William Wyler

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William Wyler (born July 1, 1902 as Willi Wyler in Mulhouse , Alsace , then German Empire ; † July 27, 1981 in Los Angeles ) was a German - Swiss film director and producer with US citizenship. He was considered one of the leading directors in Hollywood for over three decades. He was successful in many genres and especially known for his perfectionism. Wyler, who was nominated twelve times for the Oscar in the Best Director category, won the award three times: 1943 for Mrs. Miniver , 1947 for The Best Years of Our Lives and 1960 for the monumental film Ben Hur , his most famous work today.


Early years

Willi Wyler was born on July 1, 1902 in Mulhouse , then part of the German Empire, as the son of a wealthy Jewish men's outfitter. While his father Leopold was Swiss by birth , his mother Melanie came from Germany and was a cousin of Carl Laemmle , the founder and boss of Universal Studios . Because of his father's origins, Willi had a Swiss passport. As a boy he went to several schools and was considered rebellious, and he was expelled from school more than once. His older brother was the future film producer Robert Wyler . The mother in particular made sure that the children attended concerts, operas and theater performances at an early age. After completing a commercial apprenticeship in Lausanne, among others, he studied music at the National Conservatory in Paris , where he also sold clothes. He was supposed to be taking over his father's clothes business, but he showed no interest in it.

Film career

In search of a suitable job for the young Willi Wyler, the mother contacted Carl Laemmle, who regularly visited Europe and at the same time was on the lookout for new talent for Hollywood . Laemmle first met Wyler in 1921, and he got him a job writing in the New York office of Universal Studios. His first salary was around $ 25. Around 1923 he went to Hollywood under his now Americanized name William Wyler , where he took on various roles in film production at Universal. For some time he was only a set designer and cleaning man, but in 1923 he was also able to work as an assistant director in the production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame , an expensive film with Lon Chaney . In the following years, however, he suffered a few setbacks, for example he was fired in between. In the mid-1920s, Wyler took over the post of assistant director from Fred Niblo for the never-ending shooting of the monumental film Ben Hur .

Around the same time, Wyler was also able to realize his first projects as the “first” director at Universal, but initially mostly low-budget westerns. The now lost film Anybody Here Seen Kelly? from 1928 with Bessie Love in the lead role was Wyler's first non-western. He also received American citizenship in 1928. A short time later, the young director made his first sound films , which gradually replaced silent films at the end of the 1920s . Wyler gradually gained a reputation and from 1930 he took over some prestigious productions from Universal, such as the elegantly staged adaptations of A House Divided and Counselor-at-Law from 1933 with John Barrymore in the lead role. In 1936 he moved to Samuel Goldwyn , where he already attracted attention with the first film. The film adaptation of Infame Lügen , the film adaptation of the play The Children's Hour by Lillian Hellman , skilfully bypassed the censorship requirements and shifted the focus away from lesbian rumors to the unhappy love story of those involved. The film made Merle Oberon a star, albeit at a high price; because Wyler almost drove the actress into a nervous breakdown through endless repetitions of individual takes. The unconditional pursuit of perfection had meanwhile become a trademark of Wyler, which Oberon later only called 90-Take Wyler . Infamous lies also marked the first collaboration with the cameraman Gregg Toland , who was responsible for the typical Wyler look in many later films. H. Many long shots with often dramatic light-dark contrasts as well as long shots so that long scenes could be shot without editing. However, this technique requires a high level of discipline from everyone involved, especially the actors. The autocratic Wyler demanded absolute reliability from all actors and often argued with stars who had a somewhat more lax attitude.

The second film for Goldwyn was also a stage template. Time of love, time of parting - unusual for Hollywood at the time - was about a middle-aged couple (played by Walter Huston and Ruth Chatterton ) on a journey through Europe and humanly distancing themselves from each other. Wyler received the first of a total of twelve Oscar nominations for best director for the work, a record that has not yet been reached. Shortly afterwards, he began working with Bette Davis , who while the filming of Jezebel - The Malicious Lady had argued incessantly with Wyler, but at the same time was finally able to actually implement her talent thanks to the tight leadership. The actress won an Oscar and the two made two other films.

1939 began with the relatively free film adaptation of Wuthering Heights, the most successful career phase for Wyler. Although the film only covers part of the novel, it received critical acclaim and Merle Oberon, who played Cathy, received the best reviews of her career. Laurence Olivier , who played the leading role, was annoyed by Wyler's perfectionism with numerous retakes during the filming, but later said that Wyler had taught him how to act in films - compared to the theater. Films like The Secret of Malampur and The Little Foxes , both with Bette Davis, successfully advanced Wyler's career in the early 1940s. In 1942 he realized the war drama Mrs. Miniver with Greer Garson in the lead role, which shows an English village in the bombing of the Second World War and is still considered one of the best propaganda films of the Second World War. It was the biggest box-office hit in 1942 and won an Oscar for best film and best director, among other awards. Then Wyler joined the army and made several films about the area bombing in Germany.

After the war he was able to seamlessly build on his successes with the war return epic The Best Years of Our Life . The film, considered realistic, was showered with awards and won, among other things, the Oscar for best film of the year. In the years that followed, Wyler made some of his best-known films , now under contract with Paramount , including the drama The Heiress, based on a novella by Henry James , which earned Olivia de Havilland her second Oscar for best actress, and A Heart and a Crown with the Audrey Hepburn also won an Academy Award for Best Actress. Since joining Paramount, Wyler has also been responsible for many of his films as a producer, which has given him more artistic freedom. His film Alluring Temptation with Gary Cooper is about a pacifist Quaker family during the American Civil War and won the Golden Palm in 1957 . In his successful western Weites Land (1958) with Gregory Peck , the conflict between pacifism and active action when threatened is an issue again. Wyler reached the peak of his career with the remake of Ben Hur , which broke numerous records and won eleven Academy Awards, more than any other film before. His less spectacular but mostly still well-reviewed late works include the drama Infam - a remake of his own film Infame Lügen from 1936 - and the musical Funny Girl (1968), which brought Barbra Streisand the Oscar and her breakthrough to film star. His last film, The Embers of Violence, from 1970, addresses the problems between African Americans and whites in the southern states.

Private life

William Wyler was married to actress Margaret Sullavan from 1934 to 1936 , the marriage ended in divorce. His second marriage in 1938 to actress Margaret Tallichet (1914–1991) lasted until his death. You had five children. He died of a heart attack in 1981 at the age of 79.

Style and reception

William Wyler was successful in a wide variety of film genres and often filmed well-known literary works. Like many Hollywood filmmakers of the day, a carefully crafted script was a priority. He had an extraordinary instinct for the dramaturgy of a film and the right cast. Wyler brought many actors to top performances and at film prices, but also sometimes to desperation through his numerous takes - over 50 shots for a single shot were not uncommon for the perfectionist Wyler. Many actors and crew members were also able to participate in the film with their own ideas, for which Wyler publicly praised them.

The film critic Hermine Rich Isaacs celebrates William Wyler as a "stylist and technician" in the new illustrated art magazine Dionysus on June 18, 1948:

“In his lovable comedy The Good Fairy, shot in 1935 , the excessive number of close-ups were criticized. Four years later, in Wuthering Heights , the lavish use of the same device was accepted without hesitation. Because in the stylized form with which he highlighted individual figures in close-ups and carved the silhouettes of others into the outermost edge of the frame, he helped Emily Brontë's romance [...] to the perspective that was appropriate for her. Today he is more economical with close-ups and only uses them 'when I want to keep everything out of the viewer's field of vision for a while'. "

Wyler's camera positions tried to convey the mood of the scenes and at the same time to work out the characters with their characteristics and feelings in a psychological and multilayered manner. He was convinced that 80% of a film consisted of a script and 20% of the actors, and that the director, as an "invisible hand", should remain largely hidden from the viewer. Wyler said that a director should not make a film according to his own needs, but should be guided by the qualities of the film to be made.

Because of these views, despite his many awards, he was viewed critically by some supporters of the auteur theory from the 1960s onwards, who accused him of not being an auteur filmmaker who made personal films. His early film dramas received numerous praise from French critics, but the monumental film Ben Hur met with rejection. Wyler himself replied to this criticism: "I would hardly call myself an auteur - although I'm one of the few American directors who can pronounce the word correctly." British film critic David Cairns noted that he had not received a single “substantive” or “reasoned criticism” of Wyler's work, but rather critics for his many awards and his “obviously great ” films - with famous stars, big themes, more craftsmanship Perfection - undeservedly become skeptical of Wyler. Wyler was more effective than almost any other director in film history when it came to bringing high-class material closer to the viewer emotionally.

Filmography (selection)

Awards (selection)

Over the course of his long career, Wyler has received numerous awards as a director and producer. He was nominated more often than any other director in the Best Director category, a total of twelve times. With three Oscars as a director, he is on par with Frank Capra and only behind John Ford (four). He also holds the record for having brought most actors to Oscar nominations or awards through their own films: The actors in Wyler's films have received 36 nominations and 14 awards over the course of his career. In later years, Wyler received numerous awards for his life's work.


Further awards

American Film Institute
British Film Academy
  • 1960: British Film Academy Award for Best Picture for Ben Hur
Directors Guild of America
  • 1952: DGA nomination as best director for Police Station 21
  • 1954: DGA nomination for best director for A Heart and a Crown
  • 1957: DGA nomination as best director for Alluring Temptation
  • 1959: DGA nomination as best director for Weites Land
  • 1960: DGA award for best director for Ben Hur
  • 1962: DGA nomination as best director for Infam
  • 1966: DGA Lifetime Achievement Award for his life's work
  • 1969: DGA nomination for best director for Funny Girl
Golden Globes
  • 1960: Best film for Ben Hur
National Board of Review
  • 1946: NBR Award for Best Director for The Best Years of Our Lives
  • 1955: NBR Award for Best Director for A Day Like Any Other
New York Film Critics Circle Awards
  • 1946: NYFCC Award for Best Director for The Best Years of Our Lives
Cannes International Film Festival
Venice International Film Festival
  • 1938: Special Recommendation for Jezebel


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Birth certificate No. 1298/1902 in the Mülhausen archive, according to Heman, Jan: A Talent for Trouble: The Life of Hollywood's Most Acclaimed Director, William Wyler. New York: GP Putnam's Sons, 1995. ISBN 978-0-399-14012-9 .
  2. Wakeman, John: World Film Directors: Vol. I, 1890-1945. New York: HW Wilson Co., 1987. ISBN 978-0-8242-0757-1 .
  3. William Wyler. Retrieved August 2, 2020 .
  4. David Cairns: Wyler, William. In: Senses of Cinema. April 15, 2005, accessed May 23, 2020 (American English).
  5. Dennis Drabelle: ANOTHER TAKE ON WILLIAM WYLER . In: Washington Post . Jan. 2, 1996, ISSN  0190-8286 ( washingtonpost.com [accessed May 23, 2020]).
  6. ^ Diane Jacobs: The Best Years of His Life . In: The New York Times . March 17, 1996, ISSN  0362-4331 ( nytimes.com [accessed May 23, 2020]).
  7. ^ William Wyler: Interviews - Gabriel Miller. Retrieved May 23, 2020 (English).
  8. David Cairns: Wyler, William. In: Senses of Cinema. April 15, 2005, accessed May 23, 2020 (American English).
  9. ^ William Wyler: The Invisible Hand. July 17, 2002, accessed May 23, 2020 (American English).
  10. ^ William Wyler: Interviews - Gabriel Miller. Retrieved May 23, 2020 (English).
  11. ^ William Wyler: Interviews - Gabriel Miller. Retrieved May 23, 2020 (English).
  12. David Cairns: Wyler, William. In: Senses of Cinema. April 15, 2005, accessed May 23, 2020 (American English).
  13. ^ William Wyler: Interviews - Gabriel Miller. Retrieved May 23, 2020 (English).
  14. David Cairns: Wyler, William. In: Senses of Cinema. April 15, 2005, accessed May 23, 2020 (American English).
  15. http://www.altfg.com/blog/actors/william-wyler-top-oscar-directors-for-actors-i/