W.S. Van Dyke Overview:

Legendary director, W.S. Van Dyke, was born Woodbridge Strong Van Dyke II on Mar 21, 1889 in San Diego, CA. Van Dyke died at the age of 53 on Feb 5, 1943 in Brentwood, CA and was laid to rest in Forest Lawn (Glendale) Cemetery in Glendale, CA.


W.S. Van Dyke, alias 'One Take Woody', was one of the most colorful characters from Hollywood's most adventurous and confident times. The speed at which he made his films (hence his nickname) should not obscure the fact that he directed a great many fine, smoothly made films. He was equally at home with the far-flung, often location-shot adventures that dominated his early career, as well as with the sophisticated comedies, dramas and musicals that he made when his health forced him to become a studio-bound director of the 1930s. Those who consider Van Dyke to be of little significance should remember that Barriers Burned Away, White Shadows in the South Seas, Trader Horn, Tarzan the Ape Man, The Thin Man and San Francisco were all landmark movies in their day.

In his youth, Van Dyke was a lumberjack, a prospector and a gold-miner before coming to Hollywood in 1916 to seek film work. He got himself hired as one of D.W. Griffith's many assistants in Intolerance, and was taken on at the Lasky Studios for a time. He wrote some westerns for 'Bronco Billy' Anderson before directing minor westerns, building a reputation for himself as a fast and efficient maker of serials, before going back to westerns, but on improved budgets and with such stars as Buck Jones and Tim McCoy. With the latter, he made a series of 'thinking man's westerns' during the last days of the silents. He shot many films on location, making his last film voyage to the Artic to direct the film, Eskimo, after which due to ailing health, decided to forego shooting in distant and inhospitable locations. Instead, he took on the world of he big city, from its slums (Manhattan Melodrama, The Devil Is a Sissy) to the skyscrapers with their cocktail-sipping inhabitants. The most personable and enduring film of the latter environment was The Thin Man starring William Powell and Myrna Low as Nick and Nora Charles, the verbal sparring-partners and sleuths extraordinaire. The Thin Man was so popular that Van Dyke directed three sequels (and slated for a fourth at the time of his death), and the first two sequels were almost as good as the original.

Van Dyke also showed a flair for the spectacular. Having recreated the great Chicago fire of 1871 in Barriers Burned Away (1924), he outdid his own exploits by re-staging (with the help of some brilliant editing and wonderful angled shots), the 1906 San Francisco earthquake in the film, San Francisco (1936). Van Dyke was into his second week of filming another epic, Pearl Buck's Dragon Seed, in 1943, when he was taken ill. He handed over the film to another director, but died from a heart attack soon afterwards. At the age of 55, Van Dyke had done more than most men could hope to do in twice the time.

(Source: available at Amazon Quinlan's Film Directors).



Although Van Dyke was nominated for two Oscars, he never won a competitive Academy Award.

Academy Awards

YearAwardFilm nameRoleResult
1934Best DirectorThe Thin Man (1934)N/ANominated
1936Best DirectorSan Francisco (1936)N/ANominated

W.S. Van Dyke's handprints and footprints were 'set in stone' at Grauman's Chinese Theater during imprint ceremony #33 on Jan 20, 1937.

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W.S. Van Dyke Facts
Before entering the movie business, Van Dyke was a gold miner, a lumberjack, a railroad worker and a mercenary.

Became a life member of the Society of Colonial Wars in the State of California on January 23, 1934 based on his direct descent from Capt. Jan Janse Van Dyke, 1652-1736 and Gov. William Leete, 1613-1683. General Society membership number 8634, California Society membership number 397.

Served as a California delegate to the 1940 Democratic National Convention.

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