William Cameron Menzies - Writer

Art Director and Director. Nationality: American. Born: William Howe Cameron Menzies in New Haven, Connecticut, 29 July 1896. Education: Attended Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; University of Edinburgh; Art Students League, New York. Military Service: Served in the United States Army during World War I. Family: Married Mignon (Menzies); daughters: Jane and Suzanne. Career: 1920–22—worked in special effects and design, Famous Players-Lasky, London and New York; from 1923—art director for independent and major studios, and director from 1931. Awards: Academy Awards for The Dove and The Tempest (one award), 1928, and Gone with the Wind , 1939; Special Academy Award, 1939. Died: In Hollywood, California, 5 March 1957.

Films as Art Director:


The Naulahka (Fitzmaurice) (co); Innocent (Fitzmaurice)


The Witness for the Defense (Fitzmaurice); A Society Exile (Fitzmaurice)


The Deep Purple (Walsh)


The Oath (Walsh); Serenade (Walsh); The Three Musketeers (Niblo) (co)


Kindred of the Dust (Walsh); Robin Hood (Dwan) (co)


Rosita (Lubitsch)


The Thief of Bagdad (Walsh) (co)


The Lady (Borzage); Her Sister from Paris (Franklin); The Eagle (Brown); Cobra (Henabery); What Price Beauty (Buckingham); Graustark (Buchowetzki); The Dark Angel (Fitzmaurice);


The Wanderer (Walsh) (co); Kiki (Brown); The Bat (West); The Son of the Sheik (Fitzmaurice); Fig Leaves (Hawks)


The Beloved Rogue (Crosland); Camille (Niblo); Two Arabian Knights (Milestone); Sorrell and Son (Brenon) (co); The Dove (West)


Sadie Thompson (Walsh); Drums of Love (Griffith); The Garden of Eden (Milestone); The Tempest (Taylor); The Woman Disputed (H. King and Taylor); The Loves of Zero (Florey); The Awakening (Fleming)


The Iron Mask (Dwan) (co); The Rescue (Brenon); Lady of the Pavements (Griffith); Alibi (West); Coquette (Taylor); Three Live Ghosts (Freeland); The Locked Door (Fitzmaurice); Bulldog Drummond (Jones); Condemned (Ruggles); The Taming of the Shrew (Taylor) (co); New York Nights (Milestone)


Abraham Lincoln (Griffith) (co); The Bad One (Fitzmaurice) (co); Be Yourself (Freeland) (co); The Lottery Bride (Stein) (co); Dubarry, Woman of Passion (Taylor) (co); Lummox (Brenon) (co); One Romantic Night (Stein) (co); Puttin' on the Ritz (Sloman) (co); Raffles (D'Arrast and Fitzmaurice) (co)


Reaching for the Moon (Goulding); Always Goodbye (+ co-d)


Trick for Trick (McFadden); Alice in Wonderland (McLeod) (co, + co-sc); Cavalcade (Lloyd) (co)


Things to Come (co, + d)


The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Taurog) (co); The Young in Heart (Wallace) (co); Intermezzo (Ratoff) (co); Made for Each Other (Cromwell) (co)


Gone with the Wind (Fleming) (co)


Foreign Correspondent (Hitchcock) (co); Our Town (Wood) (co); The Thief of Bagdad (Berger, Powell, and Whelan) (co)


Kings Row (Wood) (co); So Ends Our Night (Cromwell) (co); The Devil and Miss Jones (Wood)


The Pride of the Yankees (Wood) (co)


Mr. Lucky (Potter) (co); The North Star (Milestone) (co); For Whom the Bell Tolls (Wood) (co)


Address Unknown (+ pr + d)


Ivy (+ co-pr)


Arch of Triumph (Milestone)


Drums in the Deep South (+ d); The Whip Hand (+ d)


Invader from Mars (co, + d); The Maze (co, + d)

Other Films:


Almost Married (co-d); Chandu the Magician (co-d)


I Loved You Wednesday (co-d)


Wharf Angel (co-d)


The Green Cockatoo ( Four Dark Hours ; Race Gang ) (d)


Conquest of the Air (co-d)


Duel in the Sun (K. Vidor) (uncredited co-d)


Reign of Terror ( The Black Book ) (A. Mann) (pr)


Around the World in 80 Days (Anderson) (assoc pr)


By MENZIES: articles—

"Cinema Design," in Theatre Arts (New York), September 1929.

"Pictorial Beauty in the Photoplay," in Cinematographic Annual 1930 , Hollywood, 1930.

Film Weekly (London), 5 April 1935.

On MENZIES: articles—

"Layout for Bulldog Drummond ," in Creative Art (New York), October 1929.

Gordon, Jan and Cora, in Star-Dust in Hollywood , London, 1930.

Picturegoer (London), 16 September 1939.

Kino Lehti (Helsinki), no. 3, 1970.

Film Index (Mosman Bay, New South Wales), no. 14, 1972.

Brosnan, John, in Movie Magic , New York, 1974.

Monthly Film Bulletin (London), October 1975, corrections December 1975 and March 1976.

In The Art of Hollywood , edited by John Hambley, London, 1979.

Cinématographe (Paris), February 1982.

Film History (New York), vol. 3, no. 2, 1989.

Liberti, F., and L. Franco, "William Cameron Menzies," in Cineforum , no. 31, July/August 1991.

Vertrees, A. D., "Reconstructing the 'Script in Sketch Form'," in Film & History , no. 3, 1989.

Film Dope (Nottingham), October 1989.

Nosferatu (San Sebastian), February 1994.

Webb, M., "Designing Films: William Cameron Menzies," in Architectural Digest , April 1994.

Lovell, Glenn, " Gone With the Wind (1998 Re-release of 1.33:1 Aspect, with Digital Color Enhancements)," in Variety (New York), 22 June 1998.

* * *

If there is one person who did more than any other to show the importance of art direction in filmmaking, it was William Cameron Menzies. For Gone with the Wind , David Selznick wanted Menzies to be involved early in the preparatory stages because he knew Menzies would plan the whole film on paper. He also wanted the art director to prepare continuity sketches showing lighting and camera angles and to handle the montage sequences. For undertaking these tasks, Menzies was then given the title "production designer," while Lyle Wheeler, who handled the more traditional aspects of set and costume design, was called "art director." Menzies also directed about ten percent of Gone with the Wind , including the Atlanta fire scene, and thus was one of four directors who ultimately directed parts of the film. That the film was a success despite having had so many directors must be attributed in large part to the unity provided by Menzies's design program.

Menzies typically used jagged shapes on railings or fences during scenes of tension or heightened, negative emotions. He was, however, eclectic in his style, drawing inspiration from a variety of sources. Illustrations of fantasy, such as those by Maxfield Parrish or Kay Nielson, inspired the designs for Douglas Fairbanks's The Thief of Bagdad , while German Expressionist films inspired the appearance of The Beloved Rogue . Menzies was also aware of the tradition of careful film design in Hollywood itself, notably in the films of D.W. Griffith. In an article written in 1929, Menzies said that movies required built sets with a simplified design, for the eye could see any one scene for only a short time. He believed the designer's job was to create a broad design of lines and values to which was then applied the realism of architecture, figures, and properties. By expressing this relationship between details and an underlying structure, Menzies's art can be seen to parallel American paintings of the period, specifically those by artists such as Charles Sheeler or Edward Hopper who apply some realistic details to a carefully organized composition. Menzies undoubtedly was an important figure in solidifying the position of the art director or production designer in Hollywood. His influence is found in many films that display designs with carefully controlled atmosphere, texture, color, and composition.

—Floyd W. Martin

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