King Wallis Vidor (February 8, 1894 – November 1, 1982) was an acclaimed American film director whose career spanned eight decades.
He was born in Galveston, Texas, where he survived the great Galveston Hurricane of 1900.
A freelance newsreel
cameraman and cinema projectionist
, he made his debut as a director in 1913 with Hurricane in Galveston
. In Hollywood
from 1915, he worked on a variety of film-related jobs before directing a feature film, The Turn in the Road
, in 1919. A successful mounting of Peg o' My Heart
in 1922 got him a long term contract with Goldwyn Studios, later to be absorbed into MGM
. Three years later he made The Big Parade
, among the most acclaimed war films of the silent era, and a tremendous commercial success. This success established him as one of MGM's top studio directors for the next decade. In 1928, Vidor received his first Oscar nomination, for The Crowd
, widely regarded as his masterpiece and one of the greatest American silent films. In the same year, he made the classic Show People
, the last silent film of Marion Davies
, a comedy about the film industry in which Vidor had a cameo as himself.
Vidor's first sound film was Hallelujah!, a groundbreaking film featuring an African American cast, and in which he established the new language for sound films (Which is still used today by most directors). His directorial career extended well in to the sound era and he continued making feature films until the late 1950s. Some of his better known sound films include Stella Dallas, Our Daily Bread, The Citadel, Duel in the Sun, The Fountainhead, and War and Peace. He directed the Kansas sequences in The Wizard of Oz (including "Over the Rainbow") when director Victor Fleming had to replace George Cukor on Gone with the Wind, but never received screen credit.
Vidor entered in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest career as a film director: beginning in 1913 with Hurricane in Galveston and ending in 1980 with a short documentary on painting entitled The Metaphor. He was nominated five times for an Oscar but never won in direct competition; he received an honorary award in 1979.
William Desmond Taylor
In 1967, Vidor researched the unsolved 1922 murder of fellow director William Desmond Taylor
for a possible screenplay. Vidor never published or wrote of this research during his lifetime, but biographer Sidney D. Kirkpatrick
posthumously examined Vidor's notes. He alleged in his 1986 book Cast of Killers
that Vidor had solved the sensational crime but kept his conclusions private to protect individuals still living at the time. The widely cited newsletter Taylorology
later noted over 100 factual errors in Cast of Killers
and strongly disputes Kirkpatrick's conclusions but credits the book with renewing popular interest in the crime.
Vidor published his autobiography, A Tree is A Tree
, in 1953. This book's title is inspired by an incident early in Vidor's Hollywood career. Vidor wanted to film a movie in the locations where its story was set, a decision which would have greatly added to the film's production budget. A budget minded producer told him, "A rock is a rock. A tree is a tree. Shoot it in Griffith Park
" (a nearby public space which was frequently used for film exterior shots).
Vidor was married three times:
- Florence Arto (1917-1924); one daughter
Eleanor Boardman (1926-1931); two daughters
- Suzanne (born 1918) (Florence later married Jascha Heifetz, who adopted Suzanne);
Elizabeth Hill (1932-1982)
- Antonia (born 1927)
- Belinda (born 1930)