Hawks attended high school in Glendora, and then moved to New Hampshire to attend Phillips Exeter Academy from 1912-1914. After graduation, Hawks moved on to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where he majored in mechanical engineering. During the summers of 1916 and 1917, Hawks worked on some early movies, interning for the Famous Players-Lasky Studio. After graduation he joined the United States Army Air Service during World War I.
After the war, he worked at a number of jobs: race-car driver, aviator, designer in an aircraft factory. By 1924 he had moved back to Hollywood and joined the movie industry. He chummed with barn stormers and pioneer aviators at Rogers Airport in Los Angeles, getting to know men like Moye Stephens. Hawks wrote his first screenplay, Tiger Love, in 1924 and he directed his first film, The Road to Glory, in 1925. Hawks reworked the scripts of most of the films he directed without taking official credit for his writing.
Howard Hawks directed a total of eight silent films, including Fazil in 1928. He made the transition to sound without difficulty. His films include Scarface (1932), rated "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress, Bringing up Baby (1938), listed number ninety-seven on American Film Institute's AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies, His Girl Friday (1940), and listed #19 on American Film Institute's AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs. His film, Sergeant York (1941), starring Gary Cooper, was the highest-grossing film of its year and won two Academy Awards (Best Actor and Best Editing).
In 1944, Hawks filmed the first of two films starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, To Have and Have Not, which was the first film pairing of the couple. He followed that with 1946's The Big Sleep, which was placed on the Library of Congress U.S. National Film Registry.
In 1948, he filmed Red River, with John Wayne and Montgomery Clift, rated "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress. In 1953, he filmed Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, featuring Marilyn Monroe singing "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend."
Hawks was versatile as a director, filming comedies, dramas, gangster films, science fiction, film noir, and Westerns. Hawks' own functional definition of what constitutes a "good movie" is revealing of his no-nonsense style: "Three great scenes, no bad ones."
While Hawks was not politically feminist or sympathetic to their goals, he popularized the Hawksian woman archetype, which could be considered a prototype of the modern post-feminist movement. At the same time, Hawks was known to make anti-semitic comments, including in front of Jewish actress Lauren Bacall, who kept her Jewish identity a secret from Hawks and who did not call him on his hateful comments, both of which she has said she regrets now.
Critic Leonard Maltin labeled Hawks "the greatest American director who is not a household name," noting that, while his work may not be as well known as Ford, Welles, or DeMille, he is no less a talented filmmaker.
Hawks defined a good director as "someone who doesn't annoy you". His directorial style and the use of natural, conversational dialogue in his films were cited a major influence on many noted filmmakers, including Robert Altman, John Carpenter, and Quentin Tarantino. He was nominated for Best Director in 1942 for Sergeant York, but he received his only Oscar in 1975 as an Honorary Award from the Academy.
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Howard Hawks has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1708 Vine Street.
Hawks was married three times, to Athole Shearer (a sister of movie actress Norma Shearer), Nancy Gross (later and better known as Slim Keith, she was the mother of his daughter, Kitty Hawks, a noted interior designer), and Dee Hartford (an actress whose real name was Donna Higgins). His brothers were director/writer Kenneth Neil Hawks and film producer William Bettingger Hawks.
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