Art Director. Nationality: American. Born: New York, 23 March 1893. Family: Married the actress Dolores Del Rio, 1930 (divorced 1941). Military Service: U.S. Navy, 1916–17. Career: 1917–18—art director for Edison, then for Goldwyn, 1918–23, and for MGM from 1924–56: supervising art director for many years. Awards: Academy Award for The Bridge of San Luis Rey , 1928–29; The Merry Widow , 1934; Pride and Prejudice , 1940; Blossoms in the Dust , 1941; Gaslight , 1944; The Yearling , 1946; Little Women , 1949; An American in Paris , 1951; The Bad and the Beautiful , 1952; Julius Caesar , 1953; Somebody Up There Likes Me , 1956; Special Award, 1950. Died: In Westwood, California, 26 July 1960.
Films as Art Director (selected list):
The World and Its Women (Lloyd)
Beating the Game (Schertzinger); The Invisible Power (Lloyd); Made in Heaven (Schertzinger); An Unwilling Hero (Badger)
Come on Over (Green); Remembrance (Hughes); Yellow Men and Gold (Willat)
Broadway Gold (Dillon and Cooper); Gimme (Hughes); Jazzmania (Leonard); Look Your Best (Hughes)
Circe the Enchantress (Leonard); He Who Gets Slapped (Sjöström); His Hour (K. Vidor); The Snob (Bell); So This Is Marriage (Henley); Three Weeks (Crosland)
Wife of the Centaur (K. Vidor); Ben-Hur (Niblo); The Big Parade (K. Vidor); Bright Lights (Leonard); Cheaper to Marry (Leonard); The Circle (Borzage); Confessions of a Queen (Sjöström); Daddy's Gone a-Hunting (Borzage); The Denial (Henley); The Dixie Handicap (Barker); Exchange of Wives (Henley); Excuse Me (Goulding); Fine Clothes (Stahl); The Great Divide (Barkee); Greed (von Stroheim); His Secretary (Henley); Lady of the Night (Bell); Man and Maid (Schertzinger); The Mystic (Browning); The Masked Bride (von Sternberg and Cabanne); The Merry Widow (von Stroheim); The Only Thing (Conway); Sally, Irene, and Mary (Goulding); A Slave of Fashion (Henley); Soul Mates (Conway); The Sporting Venus (Neilan); The Tower of Lies (Sjöström); The Unholy Three (Conway); The Way of a Girl (Vignola)
Bardelys the Magnificent (K. Vidor); Beverly of Graustark (Franklin); The Black Bird (Browning); Blarney (De Sano); La Boheme (K. Vidor); The Boob (Wellman); The Boy Friend (Bell); Brown of Harvard (Conway); Dance Madness (Leonard); Exit Smiling (Taylor); The Exquisite Sinner (von Sternberg and Rosen); The Fire Brigade (Nigh); The Flaming Forest (Barker); Flesh and the Devil (Brown); The Gay Deceiver (Stahl); Love's Blindness (Dillon); Lovey Mary (Baggot); Memory Lane (Stahl); Money Talks (Mayo); Monte Carlo (Cabanne); Paris (Goulding); The Road to Mandalay (Browning); The Scarlet Letter (Sjöström); Tell It to the Marines (Hill); The Temptress (Stiller and Niblo); There You Are! (Sedgwick); Tin Hats (Sedgwick); The Torrent (Bell); Upstage (Bell); Valencia (Buchowetzki); The Waning Sex (Leonard)
Adam and Evil (Leonard); After Midnight (Bell); Altars of Desire (Cabanne); Annie Laurie (Robertson); Becky (McCarthy); Body and Soul (Barker); The Bugle Call (Sedgwick); Buttons (Hill); The Callahans and the Murphys (Hill); Captain Salvation (Robertson); The Demi-Bride (Leonard); The Enemy (Niblo); The Fair Co-ed (Wood); Foreign Devils (Van Dyke); Frisco Sally Levy (Beaudine); Heaven on Earth (Rosen); In Old Kentucky (Stahl); A Little Journey (Leonard); London after Midnight (Browning); Love (Goulding); The Lovelorn (McCarthy); Lovers? (Stahl); Man, Woman, and Sin (Bell); Mr. Wu (Nigh); Mockery (Christensen); On ze Boulevard (Millarde); Quality Street (Franklin); The Red Mill (Goodrich, i.e. Arbuckle); The Road to Romance (Robertson); Rookies (Wood); The Show (Browning); Slide, Kelly, Slide (Sedgwic); Spring Fever (Sedgwick); The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (Lubitsch); The Taxi Driver (Millarde); Tea for Three (Leonard); Tillie the Toiler (Henley); Twelve Miles Out (Conway); The Understanding Heart (Conway); The Unknown (Browning); Women Love Diamonds (Goulding); Anna Karenina (Buckowetzki—unfinished)
Across to Singapore (Nigh); The Actress (Franklin); The Baby Cyclone (Sutherland); Baby Mine (Leonard); Beau Broadway (St. Clair); The Big City (Browning); Bringing Up Father (Conway); Brotherly Love (Reisner); The Cardboard Lover (Leonard); A Certain Young Man (Henley); Circus Rookies (Sedgwick); The Cossacks (Hill); The Crowd (K. Vidor); The Divine Woman (Sjöström); Dream of Love (Niblo); Excess Baggage (Cruze); Forbidden Hours (Beaumont); Four Walls (Nigh); Honeymoon (Golden); A Lady of Chance (Leonard); The Latest from Paris (Wood); Laugh, Clown, Laugh (Brenon); The Masks of the Devil (Sjöström); The Mysterious Lady (Niblo); Our Dancing Daughters (Beaumont); The Patsy (K. Vidor); Rose-Marie (Hubbard); Show People (K. Vidor); The Smart Set (Conway); Telling the World (Wood); West of Zanzibar (Bowning); While the City Sleeps (Conway); Wickedness Preferred (Henley); The Wind (Sjöström); A Woman of Affairs (Brown)
Alias Jimmy Valentine (Conway); All at Sea (Goulding); Bellamy Trial (Bell); The Bridge of San Luis Rey (Brabin); The Broadway Melody (Beaumont); China Bound (Reisner); Desert Nights (Nigh); Devil-May-Care (Franklin); The Duke Steps Out (Cruze); Dynamite (De Mille); The Flying Fleet (Hill); The Girl in the Show (Selwyn); Hallelujah (K. Vidor); His Glorious Night (L. Barrymore); The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (Reisner); The Idle Rich (W. De Mille); It's a Great Life (Wood); The Kiss (Conway); The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (Franklin); Madame X (L. Barrymore); A Man's Man (Cruze); Marianne (Leonard); The Mysterious Island (Hubbard); Navy Blues (Brown); Our Modern Maidens (Conway); The Pagan (Van Dyke); A Single Man (Beaumont); The Single Standard (Robertson); So This Is College (Wood); Speedway (Beaumont); Spite Marriage (Sedgwick); Their Own Desire (Hopper); The Thirteenth Chair (Browning); Tide of Empire (Dwan); The Trial of '98 (Brown); The Trial of Mary Dugan (Veiller); The Unholy Night (L. Barrymore); Untamed (Conway); Voice of the City (Mack); Where East Is East (Browning); Wild Orchids (Franklin); Wise Girls (Hopper); Wonder of Women (Brown)
Anna Christie (Brown); The Big House (Hill); Billy the Kid (K. Vidor); The Bishop Murder Case (Grinde); Call of the Flesh (Brabin); Caught Short (Reisner); Chasing Rainbows (Reisner); Children of Pleasure (Lloyd); The Divorcee (Leonard); Doughboys (Sedgwick); The Floradora Girl (Beaumont); Free and Easy (Sedgwick); The Girl Said No (Wood); Good News (Grinde); In Gay Madrid (Leonard); The Lady of Scandal (Franklin); A Lady to Love (Sjöström); A Lady's Morals (Franklin); Let Us Be Gay (Leonard); Lord Byron of Broadway (Nigh and Beaumont); Love in the Rough (Reisner); Madam Satan (De Mille); Men of the North (Roach); Min and Bill (Hill); Montana Moon (St. Clair); Not So Dumb (K. Vidor); Olympia (Feyder—German version of A Lady to Love ; he also directed Si l'empereur savaitça! , the French version); Our Blushing Brides (Beaumont); Paid (Wood); Passion Flower (W. De Mille); Redemption (Niblo); Remote Control (St. Clair and Grinde); The Rogue Song (L. Barrymore); Romance (Brown); The Sea Bat (Ruggles); The Ship from Shanghai (Brabin); Sins of the Children (Wood); Strictly Unconventional (Burton); They Learned about Women (Conway); This Mad World (W. De Mille); Those Three French Girls (Beaumont); The Unholy Three (Conway); Le Spectre vert (Feyder—French version of previous film); War Nurse (Selwyn); Way for a Sailor (Wood); Way Out West (Niblo); The Woman Racket (Ober and Kelly); Wu Li Chang (Grinde—Spanish version of Mr. Wu )
Private Lives (Franklin); Susan Lenox, Her Fall and Rise (Leonard)
Grand Hotel (Goulding); Freaks (Browning)
Dinner at Eight (Cukor); Queen Christina (Mamoulian)
Men in White (Boleslawsky); The Painted Veil (Boleslawsky); The Thin Man (Van Dyke); The Barretts of Wimpole Street (Franklin); David Copperfield (Cukor); Anna Karenina (Brown); The Merry Widow (Lubitsch)
Mark of the Vampire (Browning); China Seas (Garnett); A Tale of Two Cities (Conway); Naughty Marietta (Van Dyke); Mutiny on the Bounty (Lloyd); Mad Love (Freund); Reckless (Fleming); A Night at the Opera (Wood)
The Devil-Doll (Browning); The Great Ziegfeld (Leonard); The Gorgeous Hussy (Brown); Small Town Girl (Wellman); Wife vs. Secretary (Brown); Romeo and Juliet (Cukor); San Francisco (Van Dyke); Fury (F. Lang)
The Good Earth (Franklin); Conquest (Brown); Big City (Borzage); A Day at the Races (Wood); Broadway Melody of 1938 (Del Ruth); The Emperor's Candlesticks (Fitzmaurice); The Firefly (Leonard); The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (Boleslawsky); Saratoga (Conway); Navy Blue and Gold (Wood); Captains Courageous (Fleming); Camille (Cukor); Madame X (Wood)
The Girl of the Golden West (Leonard); The Great Waltz (Duvivier); Lord Jeff (Wood); Three Comrades (Borzage); Arsene Lupin Returns (Fitzmaurice); Marie Antoinette (Van Dyke)
Balalaika (Schünzel); The Wizard of Oz (Fleming); Another Thin Man (Van Dyke); Ninotchka (Lubitsch); Remember? (McLeod); Maisie (Marin)
Boom Town (Conway); The Philadelphia Story (Cukor); Pride and Prejudice (Leonard)
The Chocolate Soldier (Del Ruth); H. M. Pulham, Esq. (K. Vidor); Love Crazy (Conway); Honky Tonk (Conway); Unholy Partners (LeRoy); Barnacle Bill (Thorpe); Blossoms in the Dust (LeRoy)
Mrs. Miniver (Wyler)
Bataan (Garnett); A Guy Named Joe (Fleming); Cabin in the Sky (Minnelli); The Cross of Lorraine (Garnett); The Human Comedy (Brown); Lassie Come Home (Wilcox); Thousands Cheer (Sidney)
Gaslight (Cukor); Kismet ( Oriental Dream ) (Dieterle); Madame Curie (LeRoy); The Seventh Cross (Zinnemann); Thirty Seconds over Tokyo (LeRoy); Meet Me in St. Louis (Minnelli)
The Picture of Dorian Grey (Lewin); Yolanda and the Thief (Minnelli)
The Postman Always Rings Twice (Garnett); Ziegfeld Follies (Minnelli—produced 1944); The Green Years (Saville); The Yearling (Brown)
Lady in the Lake (Montgomery); Song of Love (Brown)
The Pirate (Minnelli); Command Decision (Wood); The Three Musketeers (Sidney)
On the Town (Kelly and Donen); Madame Bovary (Minnelli); Battle Ground (Wellman); The Great Singer (Siodmak); Little Women (LeRoy); Adam's Rib (Cukor)
Annie Get Your Gun (Sidney); The Asphalt Jungle (Huston)
An American in Paris (Minnelli); Showboat (Sidney); Quo Vadis (LeRoy); The Tall Target (A. Mann)
The Bad and the Beautiful (Minnelli); Singin' in the Rain (Kelly and Donen); Lovely to Look At (LeRoy)
Scaramouche (Sidney); Julius Caesar (Mankiewicz); The Band Wagon (Minnelli); The Actress (Cukor)
Executive Suite (Wise); Jupiter's Darling (Sidney); Bad Day at Black Rock (Sturges)
Blackboard Jungle (Brooks); Kismet (Minnelli); Love Me or Leave Me (C. Vidor)
Somebody Up There Likes Me (Wise); I'll Cry Tomorrow (D. Mann); The Swan (A. Mann); Lust for Life (Minnelli); High Society (Walters); Forbidden Planet (Wilcox)
Film as Director:
Tarzan and His Mate
By GIBBONS: articles—
"Motion Picture Sets," in The Theatre and Motion Pictures , edited by Warren E. Cox, Chicago, 1933.
"Every Home's a Stage," in Ladies' Home Journal (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), July 1933.
"Designs of Settings for Romeo and Juliet," in Romeo and Juliet: A Moving Picture Edition , New York, 1936.
"The Art Director," in Behind the Screen: How Films Are Made , edited by Stephen Watts, London, 1938.
On GIBBONS: articles—
Lachenbruch, Jerome, "Interior Decoration for the 'Movies': Studies from the Work of Cedric Gibbons and Gilbert White," in Arts and Decoration (New York), January 1921.
Flint, Ralph, in Creative Art , October 1932.
Stuart, Betty Thornley, "Movie Set Up," in Collier's (New York), 30 September 1933.
Erengis, George P., in Films in Review (New York), April 1965.
Hambley, John, in The Art of Hollywood , London, 1979.
Cinématographe (Paris), February 1982.
Webb, Michael, "Pioneering Art Director Who Brought Modernism to the Movies: Cedric Gibbons and the MGM Style," in Architectural Digest , vol. 47, April 1990.
Gill, Brendan, "Cedric Gibbons and Dolores Del Rio: The Art Director and the Star of Flying Down to Rio in Santa Monica," in Architectural Digest , vol. 49, April 1992.
* * *
The production designer Cedric Gibbons, though little-known to many filmgoers, strongly influenced many of Hollywood's greatest films. Born in New York in the last decade of the 19th century, Gibbons, already educated in art and architecture, began his movie career just as the film industry started rolling. He obtained an assistant's job at the Edison Studios and worked there from 1915 to 1917. Gibbons made a major mark on film design at this time when he insisted on the use of three-dimensional scenery rather than painted backdrops.
In 1918 Gibbons left Edison for a position as art director at Goldwyn's in New York. Later he moved with Goldwyn and company to California. In 1924 came a significant turning point. MGM studios was formed, and Gibbons became its supervising art director.
It is not easy to determine which of the films in his very vast filmography can really be completely credited to Gibbons. Any film coming out of MGM would list Gibbons as art director. Gibbon's greatest contributions would go to the "prestige" pictures, such as Marie Antoinette , Ben-Hur , or Camille . He collaborated on many of the other MGM movies and merely approved the rest. Those pictures produced after his heart attack in 1946 would have even less of his touch. But it is misleading to assume Gibbons blindly accepted the ideas of others, taking credit for their creations. Gibbons felt strongly about what was right and wrong for MGM and getting his approval was no easy task. Vincente Minnelli described the Gibbons reign as a "medieval fiefdom, its overlord accustomed to doing things in a certain way." As stifling as this might be to the creativities of other artists and directors at MGM, this attitude served its purpose. MGM films shared a distinctive "look." This was achieved because all employees responsible in any way for the visual appearance of the film—from props to costumes to special effects—had to confer with Gibbons. He maintained MGM's visual continuity and maintained this control through the decades.
Several qualities characterize the MGM picture during the Gibbons rule, particularly elegance and glamor in his films from the 1930s. It did not matter if the scene or the moment called for it; the floors would still be highly polished and the chandelier crystal. Luxury and the elaborate were encouraged. A Gibbons-approved set could be as active as one of the dancers during a production number, littered with booms and turntables.
Like the popular British and French interior designers between the wars, Gibbons preferred all-white rooms. The harsh contrast of shapes and shadows that one would find in the German expressionist-influenced studios such as Warner Brothers or Universal would never be found at MGM. Gibbons sets were the height of escapist fantasy, as light and witty as a Cole Porter tune.
Gibbons also preferred to have MGM sets sculptural, perhaps harking back to his days as an artist and architect. This penchant for the three-dimensional might have been part of the reason for Vincente Minelli's animosity towards Gibbons, for Minelli films such as An American in Paris require a two-dimension emphasis for artistic effect. Fortunately, in spite of the difficulties, An American in Paris managed to gain Gibbons's dictatorial approval (and ironically enough won him an Oscar).
Gibbons retired in 1956 and died in 1960. He had been nominated for 37 Academy Awards in his career and had won 11. In addition, he is credited with designing the original Oscar statuette. This stream-lined, planar sculpture is an appropriate homage to Gibbons's oeuvre and serves as a reminder of the film industry's more glorious and powerful past.
—Edith C. Lee