This is the first half of the list from the book, "501 Movie Directors" edited by Steven Jay Schneider. From Georges Melies to Richard Donner.
Georges Méliès was a French illusionist and film director famous for leading many technical and narrative developments in the earliest days of cinema. Méliès was an especially prolific innovator in the use of special effects, popularizing such techniques as substitution splices, multiple exposures, time-lapse photography, dissolves, and hand-painted color...
A prolific director--over 700 films, most of them short- or medium-length--Louis Feuillade began his career with Gaumont where, as well as directing his own features, he was appointed artistic director in charge of production in 1907. His work was largely comprised of film series; his first series, begun in 1910 and numbering 15 episodes...
Generally considered to be the world's first female director, French-born Alice Guy entered the film business as a secretary at Gaumont-Paris in 1896. The next year Gaumont changed from manufacturing cameras to producing movies, and Guy became one of its first film directors. She impressed the the company...
Fred Niblo entered films in 1917, after two decades as a touring actor in vaudeville and one-time manager of the Four Cohans (he married Josephine Cohan, the sister of George M. Cohan
). He appeared in two early Australian silent films in 1916, which effectively marked his screen debut. After that, he worked for Thomas H. Ince
David Wark Griffith was born in rural Kentucky to Jacob "Roaring Jake" Griffith, a former Confederate Army colonel and Civil War hero. Young Griffith grew up with his father's romantic war stories and melodramatic nineteenth-century literature that were to eventually mold his black-and-white view of human existence and history...
Victor Sjöström was born on September 20, 1879, and is the undisputed father of Swedish film, ranking as one of the masters of world cinema. His influence lives on in the work of Ingmar Bergman
and all those directors, both Swedish and international, influenced by his work and the works of directors whom he himself influenced...
Mack Sennett was born Michael Sinnott on January 17, 1880 in Danville, Quebec, Canada, to Irish immigrant farmers. When he was 17, his parents moved the family to East Berlin, Connecticut, and he became a laborer at American Iron Works, a job he continued when they moved to Northampton, Massachusetts...
Cecil B. DeMille
His parents Henry C. DeMille
and Beatrice DeMille
were playwrights. His father died when he was 12, and his mother supported the family by opening a school for girls and a theatrical company. Too young to enlist in the Spanish-American War, Cecil followed his brother William C. de Mille
to the New York Academy of Dramatic Arts...
Thomas H. Ince
Thomas H. Ince was born into a family of stage actors. He appeared on the stage at age six and worked with a number of stock companies, making his Broadway debut at 15. Vaudeville work was inconsistent, so he was a lifeguard, a promoter and part-time actor. His stage career was a failure but by 1910 he joined Biograph...
The daughter of a cavalry captain, she was raised by a grandmother in Paris, where she studied various forms of art with an emphasis on music and the opera. In 1905 she married engineer-novelist Marie-Louis Albert-Dulac and under his influence veered toward journalism. As one of the leading radical feminists of her day...
After a two-year apprenticeship under Cecil B. DeMille
as assistant director, Samuel Grosvenor Wood had the good fortune to have assigned to him two of the biggest stars at Paramount during their heyday: Wallace Reid
, between 1919 and 1920; and Gloria Swanson
, from 1921 to 1923. By the time his seven-year contract with Paramount expired...
Moshe "Mauritz" Stiller, born July 17, 1883, in Helsinki, Finland, was a director, writer and actor. He began his artistic activity in the theatre, as an actor at 16. Mauritz Stiller portrayed 87 roles from 1899-1916 and directed 16 productions 1911-28. Together with Viktor Sjöström ( director, actor...
Oscar Micheaux, the first African-American to produce a feature-length film (The Homesteader
in 1919) and a sound feature-length film (The Exile
in 1931), is not a major figure in American film just for these milestones, but because his oeuvre is a window onto the American psyche as regards race and its deleterious effects on individuals and society...
French actor, dramatist and director, Sacha Guitry was born in 1885 in Saint-Petersburg where his father, actor Lucien Guitry, was under contract with the city's French theater. Early on, Sacha knew he was going to be an artist. Therefore, his studies were mediocre. His acting debuts were not too encouraging either...
Georg Wilhelm Pabst
Georg Wilhelm Pabst is considered by many to be the greatest director of German cinema, in his era. He was especially appreciated by actors and actresses for the humane way in which he treated them. This was in contrast to some of his contemporaries, such as Arnold Fanck
, who have been characterized as martinets.
Erich von Stroheim
Erich von Stroheim was born Erich Oswald Stroheim in 1885, in Vienna, Austria, to Johanna (Bondy), from Prague, and Benno Stroheim, a hatmaker from Gliwice, Poland. His family was Jewish. After spending some time working in his father's hat factory, he emigrated to America around 1909. Working in various jobs he arrived in Hollywood in 1914 and got work in D.W...
For more than three decades, Henry King was the most versatile and reliable (not to mention hard-working) contract director on the 20th Century-Fox lot. His tenure lasted from 1930 to 1961, spanning most of Hollywood's "golden" era. King was renowned as a specialist in literary adaptations (A Bell for Adano
Frank Lloyd was an unpretentious, technically skilled director, who crafted several enduring Hollywood classics during the 1930's. He started out as a stage actor and singer in early 1900's London and was well-known as an imitator of Harry Lauder
. After several years in music hall and with touring repertory companies...
Michael Curtiz was a Hungarian-born (as Mihaly Kertesz) American director who turned out some of the best-regarded films ever to come out of Hollywood. He received his diploma from the School for Dramatic Arts in Hungary in 1906. He then went to live in Pécs, then Szeged. He began acting in and then directing films in his native Hungary in 1912...
Raoul Walsh's 52-year directorial career made him a Hollywood legend. Walsh was also an actor: He appeared in the first version of W. Somerset Maugham
's "Rain" renamed Sadie Thompson
opposite Gloria Swanson
in the title role. He would have played the Cisco Kid in his own film In Old Arizona
if an errant jackrabbit hadn't cost him his right eye by leaping through the windshield of his automobile...
He studied art and literature history at the University of Heidelberg. During World War I, he was a combat pilot.
Carl Theodor Dreyer
The illegitimate son of a Danish farmer and his Swedish housekeeper, Carl Theodor Dreyer was born in Copenhagen on the 3th of February, 1889. He spent his early years in various foster homes before being adopted by the Dreyers at the age of two. Contrary to popular belief (perhaps nourished by the fact...
Victor Fleming entered motion pictures as a combination driver and stunt man at the Flying A studio in Santa Barbara, California, in 1912, following a series of jobs that included bicycle mechanic, taxi driver, auto mechanic (He also did a little racing on the side), chauffeur and auto salesman. Allan Dwan took credit for hiring him after he repaired Dwan's car...
W.S. Van Dyke
For the better part of his career, Woodbridge Strong Van Dyke lived up to his sobriquet "One-Take Woody" by steadfastly adhering to his credo of shooting each scene as quickly and efficiently as possible. Over his 25-year career, he economically directed over 90 diverse entertainments, which not only...
Charlie Chaplin, considered to be one of the most pivotal stars of the early days of Hollywood, lived an interesting life both in his films and behind the camera. He is most recognized as an icon of the silent film era, often associated with his popular "Little Tramp" character; the man with the toothbrush mustache, bowler hat, bamboo cane, and a funny walk...
Jean Cocteau was one of the most multi-talented artists of the 20th century. In addition to being a director, he was a poet, novelist, painter, playwright, set designer, and actor. He began writing at 10 and was a published poet by age 16. He collaborated with the "Russian Ballet" company of Sergei Diaghilev
Born an illegitimate son of a wealthy physician, Abel Flamant, and a working class mother, Francoise Perethon. He was raised by his mother and her boyfriend, who later became her husband, Adolphe Gance. Pressured by his parents, he began his working career as a lawyer's clerk in hopes of achieving a prosperous career in law...
One of the workhorses in Warner Brothers' stable of directors in the 1930s, Lloyd Bacon didn't have a career as loaded with classic films as many of his more famous contemporaries. What few "classics" he had his hand in (42nd Street
, Footlight Parade
) are so overshadowed by the dazzling surrealistic...
Clarence Leon Brown was the son of Larkin Harry and Catherine Ann (Gaw) Brown of Clinton, Massachusetts. His family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, when he was 12 years old. He graduated from Knoxville High School in 1905 and from the University of Tennessee with a B.A. in mechanical and electrical engineering in 1912...
Fritz Lang was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1890. His father managed a construction company. His mother, Pauline Schlesinger, was Jewish but converted to Catholicism when Lang was ten. After high school, he enrolled briefly at the Technische Hochschule Wien and then started to train as a painter. From 1910 to 1914...
London-born Edmund Goulding was an actor/playwright/director on the London stage, and entered the British army when WWI broke out. Mustered out of the service because of wounds suffered in battle, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1921. He obtained assignments as a screenwriter in Hollywood, wrote a novel...
From Ernst Lubitsch's experiences in Sophien Gymnasium (high school) theater, he decided to leave school at the age of 16 and pursue a career on the stage. He had to compromise with his father and keep the account books for the family tailor business while he acted in cabarets and music halls at night...
Gregory La Cava
A former cartoonist, Gregory La Cava entered films during WWI as an animator for Walter Lantz
on such animated films as "The Katzenjammer Kids" series. Hired by the Hearst Corp. as the editor-in-chief for its International Comic Films division, La Cava switched to live-action films in the 1920s and began directing two-reel shorts...
One of a large group of Hungarian refugees who found refuge in England in the 1930s, Sir Alexander Korda
was the first British film producer to receive a knighthood. He was a major, if controversial, figure and acted as a guiding force behind the British film industry of the 1930s and continued to influence British films until his death in 1956...
Josef von Sternberg
Josef von Sternberg split his childhood between Vienna and New York City. His father, a former soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army, could not support his family in either city; Sternberg remembered him only as "an enormously strong man who often used his strength on me." Forced by poverty to drop out of high school...
Son of the famous Impressionist painter Pierre Auguste, he had a happy childhood. Pierre Renoir
was his brother, and Claude Renoir
was his nephew. After the end of World War I, where he won the Croix de Guerre, he moved from scriptwriting to filmmaking. He married Catherine Hessling
, for whom he began to make movies; he wanted to make a star of her...
Lewis Milestone, a clothing manufacturer's son, was born in Bessarabia (now Moldova), raised in Odessa (Ukraine) and educated in Belgium and Berlin (where he studied engineering). He was fluent in both German and Russian and an avid reader. Milestone had an affinity for the theatre from an early age...
Busby Berkeley was one of the greatest choreographers of the US movie musical. He started his career in the US Army in 1918, as a lieutenant in the artillery conducting and directing parades. After the World War I cease-fire he was ordered to stage camp shows for the soldiers. Back in the US he became a stage actor and assistant director in smaller acting troupes...
Born in Bialystok, Poland, studied music and enrolled in St. Petersburg Neurological Institute in 1916. Worked on first Soviet newsreel, Kinonedelia (1918-1919), then on subsequent newsreel series (inc. Kinopravda, 1922-1925).
William A. Wellman
William Wellman, the Oscar-winning screenwriter-director of the original A Star Is Born
, was called "Wild Bill" during his World War I service as an aviator, a nickname that persisted in Hollywood due to his larger-than-life personality and lifestyle. A leap-year baby born in 1896 on the 29th of February in Brookline...
William Cameron Menzies
William Cameron Menzies was educated at Yale University, the University of Edinburgh and at the Art Students League in New York. He entered the film industry in 1919, after serving with the U.S. Expeditionary Forces in World War I. His initial assignments were in film design and special effects, as assistant to Anton Grot
at Famous Players-Lasky...
Revered by such legendary fellow directors as Ingmar Bergman and Jean Renoir, Julien Duvivier is one of the greatest figures in the history of French cinema and of world cinema in general. He is perhaps the most neglected of the "Big Five" of classic French cinema (the other four being Jean Renoir, Rene Clair...
Dorothy Arzner, the only woman director during the "Golden Age" of Hollywood's studio system--from the 1920s to the early 1940s and the woman director with the largest oeuvre in Hollywood to this day--was born January 3, 1897 (some sources put the year as 1900), in San Francisco, California, to a German-American father and a Scottish mother...
Film director Douglas Sirk, whose reputation blossomed in the generation after his 1959 retirement from Hollywood filmmaking, was born Hans Detlef Sierck on April 26, 1897, in Hamburg, Germany, to a journalist. Both of his parents were Danish, and the future director would make movies in German, Danish and English...
One of seven children, Frank Capra was born on May 18, 1897, in Bisacquino, Sicily. On May 10, 1903, his family left for America aboard the ship Germania, arriving in New York on May 23rd. "There's no ventilation, and it stinks like hell. They're all miserable. It's the most degrading place you could ever be," Capra said about his Atlantic passage...
Sergei M. Eisenstein
The son of an affluent architect, Eisenstein attended the Institute of Civil Engineering in Petrograd as a young man. With the fall of the tsar in 1917, he worked as an engineer for the Red Army. In the following years, Eisenstein joined up with the Moscow Proletkult Theater as a set designer and then director...
Henry Hathaway, a son of a stage actress and manager, started his career as a child actor in westerns directed by Allan Dwan
. His movie career was interrupted by World War I. After his discharge, he briefly tried a career in finance but then returned to Hollywood to work as an assistant director under such directors as Frank Lloyd
Coming from a lower class family Mizoguchi entered the production company Nikkatsu as an actor specialized in female roles. Later he became an assistant director and made his first film in 1922. Although he filmed almost 90 movies in the silent era, only his last 12 productions are really known outside of Japan because they were especially produced for Venice (e.g...
Preston Sturges' own life is as unlikely as some of the plots of his best work. He was born into a wealthy family. As a boy he helped out on stage productions for his mother's friend, Isadora Duncan
(the scarf that strangled her was made by his mother's company, Maison Desti). He served in the U.S...
Norman Z. McLeod
Norman Z. McLeod was one of Hollywood's leading early comedy directors. Born in Grayling, Michigan, he came from a family that had no connections to show business (his father was a clergyman). He was educated at the University of Washington and spent two years as a fighter pilot in the US Army in France during World War I...
Lev Kuleshov was a Russian director who used the editing technique known as the "Kuleshov effect." Although some of the editing innovations, such as crosscutting were used by other directors before him, Kuleshov was the first to use it in the Soviet Russia. he was driving a Ford sports car amidst hard situation in the post-Civil war USSR...
Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was born in Leytonstone, Essex, England. He was the son of Emma Jane (Whelan; 1863 - 1942) and East End greengrocer William Hitchcock (1862 - 1914). His parents were both of half English and half Irish ancestry. He had two older siblings, William Hitchcock (born 1890) and Eileen Hitchcock (born 1892)...
The father of cinematic Surrealism and one of the most original directors in the history of the film medium, Luis Buñuel was given a strict Jesuit education (which sowed the seeds of his obsession with both religion and subversive behavior), and subsequently moved to Madrid to study at the university there, where his close friends included Salvador Dalí
and Federico García Lorca
The director Robert Siodmak (which he insisted, be pronounced 'See-odd-mack') was a masterful film maker who successfully blended the techniques of German Expressionism with contemporary styles of American film, particularly film noir, in the process creating a handful of moody, sometimes chilling, and always memorable motion pictures...
The great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 was a tragedy for Mervyn Leroy. While he and his father managed to survive, they lost everything they had. To make money, Leroy sold newspapers and entered talent contests as a singer. When he entered vaudeville, his act was "LeRoy and Cooper--Two Kids and a Piano"...
Robert Bresson trained as a painter before moving into films as a screenwriter, making a short film (atypically a comedy), Public Affairs
in 1934. After spending more than a year as a German POW during World War II, he made his debut with Angels of Sin
in 1943. His next film, Les dames du Bois de Boulogne
would be the last time he would work with professional actors...
Walter Elias Disney was born on December 5, 1901 in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Flora Disney
(née Call) and Elias Disney
, a Canadian-born farmer and businessperson. He had Irish, German, and English ancestry. Walt moved with his parents to Kansas City at age seven, where he spent the majority of his childhood...
Director Max Ophüls was born Max Oppenheimer in Saarbrücken, Germany. He began his career as a stage actor and director in the golden twenties. He worked in cities such as Stuttgart, Dortmund, Wuppertal, Vienna, Frankfurt, Breslau and Berlin. In 1929 his son Marcel Ophüls
was born in Frankfurt, Germany...
The distinguished film director Anatole Litvak was born in the Ukrainian city of Kiev, the son of Jewish parents. His very first job was as a stage hand. In 1915, he became an actor, performing at a little-known experimental theater in St. Petersburg, Russia. As a teenager, he witnessed the 1917 Russian Revolution and the consequent nationalization of all theaters and drama schools...
William Wyler was an American filmmaker who, at the time of his death in 1981, was considered by his peers as second only to John Ford
as a master craftsman of cinema. The winner of three Best Director Academy Awards, second again only to Ford's four, Wyler's reputation has unfairly suffered as...
Vittorio De Sica
Vittorio De Sica
grew up in Naples, and started out as an office clerk in order to raise money to support his poor family. He was increasingly drawn towards acting, and made his screen debut while still in his teens, joining a stage company in 1923. By the late 1920s he was a successful matinee idol of the Italian theatre...
Leni Riefenstahl's show-biz experience began with an experiment: she wanted to know what it felt like to dance on the stage. Success as a dancer gave way to film acting when she attracted the attention of film director Arnold Fanck
, subsequently starring in some of his mountaineering pictures. With Fanck as her mentor, Riefenstahl began directing films...
The son of Thomas William Powell & Mabel (nee Corbett). Michael Powell was always a self confessed movie addict. He was brought up partly in Canterbury ("The Garden of England") and partly in the South of France (where his parents ran an hotel). Educated at Kings School, Canterbury & Dulwich College he first worked at the National Provincial Bank from 1922 - 1925...
“ ...And Emeric Pressburger. ” - Monimanimo
Born Lester Anthony Minnelli in Chicago on February 28 1903, his father Vincent was a musical conductor of the Minnelli Brothers' Tent Theater. Wanting to pursue an artistic career, Minelli worked in the costume department of the Chicago Theater, then on Broadway during the depression as a set designer and costumer...
Tokyo-born Yasujiro Ozu was a movie buff from childhood, often playing hooky from school in order to see Hollywood movies in his local theatre. In 1923 he landed a job as a camera assistant at Shochiku Studios in Tokyo. Three years later, he was made an assistant director and directed his first film the next year...
Terence Fisher was born in Maida Vale, England, in 1904. Raised by his grandmother in a strict Christian Scientist environment, Fisher left school while still in his teens to join the Merchant Marine. By his own account he soon discovered that a life at sea was not for him, so he left the service and tried his hand at a succession of jobs ashore...
Born in Paris in 1904, Tourneur went to Hollywood with his father, director Maurice Tourneur
around 1913. He started out as a script clerk and editor for his father, then graduated to such jobs as directing shorts (often with the pseudonym Jack Turner), both in France and America. He was hired to run the second unit for David O. Selznick
's A Tale of Two Cities
George Stevens, a filmmaker known as a meticulous craftsman with a brilliant eye for composition and a sensitive touch with actors, is one of the great American filmmakers, ranking with John Ford
, William Wyler
and Howard Hawks
as a creator of classic Hollywood cinema, bringing to the screen mytho-poetic worlds that were also mass entertainment...
Grigori Mikhailovich Kozintsev was born on March 22, 1905, in Kiev, Russian Empire (now Kiev, Ukraine). His father, named Mikhail Kozintsev, was a medical doctor. Young Kozintsev studied at the Kiev Gymnazium. There, in 1919, he organized experimental theatre "Arlekin" together with his fellow students Sergei Yutkevich
and Aleksei Kapler
Jean Vigo had bad health since he was a child. Son of anarchist militant Miguel Almareyda, he also never really recovered from his father's mysterious death in jail when he was 12. Abandoned by his mother, he passed from boarding school to boarding school. Aged 23, through meetings with people involved in the movies...
Henry Koster was born Herman Kosterlitz in Berlin, Germany, on May 1, 1905. His maternal grandfather was a famous operatic tenor, Julius Salomon (who died of tuberculosis in the 1880s). His father was a salesman of ladies unmentionables who left the family while Henry was at a young age, leaving him to support the family...