Sam Spiegel - Writer

Producer. Nationality: Austrian. Born: Samuel Spiegelglass in Jaroslau, (now Jaroslaw, Poland), 11 November 1903; used the name S. P. Eagle in 1940–54. Education: Attended schools in Poland. Family: Married 1) Rachel Agronovich, c. 1922 (divorced c. 1926); children: one daughter; 2) the actress Lynn Baggett, 1948 (divorced 1953); 3) Betty Benson, 1957. Also one son by Ann Pennington. Career: 1926–27—cotton broker and stock promoter in Europe; special adviser to Paul Bern at MGM on European plays; transferred to Universal; served five months in California jail for passing a bad cheque; 1930—deported to Poland; 1930–33—worked in Berlin producing French and German versions of Universal films; 1933–35—independent producer in Vienna; 1936—jailed in London for bad cheques; deported to France; then to Mexico; 1939—entered US illegally as S.P. Eagle; 1947—given legal residence; worked as independent producer. Awards: Academy Awards for On the Waterfront , 1954; The Bridge on the River Kwai , 1957; Lawrence of Arabia , 1962; Irving G. Thalberg Award, 1963; Michael Balcon award, 1983. Died: St. Martin, Antilles, 31 December 1985.

Films as Producer:


Unsichtbare Gegner (Katscher); Les Requins du pétrole (Katscher and Decoin); Mariage à responsabilité limitée (de Limur)


The Invader ( An Old Spanish Custom ) (Brunel) (co)

Sam Spiegel
Sam Spiegel


Dernière la façade (Lacombe and Mirande)


Tales of Manhattan (Duvivier) (co)


The Stranger (Welles)


We Were Strangers (Huston)


The Prowler (Losey)


When I Grow Up (M. Kanin)


The African Queen (Huston)


Melba (Milestone)


On the Waterfront (Kazan)


The Strange One ( End As a Man ) (Garfein); The Bridge on the River Kwai (Lean)


Suddenly Last Summer (Mankiewicz)


Lawrence of Arabia (Lean) (co)


The Chase (Penn)


The Happening (Silverstein); The Night of the Generals (Litvak)


Nicholas and Alexandra (Schaffner)


The Last Tycoon (Kazan)


Betrayed (Jones)


By SPIEGEL: article—

Film Index (Mosman Bay, New South Wales), no. 11, 1971.

On SPIEGEL: book—

Sinclair, Andrew, Spiegel: The Man Behind the Pictures , London, 1987.

On SPIEGEL: articles—

Today's Cinema , 5 March 1971.

Avant-Scène (Paris), 15 September 1977.

Jacobson, Harlan, in Film Comment (New York), March-April 1983.

Cinématographe (Paris), May 1984.

Obituary in Variety (New York), 8 January 1986.

Positif (Paris), no. 301, March 1986.

Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1987.

Commentary , July 1988.

Cineaste (New York), October 1994.

Variety (New York), 8 January 1996.

Cineaste (New York), Spring 1996.

* * *

Sam Spiegel was the producer of a number of Oscar-winning films of the 1950s and 1960s including The African Queen , On the Waterfront , The Bridge on the River Kwai , and Lawrence of Arabia . Indeed he defined the image of the independent producer of his era. Prior to Spiegel, producers worked directly for one studio, following the orders of the top mogul. In the 1950s, with the collapse of the studio system, producers became independent entrepreneurs. This required a daring vision because the producer now had to rise or fall on the virtues of a single film.

Spiegel seemed to thrive in the new Hollywood of the 1950s, the very prototype of the successful packager of the color blockbuster film which was Hollywood's mainstay in the difficult years of the 1950s. Spiegel did this by developing a limited number of projects and then hiring top directors (David Lean, Orson Welles, Elia Kazan, Joseph Losey) and first-rate screenwriters (Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, Budd Schulberg, Lillian Hellman). United Artists, then a firm on the verge of bankruptcy, prospered by offering independent producers a chance to bring together the elements for a single film. Spiegel achieved his first success with The African Queen in 1952, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn and directed by John Huston. From then on he became identified with big-scale productions made at sizable intervals from each other. This pattern would be adopted by all big name producers from the 1950s to the present day. In time he became to represent the Old Hollywood, the one which young turks like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg turned upside down in the 1970s.

The peak of his power came between 1957 and 1962. The Bridge on the River Kwai , made for $2.7 million, grossed more than $30 million and won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1957. Lawrence of Arabia , starring the then-unknown Peter O'Toole, was an even bigger hit at the box office, and earned yet another Best Picture Oscar, this time in 1962. Both were directed by David Lean, making that unknown British director one of the highest paid of his profession in Hollywood. Although after Lawrence of Arabia Spiegel would never have another such blockbuster, he continued regularly to turn out films, including The Chase , Nicholas and Alexandra , and his long-cherished, but highly unsuccessful project, The Last Tycoon .

—Douglas Gomery

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