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Biography

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Overview (4)

Date of Birth 7 November 1880Vienna, Austria-Hungary [now Austria]
Date of Death 29 April 1954Hollywood, California, USA  (after long illness)
Birth NameJoseph Otto Mandel
Height 5' 6½" (1.69 m)

Mini Bio (1)

A businessman and operetta director, Joe May, one of the founders of the German cinema, started directing films in 1911 and started his own production company a few years later. He gave famous German director Fritz Lang his start in films, employing him as a screenwriter in his early films. After the Nazi takeover, May fled to the United States where he directed several excellent action films for Universal, but never could quite break into the ranks of the "A" picture directors. May never bothered to completely learn the English language and was never popular with his casts and crews due to his dictatorial nature. He ended his career by directing his last film for Monogram in 1944 at the age of 64. He later briefly owned a restaurant in Hollywood that failed because, in keeping with his Teutonic roots, told customers what they should order.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Doug Sederberg <vornoff@sonic.net>

Spouse (1)

Mia May (1902 - 29 April 1954) (his death) (1 child)

Trivia (26)

Father of actress Eva May
His teenage daughter Eva May (born 1902 in Vienna) tried to build her own career as an actress but committed suicide in 1924 after the end of her third marriage.
His movie Confession is especially interesting, in that May's film is an exact copy of German director Willi Forst's Mazurka, right down to the last fade and dissolve, with every shot timed to run exactly the same length, and using the same music as Forst's original film.
In 1915 he founded his own film production company, May-Film GmbH and began to produce a successful series of crime films, whose detective hero went by the name of Joe Deebs. Some of these were directed by May himself, others by Harry Piel; Max Landa and later Harry Liedtke played the title role.
He became one of the most important German movie directors in the 10s and in the early 20s.
He is interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California.
He was able to gain a foothold as a director of operettas and there he came in touch with the film business in an unusual way. Because the play "Clo Clo" in which his wife Mia May took part had longer breaks because of reconstructions between the intermissions the audience did not know if the play has ended or not. Sometimes they left the theater in droves to early. Therefore Joe May had the idea to entertain the audience with a movie with the actors of the play during the waiting period. Although inexperience he was able to realize this project.
In 1902 he had married the actress Mia May (born Hermine Pfleger) and took his stage name from hers.
During his longtime career in the film business Joe May was not only active as a director but also as a producer and screen writer. For several screenplays he used the pen name Fred Majo.
May's last film was the war time comedy featuring Robert Mitchum in a small role, Johnny Doesn't Live Here Any More, made in 1944 by the King Brothers and released through Monogram Pictures.
During the early years of sound film he worked as a producer for Erich Pommer at Ufa then for different production companies in Germany, Austria and France directing a series of multilingual versions in German and French among those is Ihre Majestät die Liebe / Son altesse l'amour (1930) one of the best musical comedies of the Weimar Cinema.
In 1933 he and Mia May, along with many others in the German film industry, emigrated to the United States where he was able to establish himself as director, mainly for Universal Pictures, although his work was mainly on what would be regarded as B movies.
After studying in Berlin and a variety of odd jobs, he began his career as a stage director of operettas in Hamburg.
Before he entered the film business he worked in different professions, among them as a car dealer, lighter salesman and for the textile sector.
Towards the end of the 1920s, May moved away from adventure films and produced more realist works, notable among them the World War I love-triangle Heimkehr (The Return Home) (1928) and the contemporary thriller Asphalt (1929).
When the First World War broke out in August 1914, May had to return to his native Vienna to do his military service, and on his return to Berlin he and Ernst Reicher split up.Reicher leased the studio at 9 Franz Joseph-Strasse from Continental, and continued to make the 'Stuart Webbs' films with his Reicher & Reicher company until 1918. May's last film at Continental was Der geheimnisvolle Nachtschatten (The Secret Shadows of Night) which he produced in December 1914, with Harry Piel directing.
In 1917 May gave Fritz Lang one of his earliest breaks in the film industry as screenwriter on the film Die Hochzeit im Excentricclub (Wedding in the Eccentric Club) and Lang also worked on other May films at this time.
His most notable works in the United States were the Kay Francis vehicle Confession, a remake of the 1935 German film Mazurka, The House of the Seven Gables and The Invisible Man Returns (1941). He also worked with the Dead End Kids during this period, helming two films, You're Not So Tough (1940) and Hit the Road (1941), despite constant friction with his juvenile delinquent cast members.
As Joe May, he made ten films for Continental-Art Film GmbH in Berlin; the first, In der Tiefe des Schachtes (In the Depths of the Pit) was released in November 1912, followed by Vorglühen des Balkanbrandes (The Balkan Traitors) (starring Ernst Reicher). In the spring of 1914 May directed the first three of the 'Stuart Webbs' films, a popular series in which Reicher played a gentleman detective modelled on Sherlock Holmes.
After the end of World War I May-Film leased the double glasshouse studios at 5-7 Franz Joseph-Strasse (belonging to Deutsche Vitascope) in 1919 for 600,000 marks, which became known as the May-Atelier.He also built a film studio in Woltersdorf a village northeast of Berlin in Brandenburg. There he went on to produce and direct a series of popular and exotic adventure films, among them the monumental three-hour-long Veritas vincit (1919), the eight-part series Die Herrin der Welt (The Mistress of the World) (1919-20) as well as the two-part adventure film Das indische Grabmal (The Indian Tomb) (1921) starring Conrad Veidt and written by Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou. These featured Mia May in leading roles and she regularly worked under her husband's direction in a number of melodramas like Tragödie der Liebe (1922/23) co-starring Emil Jannings.
After retiring as a director, May managed the Blue Danube Restaurant in Los Angeles, and died on April 29, 1954, after a long illness.
After directing a handful of abysmal b-movies, May found himself bankrupt by the mid-1940s. He and his wife Mia, a former actress who starred in many of his early films, struggled to run a restaurant for much of the remainder of their lives; in a bittersweet tone of irony, they called their establishment "The Blue Danube." One of Germany's most celebrated early directors, May never regained the fame he had enjoyed in Weimar Germany.
What makes a movie successful Joe May defined in 1928 as follows: "I have taken the trouble from the beginning to create a movie that appeals to the whole world, which raises the absolute claim of movie art but at the same time comes up to the justified wishes of the public on thrill and entertainment. In my opinion the conditions for a successful movie are: You take thrilling action, add a little mixture of humorous scenes as well as intense sensation. But you avoid spoiling this mixture with too much sensation, because each sensation which is there only for its sake and does not follow on from the logical action of the movie has lost its legitimacy and will be found a nuisance.".
Joe May had to bear a blow of fate in when his daughter, the actress Eva May, committed suicide. Joe May was in the middle of the shooting of "Der Farmer aus Texas" when the message arrived him. As a pro he was forced to organize all the necessary things so that the shooting during his absence could continue smoothly. The film business was merciless, millions were at stake and Joe May knew it. He couldn't give way to the pain and had to struggle through this phase before he could hurry to his wife.
May's first two films in the States, 'Music in the Air' (produced by Pommer and scripted by Billy Wilder and Robert Liebmann, 1934) and 'Confession' (1937) were flops.
Curd Goetz, who did some screenplays for the Joe Deebs Series, remembers the following anecdote in his autobiography: Joe May was directing a scene where, at the shore of a lake, an elephant was required to enter the camera's view from the side. However the animal trainer did not manage to make it do so. May, fully immersed in making the scene, got impatient and started to pull the animal by its trunk. The elephant, more annoyed than angry, effortlessly picked him up and throw him, in a high arc, into the lake. May, airborne, only screamed: "Stay shooting!".

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