen mind as Gregory — because one always learns something. Other players agree with Miss Hepburn.

La Cava thinks and acts in a positive manner. In handling contrasting temperaments he is very much the psychologist. He analyzes the players, studies their characters, tries to understand their foibles and to get on with them accordingly. As Hepburn says: “He knows how to make us behave — and knows how to get the best out of us because he knows when to talk and when not to talk. In appreciation of his sympathy and understanding one ‘gives’.” W. C. Fields is willing to concede that La Cava has the finest comedy mind in pictures, next to his own.

When La Cava had finished Stage Door he said: “From now on I am going to direct pictures with only little boys in the cast. At this moment, even the rustle of a skirt sends me into hysterics.”

Greg La Cava is gray-haired and soft-spoken. He can be iron-fisted in getting what he wants. It is said that he enjoys more liberty and authority on the set than other high-ranking directors. Yet at the same time he is the epitome of kindness. He demands rigid discipline and obedience — but is not a stern taskmaster. His aim is to make his pictures as near perfect as possible. His Stage Door and his last half-dozen pictures have fallen into the million dollar class, yet he never goes overboard on the budget. And he brings them in on schedule.

Every star learns something from Greg La Cava. Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers in Stage Door were no exceptions.

CollectionMotion Picture MagazineApril 1938