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Biography

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Overview (4)

Date of Birth 7 May 1904Yalta, Taurida Governorate, Russian Empire [now Crimea, Ukraine]
Date of Death 14 March 1951Los Angeles, California, USA  (heart attack)
Birth NameVladimir Leventon
Height 6' (1.83 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Born in Russia in 1904, Lewton moved with his mother and sister to Berlin in 1906, then to USA in 1909. He wrote for newspapers, magazines, novels, pornography, etc.- often using pseudonyms to disguise their origin (the name Val Lewton was one such pseudonym, used first for some novels in the 1930's, then revived later in his career to take writing credit for two movies). In 1933, he got a job with David O. Selznick where he spent many years as a story editor and jack-of-all-trades. Then in 1942, RKO hired him to head their new horror unit, where he made many famous and well-respected B-movies, for very low costs and high profits. In 1946, he "graduated" to A-movies, but increasing health problems, trouble working with big-money Hollywood, and other factors combined to force him to produce only three more movies before his death in 1951.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Ken Yousten <kyousten@bev.net>

Spouse (1)

Ruth Knapp (1929 - 14 March 1951) (his death) (2 children)

Trivia (11)

Nephew of Russian actress Alla Nazimova
Daughter Nina; son Val E. Lewton.
Lost his job as a reporter for the Darien-Stamford Review after it was discovered that a story about a truckload of kosher chickens dying in a New York heat wave was a total fabrication.
David O. Selznick had a story that nobody would make. Lewton was assigned to turn around and pitch it to Samuel Goldwyn to try to dump it. Lewton gave a dramatic, heartfelt retelling of the story that had Goldwyn in tears. Goldwyn asked for a moment to recollect himself. He wiped his eyes, then said, "It stinks." Selznick couldn't believe that it took Goldwyn to tears so he asked Lewton to pitch it to him so that he could see how it sounded. Lewton again gave the same heartfelt, dramatic retelling. Selznick, through his tears and sobbing, managed to say, "Goldwyn's right. This does stink!"
Was a story teller from birth. At 14, during intervals of a basketball game at a local recreation hall he would get up and recite speeches from "Cyrano de Bergerac" until he was arrested.
While working at MGM, he published a novel, "Where the Cobra Sings", under the name Cosmo Forbes. In 1936, a husband-and-wife team of agents set up a meeting with Lewton and David O. Selznick to sell the film rights to Forbes' novel. Lewton didn't admit to writing it at first, to see how far he could go with it, and set up a meeting with an impostor named Forbes. When he found out that the agents were bordering bankruptcy to sell the book, Lewton confessed to being Forbes.
Wrote several scenes for Gone with the Wind (1939), such as the Atlanta depot sequence. Then, as a joke, he included an outrageously expensive scene with an elaborate elevator shot of hundreds of wounded soldiers. David O. Selznick read it and loved it so much, he had it put in the film.
He was assigned titles for films at RKO and he had to come up with the stories himself. He hired writers who offered contributions but he always wrote the final shooting scripts himself
In Final Destination (2000), Kristen Cloke's character, high school teacher Val Lewton, was named after him.
Although two of his most famous films concerned cats--Cat People (1942) and The Curse of the Cat People (1944)--he in fact suffered from ailurophobia, a morbid fear of cats. He came up with the idea for "Curse of the Cat People" when he was swimming in a lake one night, saw some cats sitting on the shore staring at him, panicked and almost drowned.
Although he spent many years in the business, and achieved a certain level of success, there is no known motion picture footage of him nor is there any known recordings of his voice.

Personal Quotes (1)

[in a letter to his sister] You shouldn't get mad at the New York reviewers. Actually, it's very difficult for a reviewer to give something called I Walked with a Zombie (1943) a good review.

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