CECIL B. DEMILLE Biography - Theater, Opera and Movie personalities


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Name: Cecil Blount DeMille                                                               
Born: 12 August 1881 Ashfield, Massachusetts, U.S.                                       
Died: 21 January 1959 Hollywood, California, U.S.                                         
Cecil Blount DeMille (August 12, 1881 – January 22, 1959) was a successful             
Academy Award-winning American filmmaker in the first half of the 20th century,           
known for the flamboyance and showsmanship of his movies.                                 
DeMille was born while his parents, Henry Churchill DeMille (1853–1893), an             
Episcopal lay minister and playwright from North Carolina, and Matilda Beatrice           
Samuel (1853–1923), who was born to a Sephardic Jewish family in England but           
converted to her husband's faith, were vacationing in Ashfield, Massachusetts.           
DeMille grew up in Pompton (now Wayne), New Jersey and attended Pennsylvania             
Military College in Chester, Pennsylvania beginning at the age of 15. He had an           
older brother, William, and a younger sister who died in childhood, Agnes, after         
whom Cecil's famous niece was named.                                                     
DeMille directed dozens of silent films, including Paramount Pictures' first             
production, The Squaw Man (1914), which was co-directed by Oscar Apfel, before           
coming into huge popularity during the late 1910s and early 1920s, when he               
reached the apex of his popularity with such films as Don't Change Your Husband           
(1919), The Ten Commandments (1923), and The King of Kings (1927). A few of his           
silent films featured scenes in two-strip Technicolor.                                   
Though most commonly referred to by the press as DeMille with a capital "D",             
DeMille used "deMille" with a small "d" for his personal dealings. DeMille's             
business address for most of his career was 2010 DeMille (capital "D") Drive,             
Hollywood, California (which is actually in the adjacent Los Angeles                     
neighborhood of Los Feliz). He used the small "d" for private correspondence and         
the capital for his business and film dealings. In either case, the persona of           
the larger than life showman was reinforced by such affectations and his status           
as an icon thrived.                                                                       
Cecil B. DeMille had a keen eye for talent and was known for being an                     
instrumental catalyst for the rising status of many a struggling or unknown               
actor. Actor Richard Dix's best-remembered early role was in the silent version           
of DeMille's The Ten Commandments. Richard Cromwell owed his 1930s movie fame in         
part to being personally selected by DeMille for the role as the leader of the           
youth gang in DeMille's poignant, now cult-favorite, This Day and Age (1933).             
DeMille displayed a loyalty to certain supporting performers, casting them over           
and over in his pictures. They included Henry Wilcoxen, Julia Faye, Joseph               
Schildkraut, Ian Keith, Charles Bickford, Theodore Roberts, Akim Tamiroff, and           
William Boyd. He also cast leading actors such as Claudette Colbert, Gloria               
Swanson, Gary Cooper, Jetta Goudal, Robert Preston, Paulette Goddard, and                 
Charlton Heston in multiple pictures. He was not known as a particularly good             
director of actors, often hiring actors whom he relied on to develop their own           
characters and act accordingly.                                                           
DeMille also had a reputation for being a tyrant on the set, and he despised             
actors who were not willing to take physical risks; such was the case with               
Victor Mature in Samson and Delilah, when Mature refused to wrestle the lion,             
though the lion was tame and had had its teeth pulled. (DeMille remarked that             
Mature was "100% yellow"). Paulette Goddard's refusal to risk personal injury in         
a scene involving fire in Unconquered cost her DeMille's favor and probably a             
role in The Greatest Show on Earth. DeMille was, however, adept at directing "thousands   
of extras," and many of his pictures included spectacular set pieces, such as             
the parting of the Red Sea in both versions of The Ten Commandments; the                 
toppling of the pagan temple in Samson and Delilah; train wrecks in The Road to           
Yesterday Union Pacific and The Greatest Show on Earth; and the destruction of a         
zeppelin in Madame Satan. DeMille knew what the movie-going public wanted, and           
he provided it.                                                                           
DeMille was one of the first directors in Hollywood to become a celebrity in his         
own right. From 1936 to 1944, DeMille hosted and even acted as pitchman for               
Cecil B. DeMille's Lux Radio Theater, which was one of the most popular dramatic         
radio shows at the time. Gloria Swanson immortalized DeMille with the oft-repeated       
line, "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up" in Billy Wilder's               
Sunset Boulevard, wherein DeMille played himself. DeMille also appeared as               
himself in Paramount's 1947 all-star musical comedy Variety Girl and he narrated         
many of his later films, as well as appearing on screen in the introduction to           
The Ten Commandments.                                                                     
DeMille first used three-strip Technicolor in Northwest Mounted Police (1940).           
Following the favorable response to the vivid color photography, shot mostly on           
location in the Canadian Rockies, DeMille decided to always use Technicolor in           
his films. He also began to narrate portions of his films.                               
While he continued to be prolific throughout the 1930s and 1940s, he is probably         
best known for his 1956 film The Ten Commandments (which is very different from           
his 1923 film by the same title). Also representative of his penchant for the             
spectacular was the 1952 production of The Greatest Show on Earth which gave             
DeMille an Oscar for best picture and a nomination for best director.                     
In 1954, Secretary of the Air Force Harold E. Talbott sought out DeMille for             
help in designing the cadet uniforms at the newly established United States Air           
Force Academy. DeMille's designs—most notably his design of the distinctive             
cadet parade uniform—won praise from Air Force and Academy leadership, were             
ultimately adopted, and are still worn by cadets today.                                   
Near the end of his life, DeMille began pre-production work on a film biography           
of Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts,           
and had asked David Niven to star in the film; the film was never made. He asked         
his son-in-law, actor Anthony Quinn, to direct a remake of his 1938 film The             
Buccaneer; although DeMille served as executive producer, he was very unhappy             
with Quinn's work and tried unsuccessufully to remedy the situation. Despite a           
good cast led by Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner, and some impressive battle             
scenes, the film was a disappointment.