Edit

Biography

Jump to: Overview (5) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (1) | Trivia (11) | Personal Quotes (4)

Overview (5)

Date of Birth 30 September 1895Kishinev, Russian Empire [now Chisinau, Moldova]
Date of Death 25 September 1980Los Angeles, California, USA  (after surgery)
Birth NameLev Milstein
Nickname Milly
Height 5' 7½" (1.71 m)

Mini Bio (1)

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, starting as a prop man and background artist before traveling to the US in 1914 with $6.00 in his pocket. After a succession of odd jobs (including as a dishwasher and a photographer's assistant) he joined the Army Signal Corps in 1917 to make educational short films for U.S. troops. Following World War I, having acquired American citizenship, he went on to Hollywood to meet the director William A. Seiter at Ince Studios. Seiter started him off as an assistant cutter. Milestone quickly worked his way up the ranks to become editor, assistant director and screenwriter on many of Seiter's projects in the early 1920s, experiences that would greatly influence his directing style in years to come.

Milestone directed his first film, Seven Sinners (1925), for Howard Hughes and two years later won his first of two Academy Awards for the comedy Two Arabian Knights (1927). He received his second Oscar for what most regard as his finest achievement, the anti-war All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), based on a novel by Erich Maria Remarque. The film, universally praised by reviewers for its eloquence and integrity, also won the Best Picture Academy Award that year. A noted Milestone innovation was the use of cameras mounted on wooden tracks, giving his films a more realistic and fluid, rather than static, look. Other trademarks associated with his pictures were taut editing, snappy dialogue and clever visual touches, good examples being the screwball comedy The Front Page (1931), the melodrama Rain (1932)--based on a play by W. Somerset Maugham-- and an adaptation of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men (1939). When asked in 1979 about the secret behind his success, he simply declared "Arrogance, chutzpah--in the old Hollywood at least that's the thing that gave everybody pause" (New York Times, September 27, 1980). Milestone had a history of being "difficult", having clashed with Howard Hughes, Warner Brothers and a host of studio executives over various contractual and artistic issues. Nonetheless, he remained constantly employed and worked for most of the major studios at one time or another, though never on long-term contracts. While he was not required to testify before HUAC, Milestone was blacklisted for a year in 1949 because of left-wing affiliations dating back to the 1930's. His output became less consistent during the 1950s and his career finished on a low with the remake of Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) and its incongruously cast, equally headstrong star Marlon Brando.

Milestone must be credited with a quirky sense of humor: when the producer of "All Quiet on the Western Front", Carl Laemmle Jr., demanded a "happy ending" for the picture, Milestone telephoned, "I've got your happy ending. We'll let the Germans win the war".

Having suffered a stroke, Lewis Milestone spent the last ten years of his life confined to a wheelchair. He died September 25, 1980, at the University of California Medical Center in Los Angeles.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: I.S.Mowis

Spouse (1)

Kendall Lee (1936 - 30 July 1978) (her death)

Trivia (11)

Won the only ever Best Comedy Director Oscar (for Two Arabian Knights (1927)) at the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929.
Replaced Carol Reed as director of Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) after Reed quit because he could not cope with the massive ego of the film's star, Marlon Brando. Milestone didn't find Brando any easier to work with and in the end let him do as he pleased. When asked by the cameraman why he wasn't watching the filming, Milestone replied, "I hate to see movies in pieces, so you let him do this and when it's all finished and cut, for ten cents I can walk into the theatre and see the whole thing at once. Why should I bother to look at it now?".
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890-1945". Pages 770-778. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1987.
Among his close friends were Harold Lloyd, Gilbert Roland and Dana Andrews.
Born in Russia, Milestone emigrated to the US in 1917 in order to escape being drafted into the Russian army during World War I, but upon his arrival in the US immediately enlisted in the US Army and was sent to France, where he fought until the war's end.
A device Milestone used in most of his war films--i.e., All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Edge of Darkness (1943), A Walk in the Sun (1945) and Pork Chop Hill (1959)--is the dolly shot that moves across infantry attacking toward the camera in echelon and being felled one at a time by machine-gun fire.
Cousin of virtuoso violinist Nathan Milstein.
A founding member of the Directors Guild.
Directed 2 actors to Oscar nominations: Adolphe Menjou (Best Actor, The Front Page (1931)) and Akim Tamiroff (Best Supporting Actor, The General Died at Dawn (1936)).
His career was adversely affected by the "McCarthy" era in the late 1940s and early 1950s. To avoid being humiliated by the House Un-American Activities Committee--which was desperately trying to find "Communist subversion" in Hollywood films--he began making films abroad, in both Britain and Italy, but they were not successful. His last three films were Hollywood productions with large budgets, but Milestone had a bad time on all of them--Gregory Peck re-edited Pork Chop Hill (1959) (which he co-produced); Frank Sinatra and his "Rat Pack" seem to have largely ignored him on the set of Ocean's Eleven (1960); and he had the worst experience of his career trying to direct Marlon Brando on Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) remake. This last was also a hugely expensive box-office failure. Milestone was then scheduled to direct PT 109 (1963), a film about President John F. Kennedy's wartime adventures, but was replaced by a minor TV director, Leslie H. Martinson. After that, Milestone seems to have given up on films, although he directed a few television series episodes, an experience he did not enjoy.
Quote from Pat O'Brien: "John Ford, the old master, is the orderly type. Working for him is like being part of a ballet. He hardly ever moves the camera, but composes his shots like a master painter, a Rembrandt or Degas. The actor becomes part of the scene. Ford lets the action swirl past his lens. But the reality of his seamen, miners, dust-bowlers, horse soldiers, or Wesrern heroes, when he is at his best, is a literature that the screen rarely gets. Working for him one feels a special pride. Lewis Milestone is a bouncing camera mover. For him the seeing eye is all. He stands the camera on its head, rolls it, rushes it, brings it in on the run. The actors are part of the scenery, and they must fight to survive, come alive while he catches them on the run. Neither men are static directors. They don't care for too much talk in their script, or stage business over meaningless chatter.".

Personal Quotes (4)

[on taking over the direction of Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)] I thought, "This is one way of getting rich quick--I get the salary and, at most, it couldn't take two or three months". After I'd signed the contract I found out that in the previous year all they'd had on screen was about seven minutes of film. I spent a year on it.
[on directing Marlon Brando in Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)] Everything went off fine for a couple of weeks, and then suddenly we were doing a scene and Marlon spoke to the cameraman, right past me. He said, "Look, I'll tell you, when I go like this, it means roll it, and this gesture means you stop the camera. You don't stop the camera until I give you the signal". Well, I was amazed, but I didn't say anything about it.
[on Errol Flynn] His faults harmed no one but himself.
[on Marlon Brando in Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)] I thought Brando's performance as Fletcher Christian was horrible. I've only seen him act once, and that was on Broadway in "A Streetcar Named Desire"; a marvelous performance. But he was never an actor before and hasn't been one since.

See also

Other Works | Publicity Listings | Official Sites | Contact Info

Contribute to This Page