Men Behind the Stars — William Wyler (1938) 🇺🇸

William Wyler |

January 15, 2022

A vacation was responsible for William Wyler entering the movies, and eventually becoming one of the top rank directors. For if Wyler had not chanced to visit Paris in the Spring of 1920 he might still be signing expense vouchers and managing his father’s department store — a chore which irked him no little.

Director of “Dead End”

Instead, after a few years of directing he has achieved an enviable record for really fine productions, the most recent being “Dead End.”

Wyler, who was born in Mulhousen, France, is a meticulous, determined and patient young man — three requisites that are essential to the character of a successful director. Educated in Lausanne, Switzerland, and the Conservatoire Nationale de Musique in Paris, he developed a keen interest in art and drama at an early age.

These qualities were manifested in conversations he had with Uncle Carl Laemmle, whom he chanced to meet on that eventful vacation, with the result that the movie executive suggested that, should he come to America, there might be a place for him in motion pictures.

That was enough for Wyler. Over his father’s protests he sailed to America and in a short time was working in Universal’s foreign publicity department, and within a year he was Laemmle’s publicity director for all Latin-speaking countries.

But peddling press notices soon lost its glamor for Wyler, and he looked for new fields to conquer. There was Hollywood and the studios. He had written thousands of words on pictures and how they are made, and being a member of Universal’s organization he was practically assured a job on the Coast.

However, it meant starting at the bottom again, and Wyler began his studio career as a “prop” boy. He remained in this capacity for some time before eventually being elevated to a position of third assistant director. He never used his acquaintanceship with Laemmle as a stepping-stone, nor was he disheartened at not being promoted faster, as he was learning the picture business. True, he was getting his education the hard way but that was what he wanted, actual experience.

Eventually he became a first assistant director to Erich von Stroheim, then the king pin of Universal’s directors. This brought him more experience, and after working with Stroheim and other directors at last reached his goal.

He was given a megaphone and a picture to direct. It was a two-reel Western but it was the golden opportunity, and Wyler really started with that first opportunity. It wasn’t long before the calibre of his work brought him more important films, five-reel horse operas at first, and then the ultimate — a full length feature without cactus or sagebrush.

It was “Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?” with Tom Moore and Bessie Love. Here he had an opportunity to display his ability, and from the day the picture was shown Wyler’s stock began to rise. After that he directed several Laura La Plante farces, “The Storm” with Lupe Vélez, and “Hell’s Heroes,” adapted from Peter B. Kyne’s “The Three Godfathers.” This latter film created very favorable comment both in this country and abroad, and Wyler had finally “arrived.”

Then followed a long string of Universal pictures, climaxed by “The Good Fairy,” starring Margaret Sullavan, which was the last film he made for this company. In the long string were comedies, dramas and farces. Type of yarn made no difference to Wyler then, nor does it today. He cannot tell which type he would rather direct. All he asks is a good story and he will supply the laughs or drama as needed.

After leaving Universal, Wyler went to Fox where he directed “The Gay Deception” with Francis Lederer and on the strength of this picture, a light comedy, he was signed by Sam Goldwyn who was seeking a director for “These Three,” one of the most dramatic films of 1936. Wyler’s direction of this picture taken from the stage play, “The Children’s Hour,” made cinematic history. Since then he has stayed under contract to Goldwyn as his ace director, and has been responsible for the major portion of “Come and Get It, “ then “Dodsworth,” and “Dead End.”

Director Wyler believes in having his players letter perfect. He made Joel McCrea and Humphrey Bogart rehearse over and over for “Dead End.”

Source: Motion Picture, February 1938