Ernest B. Schoedsack - Director

Nationality: American. Born: Ernest Beaumont Schoedsack in Council Bluffs, Iowa, 8 June 1893. Military Service: Served in photographic dept. of U.S. Signal Corps. in France, 1916, then captain in Red Cross

Ernest B. Schoedsack
Ernest B. Schoedsack
photographic unit. Family: Married actress Ruth Rose, 1926, one son. Career: Worked with engineering road gangs in San Francisco area, then secured job as cameraman for Mack Sennett through brother Felix (G.F.) Schoedsack, early 1910s; freelance newsreel cameraman, Europe, then returned to United States, 1922; collaborated with Merian C. Cooper and newspaper correspondent Marguerite Harrison on first film, Grass , 1925; suffered severe eye injury while testing photographic equipment for U.S. Army Air Corps, World WarII. Died: 23 December 1979.

Films as Director:


Grass (doc) (co-d, co-pr, co-sc, co-ph)


Chang (doc) (co-d, co-pr)


The Four Feathers (co-d, co-pr)


Rango (+ pr)


The Most Dangerous Game ( The Hounds of Zaroff ) (co-d, co-pr)


King Kong (co-d, co-pr); Son of Kong ; Blind Adventure


Long Lost Father


The Last Days of Pompeii


Trouble in Morocco ; Outlaws of the Orient


Dr. Cyclops


Mighty Joe Young


This Is Cinerama (d prologue only, uncredited)


By SCHOEDSACK: article—

" Grass : The Making of an Epic," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), February 1983.


Goldner, Orville, and George Turner, The Making of King Kong , Cranbury, New Jersey, 1975.

Gottesman, Ronald, and Harry Geduld, editors, The Girl in the Hairy Paw , New York, 1976.

On SCHOEDSACK: articles—

Boone, Andrew R., "Prehistoric Monsters Roar and Hiss for the Sound Film," in Popular Science Monthly (New York), 1933.

"The Making of the Original King Kong ," in American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), January 1977.

"RKO: They Also Served," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), December 1979.

Goimard, J., "Cooper et Schoedsack: une longue collaboration," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), November 1982.

Mould, D. H., and G. Veeder, "The Photographer-Adventurers: Forgotten Heroes of the Silent Screen," in Journal of Popular Film and Television (Washington, D.C.), vol. 16, no. 3, Fall 1988.

* * *

Ernest B. Schoedsack's initial fame as a filmmaker came from his work in the documentary mode directing "natural dramas," as he and his partner Merian C. Cooper called their films. Schoedsack's spirit for adventure in these pictures can be traced to the kind of life he himself led. He began his film career simply enough as a cameraman with the Mack Sennett Keystone Studios. When World War I broke out Schoedsack enlisted with the photographic section of the Signal Corps. He was stationed in France, where he gained a great deal of film experience as a newsreel cameraman. With the signing of the Armistice, Schoedsack decided to remain in Europe and aid the Poles in their battle against the Russians. While in Poland Schoedsack continued to make newsreels. This occupation, however, was primarily a cover to disguise the fact that he was smuggling supplies and Poles out of Russian-occupied territory.

It was in Poland that Schoedsack met his future partner Merian C. Cooper. Like Schoedsack, Cooper was an American who wanted to help the Polish people in their struggle for freedom. Cooper's exploits during the Russian-Polish conflict resulted in his imprisonment by the Russians as a spy. Fortunately he managed to escape before he could be executed. The true-life adventures of both Cooper and Schoedsack make it easy to see why these two sought out the most distant, difficult, and dangerous locations they could find for their films.

Their first motion picture collaboration, titled Grass , concerned the yearly migration of the Bakhtiari tribes in Persia as they crossed over the Zardeh Kuh mountain range to find grazing land for their sheep and cattle. Although the trip was long and treacherous, Cooper and Schoedsack made the journey with the tribesmen, filming every step of the way. Back home Grass was an extremely successful film, and, along with Nanook of the North , helped to set the style for documentary travelogues.

Their next project together, Chang , was a documentary film set in China, but with a more centralized story line than Grass. This film dealt with one man's efforts to protect his family from the dangers of nature. In order to help dramatize the story, some events in the film were staged. For example, the climactic elephant stampede toward the end of the film was directed at a mock village so that no lives would be endangered. Audiences in America were none the wiser, however, and Chang played to large crowds on Broadway.

With each successive film Cooper and Schoedsack moved more and more toward fiction, although their films still retained a documentary look. For example, their next film, The Four Feathers , included background scenes filmed in Africa, while the principal actors were filmed on a Hollywood stage. Eventually Cooper and Schoedsack moved their filmmaking partnership entirely to Hollywood and away from real locations. They continued to make films in the documentary style, though, as shown by their most famous film of all, King Kong. As a work of fiction, King Kong is a fantasy version of Cooper and Schoedsack's ultimate documentary adventure—a journey to a faraway uncharted island in search of the "Eighth Wonder of the World." The film was the box-office surprise of 1933 and it is still popular today.

After King Kong Schoedsack directed little of note. He directed two more giant ape pictures, Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young. An accident during World War II left him partially blinded, but his documentary films alone earned Schoedsack an important place in the tradition of non-fiction filmmaking.

—Linda J. Obalil

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