Men Behind the Stars — William Dieterle (1937) 🇺🇸

William Dieterle |

January 16, 2022

This is an expose! When three pictures are listed in the select circle of the ten best box-office pictures of last year — and these are directed by one man, it is an achievement seldom, if ever, recorded in motion picture history. And, if the pessimistic predictions of studio wiseacres that these pictures would flop because they were too scientific or too “arty” the director’s achievement is nothing short of a miracle.

Director of “The Life of Emile Zola”

These pictures were “The Story Of Louis Pasteur,” The White Angel and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

In this year of 1937, the director has made his greatest picture, The Life of Emile Zola, again starring the brilliant actor, Paul Muni. The director is William Dieterle.

Due to his extraordinary ability to stay behind the spotlight, this man is less known to picture fans than any of our leading directors. In this vignette, we plan to paint a word-picture of a man, who is now one of the leaders among the creative thinkers and doers in motion pictures.

William Dieterle is the “noblest Roman of them all.” Six-feet-four-inches tall, of athletic physique, his appearance makes him a singularly dominating figure of a man. He is a personality of strange contrasts. To explain the “noblest Roman,” William Dieterle was born in Germany, yet he is literally of Roman origin. Mark you, we said “Roman,” not “Italian.” He has raven-black hair, an olive complexion and the finely-chiseled features of a Latin. Born in the Palatine, along the river Rhine (the most romantic region in Germany), Dieterle comes of his Roman ancestry honestly because it was in the Palatine that Caesar’s legions conquered the Teutonic tribes and settled down to live.

Visitors on his sets at the Warner studio have mistaken him for an actor because of his striking appearance. This is not at all odd when one considers that five years ago the Warners brought Dieterle, then a noted screen and stage actor-director in Germany, to Hollywood as a potential American picture star.

Yet he was never to act in a single Hollywood production! Instead he directed and acted in three German versions of successful American pictures. These were so good that he was entrusted with the direction of Richard Barthelmess, who, at that time, was one of our most popular stars, in “The Last Flight.”

Dieterle, the man who played Danton and Brutus on the stage; Ludwig, the Mad King of Bavaria, and other great screen roles in Germany — the actor who might have meant as much to the screen as Charles Boyer or Charles Laughton because of his romantic appearance and talent — was destined to achieve fame as a director.

We know that Dieterle has no regrets because he is essentially a creator, rather than a mime. Yet fame doesn’t mean nearly as much to him as the pride of artistic achievement.

He might be called a practical idealist. He is usually willing to direct two so-called “B” pictures for the producers in exchange for the opportunity to make a “Louis Pasteur” or an “Emile Zola.” “The Life of Beethoven” will probably be his next important production.

In the privacy of his secluded life, we reveal Dieterle as a study in contrasts. Like most dreamers, he is an inveterate bookworm. He not only owns one of the finest libraries of classical and contemporary literature, chiefly American, German, French, English and Chinese, and is an authority — yet he finds time also to exercise daily like a college athlete. He swims each day, summer and winter; hikes over the trails of the Hollywood foothills — and plays a blistering game of badminton.

Gigantic in size, yet he consumes less food than the average person. A glass of fruit juice for breakfast; a romaine salad, bran muffin and water for luncheon; and, vegetables for dinner. Meat seldom, almost never.

He is usually clad in an old sweater or jacket, a pair of plain trousers, and a shirt. He dislikes fancy clothes intensely. He hates monogrammed lounging robes, handkerchiefs, underwear and shirts. Likewise, gadgets which are designed to hold this or that in the precise position decreed by fashion.

Dieterle’s “Life of Emile Zola” will probably win the Academy Award as the best picture of 1937. His courtroom scene of Zola on trial is magnificent drama.

Source: Motion Picture, December 1937