Mitchell Leisen

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James Mitchell Leisen (born October 6, 1898 in Menominee , Michigan , † October 28, 1972 in Woodland Hills , California ) was an American director and film producer who had his entry into the film business as a production and costume designer .


Leisen began his career under Cecil B. DeMille , with whose despotic manner he got along well as one of the few at Paramount . When DeMille once asked for an unusual saddle pad for an elephant in a crowd scene, Leisen asked:

Do you want them right now or do you want everything to be right?

At the Academy Awards in April 1930 , Leisen was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Production Design category for his work on the film Dynamite .

Leisen's costume design for Douglas Fairbanks senior in the film The Taming of the Shrew (1929)

After a few first attempts as a director, he had his breakthrough in 1935. Love in the blink of an eye made Carole Lombard one of the great female stars of Paramount alongside Claudette Colbert , established Lombard and Fred MacMurray as a screen couple and helped Leisen become the studio's leading women director. He got along particularly well with Colbert, whom he brought to one of her best performances in revelation at midnight . The actress, known for her neurosis, only showing the left side of her profile and otherwise extremely concerned about her appearance, was always right from Leisen in aesthetic questions, but otherwise hardly any stage directions. His philosophy:

When an actress is happy with the way she appears on screen, she can focus on the role all by herself. I just have to help a little.

Leisen also got along well with another actress with a very specific "chocolate side" (this time the right one): Jean Arthur delivered one of her best performances in My Life in Luxury and the film itself is considered a classic of screwball comedy . In the mid-forties he shot two opulent costume strips: The pirate and the lady with Joan Fontaine as the noble lady by day and the pirate bride by night. Such melodramas were very popular in England at the same time. Phyllis Calvert played a similar role in Madonna of the Seven Moons and Margaret Lockwood had the greatest financial success of her career with The Wicked Lady . A lady with a past was a Cinderella story that Paulette Goddard emphasized.

His version of the musical Lady in the Dark by Kurt Weill was received mixed by the critics despite a high budget and some well-staged numbers (especially the dream sequences of the heroine, played by Ginger Rogers ). The comparison with the Broadway show, in which Gertrude Lawrence and Danny Kaye had important roles, was mostly negative. In 1946 he helped Olivia de Havilland , with her portrayal of an unmarried mother in mother's heart at the 1947 Academy Awards in the category of Oscar / Best Actress . The film was the first film after de Havilland had fought her long-standing legal battle with Warner Brothers before the US Supreme Court. The actress won the trial. Towards the end of the decade, Leisen had a creative crisis and, with the exception of the 1950 film Derailed , his films were less successful at the box office. The film presents Barbara Stanwyck in a typical Joan Crawford role: a young woman leaves her brutal lover, assumes the identity of a dead person after a train accident and experiences happy hours until the truth comes to light. At the 1951 Berlinale , his film SOS: Two Mothers-in-Law was awarded a Bronze Bear. His last feature film was the musical The Girl Most Likely from 1957 with Jane Powell , then he directed a documentary and various series episodes until 1967.

Private life

Leisen, who never made a secret of his homosexuality, was a close friend of Carole Lombard's life. A well-known anecdote, which is also quoted by Kenneth Anger in his book Hollywood Babylon , goes like this: Clark Gable , Lombard's current husband, asked her one day why she was friends with almost every man in Hollywood, but apparently after not having a single girlfriend. Lombard, known for her wit, said dryly:

I have two wonderful friends: William Haines and Mitch Leisen.

In 1960 Leisen was honored with a star on the Walk of Fame .

Filmography (selection)

As production and costume designer (selection)

As a director (selection)


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