Between 1920 and 1968, Taurog directed over 140 films. He won the 1931 Academy Award for Best Director for the film Skippy and still holds the record as the youngest director (32) to win it. He was later nominated for Best Director for the 1938 film, Boys Town. For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Norman Taurog has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1600 Vine Street.
By the time he re-entered the movie industry, he made the transition to director. He collaborated with Larry Semon in 1920's The Sportsman. Taurog made 42 more films, mostly shorts, up until 1931; in this period, he developed his style, his forte being light comedy, though he could also deal with drama and maintain complex narratives.
In 1931, he made his breakthrough, directing Skippy, for which he won an Academy Award. Taurog's nephew Jackie Cooper was also nominated for his performance; in his 1981 autobiography Please Don't Shoot My Dog, Cooper wrote that, during filming, Taurog threatened to shoot his dog if the child actor could not cry for the scene. (While this book was being written, attempts were made by Cooper's editor to get Taurog's version of events; Taurog declined to participate.) Skippy tells of the adventures of the eponymous hero, his antics and adventures with his friend Sooky as they try to come up with a license for Sooky's dog, save his shantytown from demolition, sell lemonade and save for a new bike. Based on a popular comic strip character, its sentiment, comedy and moral didacticism (common with movies of the time), added to a gritty realism made it a huge success, so much so that the studio immediately scheduled a sequel, Sooky, for the following year.
The next few years saw Taurog enter the third chapter of his career, as an established director who could work in a number of genres. He directed a series of well-received films, among them 1932's If I Had a Million showed his ability to work with an all-star cast, featuring Gary Cooper, George Raft, Charles Laughton and W.C. Fields. 1934 saw him helm We're Not Dressing, a lively Bing Crosby/Carole Lombard vehicle which also featured George Burns, Gracie Allen and Ray Milland.
1938 saw Taurog bring all his skill and experience to bear with one of the liveliest and most successful adaptations of classic literature; The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was an artistic and commercial triumph. The year also brought Boys Town, showing Taurog to be more than capable of sustaining a dramatic narrative and earning him another Academy Award nomination. It wasn't all success though. Lucky Night (1939) starring Myrna Loy and Robert Taylor was a turkey and while Taurog shot test scenes for 1939's cinematic extravaganza The Wizard of Oz, Victor Fleming was chosen to direct. He did, however, helm the last of MGM's big pre-war musical showcases, 1940's Broadway Melody, starring Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell. He expanded his range into biographies, working with Mickey Rooney again, in the well-received Young Tom Edison (1940). He directed Judy Garland twice, in Little Nellie Kelly (1940) and the 'small-town-girl-gets-big-break' Presenting Lily Mars (1943).
After directing re-takes for a wartime propaganda film, Rationing (1944), Taurog entered new territory with a docudrama of the atom bomb, The Beginning or the End (1947). It was back to his metier of light comedy for his next couple of outings, The Bride Goes Wild with Van Johnson and June Allyson, and Big City, both in 1948. Remarkably, he also directed a third film that year combining the genres of comedy, drama and biography and dealing with an all-star cast; Words and Music was a fictionalised biopic of the relationship between Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. It starred, among others, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Mickey Rooney and Cyd Charisse. By now, Taurog had established a reputation as a director who was comfortable working in the musical and comedy genre, and who could be relied upon to work with slight material - qualities which would be useful later in his career.
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis had been a double-act since 1946 and had made five films together, three Martin and Lewis top-liners, before Taurog directed Jumping Jacks (1952). It is regarded by many Martin and Lewis fans as the finest of their films. Taurog worked well with the duo and he continued to direct them: in The Stooge (1953), The Caddy (1954), Living It Up (1955), You're Never Too Young (1954) and their penultimate film together, Pardners (1956). Taurog worked with Lewis alone twice more, in Don't Give Up the Ship (1959) and Visit to a Small Planet (1960).
He then directed his first Elvis Presley film, 1960's G.I. Blues. This was a turning point for Elvis. Up until then, he had harbored ambitions of being a James Dean figure, playing brooding rebel roles in Love Me Tender (1956), Jailhouse Rock (1957) and King Creole (1958). However, Colonel Tom Parker had different plans for the singer. G.I. Blues was Elvis's first film in two years, after his return from the army, and would set the tone for future films - a few girls, a few adventures and a few songs along the way. When well-made, this was an entertaining, light-hearted formula and Taurog, now in his sixties, was an old hand at it. So impressed was the Colonel with his work that over the next eight years, Taurog directed Elvis in eight more films: Blue Hawaii (1961), Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962), It Happened at the World's Fair (1963), Tickle Me (1965), Spinout (1966), Double Trouble (1967), Speedway (1968) and Live a Little, Love a Little (1968). Although some were better than others (and some were almost identical), Taurog ensured that the films had pace, the comedy was delivered well and the songs well executed. This took Taurog to the end of his career; one year after completing Live a Little, Love a Little, he went blind.