King Vidor - Director

Nationality: American. Born: King Wallis Vidor in Galveston, Texas, 8 February 1894. Education: Attended Peacock Military Academy, San Antonio, Texas. Family: Married 1) actress Florence Arto, 1915 (divorced 1924), one daughter; 2) actress Eleanor Boardman, 1926 (divorced 1932); 3) Elizabeth Hall, 1932 (died 1973). Career: Ticket-taker and part-time projectionist in Galveston's first movie house, 1909–10; amateur newsreel photographer, 1910–15; drove to Hollywood in Model T, financed trip by shooting footage for Ford's advertising newsreel, 1915; worked at various jobs in film industry, then directed first feature, The Turn in the Road , 1919; hired by 1st National, built studio called Vidor Village, 1920 (shut down, 1922); director for Goldwyn Studios, 1923, later absorbed by MGM; taught graduate course in cinema, University of California, Los Angeles, 1960s. Awards: Best Direction, Venice Festival, for Wedding Night , 1935; Special Prize, Edinburgh Festival, 1964; Honorary Academy Award, 1978. Died: Of heart failure, in California, 1 November 1982.

King Vidor
King Vidor

Films as Director:


The Turn in the Road (+ sc); Better Times (+ sc); The Other Half (+ sc); Poor Relations (+ sc)


The Jack Knife Man (+ pr, co-sc); The Family Honor (+ co-pr);


The Sky Pilot ; Love Never Dies (+ co-pr)


Conquering the Woman (+ pr); Woman, Wake Up (+ pr); The Real Adventure (+ pr); Dusk to Dawn (+ pr)


Peg-o-My-Heart ; The Woman of Bronze ; Three Wise Fools (+ co-sc)


Wild Oranges (+ co-sc); Happiness ; Wine of Youth ; His Hour


Wife of the Centaur ; Proud Flesh ; The Big Parade


La Bohème (+ pr); Bardelys, The Magnificent (+ pr)


The Crowd (+ co-sc); The Patsy ; Show People




Not So Dumb ; Billy the Kid


Street Scene ; The Champ


Bird of Paradise ; Cynara


Stranger's Return


Our Daily Bread (+ pr, co-sc)


Wedding Night ; So Red the Rose


The Texas Rangers (+ pr, co-sc)


Stella Dallas


The Citadel (+ pr)


Northwest Passage (+ pr); Comrade X (+ pr)


H.M. Pulham, Esq. (+ pr, co-sc)


American Romance (+ pr, co-sc)


Duel in the Sun


The Fountainhead ; Beyond the Forest


Lightning Strikes Twice


Ruby Gentry (+ co-pr)


Man without a Star


War and Peace (+ co-sc)


Solomon and Sheba


By VIDOR: books—

A Tree Is a Tree , New York, 1953; reprinted 1977.

King Vidor on Filmmaking , New York, 1972.

King Vidor , an interview by Nancy Dowd and David Shepard, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1988.

By VIDOR: articles—

"Easy Steps to Success," in Motion Picture Classic (New York), August 1919.

"Credo," in Variety (New York), January 1920.

Interview with M. Cheatham, in Motion Picture Classic (New York), June 1928.

"The Story Conference," in Films in Review (New York), June/July 1952.

"Lillian Gish in Opera," in Films and Filming (London), January 1955.

"The End of an Era," in Films and Filming (London), March 1955.

"Me . . . and My Spectacle," in Films and Filming (London), October 1959.

Interview with V. F. Perkins and Mark Shivas, in Movie (London), July/August 1963.

"King Vidor at N.Y.U.," an interview in Cineaste (New York), Spring 1968.

"War, Wheat, and Steel," an interview with J. Greenburg, in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1968.

"King Vidor," an interview with D. Lyons and G. O'Brien, in Inter/ View (New York), October 1972.

Arts in Society , vol. 10, no. 2, Summer-Autumn, 1973.

"King Vidor on D.W. Griffith's Influence," an interview with A. Nash, in Films in Review (New York), November 1975.

"Mes dix années avec Charlie," interview in Positif (Paris), no. 405, November 1994.

On VIDOR: books—

Brownlow, Kevin, The Parade's Gone By . . . , New York, 1968.

Higham, Charles, and Joel Greenberg, editors, The Celluloid Muse: Hollywood Directors Speak , London, 1969.

Baxter, John, King Vidor , New York, 1976.

Comuzio, Ermanno, King Vidor , Florence, 1986.

Durgnat, Raymond, and Scott Simmon, King Vidor—American , Berkeley, 1988.

Lang, Robert, American Film Melodrama: Griffith, Vidor, Minnelli , Princeton, New Jersey, 1989.

Mulvey, Laura, Visual and Other Pleasures , London, 1989.

On VIDOR: articles—

Harrington, C., "King Vidor's Hollywood Progress," in Sight and Sound (London), April/June 1953.

Brownlow, Kevin, "King Vidor," in Film (London), Winter 1962.

Sarris, Andrew, "Second Line," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1963.

"The Directors Choose the Best Films," in Cinema (Beverly Hills), August/September 1963.

Mitchell, G.J., "King Vidor," in Films in Review (New York), March 1964.

Higham, C., "King Vidor," in Film Heritage (Dayton, Ohio), Summer 1966.

"King Vidor at NYU: Discussion," in Cineaste (New York), Spring 1968.

Barr, C., "King Vidor," in Brighton (London), March 1970.

Luft, H.G., "A Career That Spans Half a Century," in Film Journal (New York), Summer 1971.

Higham, C., "Long Live Vidor, a Hollywood King," in The New York Times , 3 September 1972.

Durgnat, Raymond, "King Vidor," in two parts, in Film Comment (New York), July/August and September/October 1973.

"Vidor Issues" of Positif (Paris), September and November 1974.

" Notre pain quotidien Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinema (Paris), 1 May 1977.

Dover, B., "Tribute to King Vidor," in Films in Review (New York), June/July 1978.

Lang, J., "Hommage à King Vidor," in Cinéma (Paris), November 1981.

Carbonner, A., "King Vidor ou l'ambivalence du désir," in Cinéma (Paris) December 1982.

Luft, H.G., "King Vidor," in Films in Review (New York), December 1982.

Allen, W., "King Vidor and The Crowd ," in Stills (London), Winter 1982.

Eyman, S., "Remembering King Vidor," in Films and Filming (London), January 1983.

Kirkpatrick, S.D., "Hollywood Whodunit," in American Film (Washington D.C.), June 1986.

Special issue, in Castoro Cinema (Firenze), no.122, 1986.

Gillett, John, and Richard Combs, "King Vidor—Worth Overdoing!" in National Film Theatre Booklet (London), May 1991.

Zamour, Françoise, "L'omniprésence de l'architecture chez King Vidor," in CinémAction (Conde-sur-Noireau), no. 75, April 1995.

* * *

King Vidor began work in Hollywood as a company clerk for Universal, submitting original scripts under the pseudonym Charles K. Wallis. (Universal employees weren't allowed to submit original work to the studio.) Vidor eventually confessed his wrongdoing and was fired as a clerk, only to be rehired as a comedy writer. Within days, he lost this job as well when Universal discontinued comedy production.

Vidor next worked as the director of a series of short dramatic films detailing the reform work of Salt Lake City Judge Willis Brown, a Father Flanagan-type. Vidor tried to parlay this experience into a job as a feature director with a major studio but was unsuccessful. He did manage, however, to find financial backing from nine doctors for his first feature, a picture with a Christian Science theme titled The Turn in the Road. Vidor spent the next year working on three more features for the newly christened Brentwood Company, including the comedy Better Times , starring his own discovery, Zasu Pitts.

In 1920 Vidor accepted an offer from First National and a check for $75,000. He persuaded his father to sell his business in order that he might build and manage "Vidor Village," a small studio that mirrored similar projects by Chaplin, Sennett, Griffith, Ince, and others. Vidor directed eight pictures at Vidor Village, but was forced to close down in 1922. The following year, he was hired by Louis B. Mayer at Metro to direct aging stage star Laurette Taylor in Peg-o-My-Heart. Soon after, he went to work for Samuel Goldywn, attracted by Goldywn's artistic and literary aspirations. In 1924 Vidor returned to Metro as a result of a studio merger that resulted in MGM. He would continue to work there for the next 20 years, initially entrusted with molding the careers of rising stars John Gilbert and Eleanor Boardman, soon to be Vidor's second wife.

The Big Parade changed Vidor's status from contract director to courted screen artist. Produced by Irving Thalberg, the film grew from a minor studio production into one of MGM's two biggest hits of 1926, grossing $18 million. The Big Parade satisfied Vidor's desire to make a picture with lasting value and extended exhibition. It was the first of three films he wanted to make on the topics of "wheat, steel, and war." Vidor went on to direct Gilbert and Lillian Gish, a new studio acquisition, in La Bohème. Encouraged by the popularity of German films of the period and their concern with urban life, Vidor made The Crowd , " The Big Parade of peace." It starred unknown actor James Murray, whose life would end in an alcoholic suicide. (Murray inspired one of Vidor's later projects, an unproduced picture titled The Actor. ) Like The Big Parade, The Crowd presented the reactions of an everyman, this time to the anonymity of the city and the rigors of urban survival. Vidor's silent career then continued with two of Marion Davies' comedies, The Patsy and Show People. His career extended into "talkies" with a third comedy, Not So Dumb. Though only moderately successful, Vidor became a favorite in William Randolph Hearst's entourage.

Vidor was in Europe when the industry announced its conversion to sound. He quickly returned to propose Hallelujah , with an all-black cast. Although considered a politically astute director for Hollywood, the film exposes Vidor's political shortcomings in its paternalistic attitude toward blacks. With similar political naiveté, Vidor's next great film, the pseudo-socialist agricultural drama Our Daily Bread , was derived from a Reader's Digest article.

By this point in his career, Vidor's thematics were fairly intact. Informing most of his lasting work is the struggle of Man against Destiny and Nature. In his great silent pictures, The Big Parade and The Crowd , the hero wanders through an anonymous and malevolent environment, war-torn Europe and the American city, respectively. In his later sound films, The Citadel, Northwest Passage , Duel in the Sun, , and The Fountainhead various forms of industry operate as a vehicle of Man's battle to subdue Nature. Unlike the optimism in the films of Ford and Capra, Vidor's films follow a Job-like pattern in which victory comes, if at all, with a great deal of personal sacrifice. Underlying all of Vidor's great work are the biblical resonances of a Christian Scientist, where Nature is ultimately independent from and disinterested in Man, who always remains subordinate in the struggle against its forces.

Following Our Daily Bread , Vidor continued to alternate between films that explored this personal thematic and projects seemingly less suited to his interests. In more than 50 features, Vidor worked for several producers, directing Wedding Night and Stella Dallas for Samuel Goldwyn; The Citadel, Northwest Passage , and Comrade X for MGM; Bird of Paradise , where he met his third wife Elizabeth Hill, and Duel in the Sun for David O. Selznick; The Fountainhead, Beyond the Forest , and Lightning Strikes Twice for Warner Brothers; and late in his career, War and Peace for Dino De Laurentiis. Vidor exercised more control on his films after Our Daily Bread , often serving as producer, but his projects continued to fluctuate between intense metaphysical drama and lightweight comedy and romance.

In the 1950s Vidor's only notable film was Ruby Gentry , and his filmmaking career ended on a less-than-praiseworthy note with Solomon and Sheba. In the 1960s he made two short documentaries, Truth and Illusion and Metaphor , about his friend Andrew Wyeth. Vidor wrote a highly praised autobiography in 1953, A Tree Is a Tree. In 1979 he received an honorary Oscar (he was nominated as best director five times). In the last years of his life, he was honored in his hometown of Galveston with an annual King Vidor film festival.

—Michael Selig

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