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Biography

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Overview (5)

Date of Birth 7 October 1889Chicago, Illinois, USA
Date of Death 27 August 1968Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA
Birth NameRobert Zigler Leonard
Nicknames Pops
Bob
Height 6' 1" (1.85 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Chicago-born Robert Z. Leonard studied law at the University of Colorado, but the legal profession proved not to be his forte and he dropped out in favour of a career in the theatre. When his family moved to Hollywood in 1907, Leonard sought work in the fledgling film industry, starting as an actor with Selig Polyscope. Though he became an established star by 1916, his chief interest lay on the other side of the camera. Turning to directing from 1913, he helmed a brace of short comedy features and got his break when he was assigned a serial, The Master Key (1914), in 1914. From 1915 to 1919, he was under contract at Universal, where he became chiefly associated with the films of his future wife, the ex-Ziegfeld Follies star Mae Murray. In 1919, Leonard and Murray founded Tiffany Productions, specifically as a means of creating suitable star vehicles for her. While the company lingered on as Tiffany-Stahl on the Talisman lot - one of the 'Poverty Row' studios turning out cheap westerns and even cheaper 'Chimp Comedies' (yes, the stars were chimps, being a lot cheaper to maintain than humans!) - Leonard and Murray moved on to join the newly-established Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1924.

Leonard's union with the volatile Murray ended in divorce in 1925. After clashing with Louis B. Mayer, Murray then left MGM two years later. Leonard married another actress, Gertrude Olmstead, and went on to become one of the studio's most reliable contract directors for the next three decades. Fitting in perfectly with the studio system, he was part of a highly efficient team of top craftsmen under the auspices of producer Hunt Stromberg, turning out scores of musicals and light comedies. Though not generally regarded by film critics as being among the top echelon of Hollywood directors, Leonard nevertheless capably handled a variety of A-grade pictures, often starring temperamental personalities. Among his most successful hits for MGM were the backstage musical Dancing Lady (1933); the opulent multi Oscar-winning musical biopic The Great Ziegfeld (1936) (completed on a budget of $2 million); all but two of the popular cycle of Nelson Eddy-Jeanette MacDonald operettas; and the stylish, witty adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (1940), which typified the most lavish of MGM's post-Thalberg costume dramas, scripted by no less than Aldous Huxley and starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson.

While many of his films may be dismissed for lacking artistic merit, the plain truth is that few lost money at the box office. Leonard gave the public what they wanted: he excelled at providing escapist entertainment, particularly with glossy, all-star extravaganzas like Ziegfeld Girl (1941) or Week-End at the Waldorf (1945). It was ironic, that, in 1949, he made a rare and unsuccessful foray into the genre of films noir with The Bribe (1949), an endeavour equally untypical of its studio. Starring Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner, at her most ravishing, and Vincent Price as a war surplus racketeer, the picture bombed at the box office. Producer Pandro S. Berman subsequently lamented it as 'a heap of junk' that should 'never have been made'. In retrospect, 'The Bribe', was not at all bad. In fact, it has rather gained in stature over the years. Scenes from it were even conspicuously used by Steve Martin for his wonderful montage comedy Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982).

Leonard left MGM on the studio retirement plan in 1955. He then had a brief sojourn in Italy, where he directed Gina Lollobrigida in Beautiful But Dangerous (1955), before finally making his swan song at Universal with a less-than-memorable family film, Kelly and Me (1957). With his wife Gertrude, Leonard resided in Beverly Hills until his death in August 1968.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: I.S.Mowis

Spouse (2)

Gertrude Olmstead (8 June 1926 - 27 August 1968) (his death)
Mae Murray (18 August 1918 - 26 May 1925) (divorced)

Trivia (4)

Second cousin of actress Lillian Russell.
Directed Greta Garbo in her first American screen test.
Directed 2 actresses to Oscar nominations: Norma Shearer (Best Actress, The Divorcee (1930)) and Luise Rainer (Best Actress, The Great Ziegfeld (1936)). Both won Oscars for their performances in Leonard's films.
Co-founded (w/Mae Murray and M.H. Hoffman Tiffany Productions (1921-1933).

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