Men Behind the Stars — Mark Sandrich (1936) 🇺🇸

Mark Sandrich |

January 15, 2022

“Go West, Young Man, Go West!” Mark Sandrich was going to school, Columbia University in New York, when he heard it — he heeded — and that’s a success story.

by Miriam Nadel

Director of “Top Hat” and “Follow the Fleet”

That happened fifteen years ago and, although, Sandrich is still a young man — thirty-four — he is now one of the most important directors in Hollywood. RKO Radio Pictures recently gave him a five year contract as a reward for his latest work, Follow the Fleet.

Mark Sandrich was born in New York City and is a cousin to Carmel Myers and, if you are too young to remember, Miss Myers was a screen star in those “silent” days. When young Mark set out on that trip West he intended to have a short visit with his cousin in Hollywood... that was a decade and a half ago! If he hadn’t made that visit he might have been an “Einstein” now — he was studying science...

Miss Myers, trying to entertain her young guest, took him visiting around the studios and, while watching the production of a picture, Mark became very interested and offered his assistance in devising some mechanical device. The director on the lot was very pleased with this bright fellow and asked Mark if he would like a job as a property boy. Mark didn’t hesitate a second. He accepted without giving it a moment’s thought, abandoning all ideas of returning home and becoming a scientist. Mark liked Hollywood and his job!

His youth, apparently, was a great advantage. He could work hard and he did. He put everything he had in the job and being very ambitious he advanced to assistant director, before long. Then assistant cameraman and cameraman. Finally, he was made a director of short subjects. Few men graduate from slapstick to features, but Mark Sandrich did — and, practically overnight! Before his promotion to features, though, he advanced to the top spot in the short subject field and was presented the Academy Award for the finest “short” of that year. This was a three-reeler, So This is Harris. And, if you remember your films, So This is Harris was a musical and was heralded as the first “new” musical. And Mark Sandrich was heralded as the creator of a new type of cinema entertainment.

The first directorial assignment given Sandrich, after he had outgrown “shorts,” was “Melody Cruise,” another musical. It was received with great applause and led to other assignments; — Aggie Appleby, Maker of Men and “Cockeyed Cavaliers.” These, also, were successes and definitely established Sandrich as a “feature director” and proved his appointment a wise one.

But, wiser still, was RKO’s choice in selecting him to direct “The Gay Divorcee.” That turned out to be sensational, as we all know. It not only added laurels to Sandrich and made a fortune for the producers, but it catapulted that brilliant dancing team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to stardom. It also revolutionized the motion picture field — dancing pictures were practically non-existent then. Dancing films became the rage and the remarkable trio of Astaire, Rogers and Sandrich went to work again and gave us “Top Hat.” And, they just went over the bounds with that! They couldn’t be stopped then and “Follow the Fleet” followed and more glory...

And here is a strange coincidence. It was Mark Sandrich who made Fred Astaire movie conscious. When Sandrich was casting “Melody Cruise he invited the apostle of the dance to come to Hollywood, but Astaire was then appearing in a show in New York and was unable to accept. The play that was keeping Astaire in New York was The Gay Divorcee, the same play that later led to this happy combination. When RKO announced their plans to film “The Gay Divorcee,” which was such a huge success in the theatre, Sandrich didn’t rest until he got them to sign Fred Astaire as the star and make him the director. He had proof then to back his convictions about Astaire having great movie possibilities for, in the meantime, Fred had made a picture — “Flying Down to Rio.”

Mark Sandrich is one of the most beloved directors in filmland. He believes in complete cooperation and works very closely with every member of his company. He even invites his writers to visit the set while production is in progress. And he actually shoots scenes while the company is in rehearsal. He always takes the precaution of having the silence bell rung during these rehearsals so that actual photographic and recording conditions prevail and when he feels that a number is going over, he calls for a take by pre-arranged signals. He finds this system most satisfactory, not only economically, but photographically, as well. He believes that practically every player is camera-shy and that if they think they are just rehearsing they are relieved from self-consciousness and, consequently, are much more natural.

Director Sandrich’s next assignment is Portrait of a Rebel, starring Katharine Hepburn. Mark Sandrich is a very clever young man and being very clever he realizes the limitations of “typing.” He, therefore, is separating himself from musicals for the present and turning to the drama. We believe that this is not the climax, but the beginning of a spectacular career for the young director!

CollectionMotion Picture MagazineApril 1936