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William Wyler

William Wyler

Laurence Olivier credited Wyler with teaching him how to act on film. During the shooting of Wuthering Heights (1939), Wyler constantly heckled Olivier after many takes with such epithets as "Lousy!" When Olivier asked the notoriously uncommunicative (towards actors) director, he replied, "Stop trying to reach the third balcony of the Manchester Opera House." Olivier curbed his tendency to go over the top and won his first of 10 acting Oscar nominations in the role. Olivier had had contempt for the movies, but after working with Wyler he developed respect for the medium.

Carl Laemmle, the owner of Universal Studios, was the first cousin of Wyler's mother. Laemmle offered Wyler, who was then living in his native Alsace in France, a job in Universal's New York office. Wyler accepted the offer and emigrated to America in 1920. He was 18 years old.

Bette Davis credited him for making her a box office-star after he directed her Oscar-winning performance in Jezebel (1938).

According to screenwriter Joe Eszterhas' 2004 autobiography "American Animal," producer Martin Ransohoff removed three-time Oscar winning director Wyler from The Americanization of Emily (1964) because Wyler wanted to change Paddy Chayefsky's script. It was a rare instance in which a producer supported a screenwriter over a director, particularly one of Wyler's caliber. As Chayevsky, himself an Oscar-winner, was known to have contractual guarantees written into his contracts protecting his scripts, Ransohoff may have had no choice but to replace Wyler with Arthur Hiller.

As of the 5th edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (edited by Steven Jay Schneider), 7 of Wyler's films were listed: Dodsworth (1936), Jezebel (1938), Wuthering Heights (1939), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), The Heiress (1949), Roman Holiday (1953) and Ben-Hur (1959).



Became the youngest director on the Universal lot on his promotion in 1925.

Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume One, 1981-1985, pages 898-900. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1998.

Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890-1945". Pages 1220-1233. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1987.

Born Willi Wyler on July 1, 1902, in Mulhouse in Alsace Province, Germany (later ceded to France after World War I), he was brought to America in 1920 by his mother's first cousin, Carl Laemmle, owner of Universal Pictures. By 1925 Wyler had worked his way up through the family business and was made a director, helming the two-reel western The Crook Buster (1925). He was credited as "William Wyler" on the film, though he never officially changed his name.

Brother-in-law of Cathy O'Donnell.

Cousin-in-law of Carl Laemmle Jr.

Directed 31 different actors in Oscar-nominated performances (more than any other director): Bonita Granville, Walter Huston, Maria Ouspenskaya, Claire Trevor, Bette Davis, Fay Bainter, Laurence Olivier, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Walter Brennan, James Stephenson, Patricia Collinge, Teresa Wright, Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Henry Travers, Dame May Whitty, Fredric March, Harold Russell, Olivia de Havilland, Ralph Richardson, Eleanor Parker, Lee Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Eddie Albert, Anthony

Directed three Best Picture Oscar winners (Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and Ben-Hur (1959)) and one Oscar-winning Best Documentary, The Fighting Lady (1944). He won the Best Director Oscar for each of the three winning feature films. An additional ten films he directed, from Dodsworth (1936) to Funny Girl (1968), were nominated for Best Picture Academy Awards.

Father of Catherine Wyler (born July 25, 1939), Judy Wyler (May 21, 1942), David Wyler, Melanie Ann Wyler (born November 25, 1950) and William Wyler Jr.

First cousin, once-removed, on his mother's side of Carl Laemmle, who was known on the Universal Studio lot as "Uncle Carl."

Has directed three films on the American Film Institute's 100 Most Inspiring Movies of All Time: Ben-Hur (1959) at #56, Mrs. Miniver (1942) at #40 and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) at #11.

He was asked by Laurence Olivier to direct Henry V (1944), for which the British government had released the actor from the navy air services to film in order to boost public morale. Wyler, who was in England as an officer in charge of a US Army Signals Corps motion picture unit assigned to the US Army Air Force, declined the offer and told him to direct it himself. Still considered the best film adaptation of Shakespeare, "Henry V" won Olivier a special Oscar and his third Best Actor nomination.

His penchant for retakes earned him many nicknames including '90-Take Wyler' and 'Once-More Wyler'.

In June of 1944 he permanently lost the hearing in his right ear while filming a bombing mission from a B-17.

Interred at Forest Lawn (Glendale), Glendale, California, USA, in the Eventide Section, space 2, plot #2998.

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