John Cromwell - Director

Nationality: American. Born: Elwood Dager in Toledo, Ohio, 23 December 1887. Education: Howe High School, Howe, Indiana, 1901–05. Military Service: 1917–18. Family: Married 1) Alice Indahl; 2) Marie Goff; 3) Kay Johnson; 4) Ruth Nelson; one son. Career: Actor on Broadway, from 1910; theatre director for William Brady, from 1913; actor and stage director, New York Repertory Theatre, 1915–1919; stage actor-producer to 1928; hired by Paramount as dialogue director, 1928; directed first film, Close Harmony ,

John Cromwell
John Cromwell
1929; hired by RKO, 1933; President, Screen Actors' Guild, 1944–45; returned to Broadway, 1951, and to repertory theatre, 1960s. Died: In Santa Barbara, California, 26 September 1979.

Films as Director:


Close Harmony (co-d); The Dance of Life (co-d with Sutherland, role as doorkeeper); The Mighty (+ role as Mr. Jamieson)


The Street of Chance (+ role as Imbrie); The Texan ; Seven Days' Leave ( Medals ); For the Defense ; Tom Sawyer


Scandal Sheet ; Unfaithful ; Vice Squad ; Rich Man's Folly


The World and the Flesh


Sneepings ; The Silver Cord


Of Human Bondage ; The Fountain ; Jalna ; I Dream Too Much


Little Lord Fauntleroy ; To Mary with Love ; Banjo on My Knee


The Prisoner of Zenda




Made for Each Other ; In Name Only


Abe Lincoln in Illinois ( Spirit of the People ) (+ role as John Brown); Victory


So Ends Our Night


Son of Fury


Since You Went Away


The Enchanted Cottage


Anna and the King of Siam


Dead Reckoning ; Night Song




The Company She Keeps ; The Racket


The Goddess


The Scavengers


De Sista Stegen ( A Matter of Morals )

Other Films:


The Dummy (R. Milton) (role as Walter Babbing)


Top Secret Affair ( Their Secret Affair ) (Potter) (role as General Grimshaw)


Three Women (Altman) (role)


A Wedding (Altman) (role as cardinal)


By CROMWELL: articles—

Interview with D. Lyons, in Interview (New York), February 1972.

Interview with Leonard Maltin, in Action (Los Angeles), May/June 1973.

On CROMWELL: articles—

" The Goddess ," in Films in Review (New York), May 1958.

Rotha, Paul, in Films and Filming (London), August 1958.

Prouse, Derek, in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1958.

Sarris, Andrew, "Likable but Elusive," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1963.

Cutts, John, "The Finest Zenda of Them All," in Cinema (Beverly Hills), Spring 1968.

Frey, R., "John Cromwell," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1972.

Canham, Kingsley, "John Cromwell: Memories of Love, Elegance, and Style," in The Hollywood Professionals (London) vol. 5, 1976.

Bleys, J.P., "John Cromwell ou la mélodie du mélodrame," in Cahiers de la Cinémathèque (Perpignan), no. 28, 1979.

"Cromwell Section," in Positif (Paris), March 1979.

Obituary in New York Times , 28 September 1979.

Obituary in Cinéma (Paris), March 1980.

* * *

John Cromwell, a fine New York actor, had a distinguished list of credits when he was hired by Paramount in 1928. Talking films were a new medium then, and Cromwell was eminently qualified to direct dialogue. He started in collaboration with Edward Sutherland on Close Harmony and The Dance of Life (from the play Broadway ). Paramount then promoted him to solo status on such films as The Street of Chance , with William Powell, and The Texan and Seven Days' Leave , both with Gary Cooper.

Once established as an ace director, he went over to the new RKO studios, where in 1933 he directed such movies as The Silver Cord (from Sidney Howard's play), starring Irene Dunne with Joel McCrea; and the adaptation of Maugham's novel Of Human Bondage , with Leslie Howard and Bette Davis. He met David O. Selznick at this time, and subsequently directed such Selznick films as Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Prisoner of Zenda, Made for Each Other , and Since You Went Away. Meanwhile, Cromwell continued as director of other RKO successes, including In Name Only , with Cary Grant, Carole Lombard, and Kay Francis; and Robert Sherwood's Abe Lincoln in Illinois , starring Raymond Massey. He also directed Hedy Lamarr's American film debut with Charles Boyer in Algiers; Victory , from the Joseph Conrad novel; and So Ends Our Night , a remarkably tense melodrama of World War Two, with Fredric March, Margaret Sullavan, Glenn Ford, Frances Dee, and Erich von Stroheim.

In 1944 Harriet Parsons at RKO signed Cromwell to direct The Enchanted Cottage , a sensitive drama of a plain girl (Dorothy McGuire) and a scarred, crippled war veteran (Robert Young) who begin to see one another as straight and beautiful through the power of love. By this time, Cromwell was a thorough craftsman. He believed in full rehearsals with camera before any shooting took place. "For every day of full rehearsal you give me," he was fond of saying, "I'll knock off a day on the shooting schedule." At RKO they gave him three days for rehearsal, and he obligingly came in three days early. The Enchanted Cottage was a tricky assignment; the love story was so sensitive that it could easily slip into sentimentality, but it never did. He treated it realistically, an approach that, as he said, is "the only way to treat a fantasy. It always works."

Cromwell then directed Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison in Anna and the King of Siam , a film of great pictorial beauty. His best subsequent efforts were a woman's prison story, Caged , and The Goddess , a realistic story about a film star. Cromwell was falsely accused by Howard Hughes of being a communist during the McCarthy era. "I was never anything that suggested a Red," he said, "and there never was the slightest evidence with which to accuse me of being one." He was blacklisted, however, and the assignments ceased coming his way. He simply returned to the theatre as an actor, and was brilliant as Henry Fonda's father in the stage play of John Marquand's Point of No Return.

—DeWitt Bodeen

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