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Biography

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Overview (4)

Date of Birth 21 March 1889San Diego, California, USA
Date of Death 5 February 1943Brentwood, California, USA  (suicide)
Birth NameWoodbridge Strong Van Dyke II
Nicknames Woody
"One-Take Woody"

Mini Bio (1)

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 saved the studios vast amounts of money but turned out to be some of the most interesting motion pictures created during this period.

Van Dyke's father, a lawyer, died within days of his birth. By the time he was three Woody and his mother were forced to tread the boards of repertory theatre to make a living. When he hit his teens he had a succession of outdoor jobs, including lumberjack, gold prospector, railroad man and even mercenary. In 1916 he was hired by the legendary D.W. Griffith as one of a group of "assistants" (others included Erich von Stroheim and Tod Browning) to work on the picture Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916). After that, his rise was truly meteoric. Within a year Woody was directing his own films, beginning with The Land of Long Shadows (1917). A later western, The Lady of the Dugout (1918), featured a 'genuine' former Wild West outlaw, the self-promoting teller of tall tales, Al J. Jennings. After enlistment in World War I, Woody returned to Hollywood in the 1920s to direct further westerns, beginning with some Gilbert M. 'Broncho Billy' Anderson features at Essanay and later Tim McCoy programmers (once, in 1926, he directed two features simultaneously). Woody was perhaps the first filmmaker to make westerns that strayed from the stereotypical jaundiced pro-white man view in favor of a more sympathetic portrayal of the American Indian on screen.

Woody's "One-Take" nickname came about as a result of filming world heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey in Daredevil Jack (1920). Dempsey invariably flattened his opponents with the first punch, so it became imperative to have the scene "in the can" on the first take. As a result, Woody was much in demand throughout the decade for "quota quickie" westerns and serials. Under contract to MGM in 1928, he accompanied documentary filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty to Polynesia to collaborate on the feature White Shadows in the South Seas (1928), taking over direction entirely when Flaherty fell ill. The success of the picture led to the thematically similar The Pagan (1929), shot in Tahiti with Ramon Novarro. This was in turn followed by the epic Trader Horn (1931), filmed on location in remote parts of Kenya and Tanganyika. Driven to the point of physical exhaustion by the swashbuckling director, the 200-strong crew virtually transformed the wilderness, creating, as it were, a live set, replete with exotic animals and plant life to capture unprecedented footage. In fact, there was so much excess footage after release of "Trader Horn" that much of it was incorporated into Woody's next project, the seminal Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), which set the bar for later entries into the Edgar Rice Burroughs cycle. After another flirt with danger, filming Eskimo (1933) in the remote Bering Strait, Woody settled down to less life-threatening assignments.

During the next few years, Woody Van Dyke showed his remarkable flair and versatility. After being Oscar-nominated for The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933), he directed William Powell and Myrna Loy in their first outing together in Manhattan Melodrama (1934) (most famous as the film seen by infamous bank robber and killer John Dillinger just before he was shot to death by the FBIl). He followed this with the stylish and witty thriller The Thin Man (1934) (filmed in true Woody-style in 16 days) and its three sequels, teaming Powell and Loy in one of Hollywood's most successful partnerships. After these hugely popular movies, Woody proved to be equally adept at musicals, directing yet another dynamic duo, Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, in the operettas Rose-Marie (1936), Sweethearts (1938) and Naughty Marietta (1935). Never turning down an assignment, he also handled family fare (Andy Hardy, Dr.Kildare), social (The Devil Is a Sissy (1936)) and historical dramas (the lavish Marie Antoinette (1938) with Norma Shearer).

Unquestionably, one of the highlights of Van Dyke's career as a director was the first true "disaster movie", San Francisco (1936), for which he elicited rich, natural characterizations from his cast for 97 minutes. He then re-created the 1906 earthquake in the remaining 20-minute finale, achieving a realism that has rarely been matched and never surpassed. He was nominated for Academy Awards for both "The Thin Man" and "San Francisco", but lost out on both occasions.

A colorful, larger-than-life character, his "shoot-from-the-hip" camera style was at times criticized by his peers. Conversely, he was much respected by actors, frequently giving breaks to unemployed performers by using them in his films, and appreciated by the studios by consistently coming in on or under budget. In addition, he was known as a "film doctor", who would be called upon to re-shoot individual scenes with which the studio was dissatisfied (a noted example being for The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)), or, alternatively, to shoot additional scenes that were deemed necessary for continuity.

Like some of his peers, Woody could be an autocrat who rarely brooked arguments and was known to greet the mighty Louis B. Mayer himself with "Hi, kid". He became ill during the filming of Dragon Seed (1944). Diagnosed with heart disease and cancer, he committed suicide in February 1943.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: I.S.Mowis

Spouse (2)

Ruth Mannix (26 February 1935 - 5 February 1943) (his death) (3 children)
Zina (? - 1935) (divorced)

Trivia (14)

Before entering the movie business, Van Dyke was a gold miner, a lumberjack, a railroad worker and a mercenary.
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890-1945". Pages 1112-1121. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1987.
Woody's father died the day after he was born.
Directed 4 different actors in Oscar-nominated performances: William Powell, Spencer Tracy, Robert Morley and Norma Shearer.
His second wife, Ruth Mannix, was the niece of MGM executive E.J. Mannix.
Served as a California delegate to the 1940 Democratic National Convention.
He was close friends outside of the studio with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, and at his request they officiated at his funeral and sang.
He worked more with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy than any other stars, directing 6-1/2 of the eight MacDonald-Eddy films (the "half" was New Moon (1940), which was completed by Robert Z. Leonard, who received screen credit, when Van Dyke was called away in the middle of shooting for duty with the US Marine Corps). Van Dyke also directed Eddy's solo film, Rosalie (1937), and two other MacDonald films, San Francisco (1936) and Cairo (1942).
He saved Jeanette MacDonald's life when she attempted suicide (pills) at the news of Nelson Eddy's marriage in 1939.
Louis B. Mayer was deeply shaken by Van Dyke's suicide. Van Dyke was one of his favorite directors (Mayer always admired a director capable of consistently bringing projects in under budget). Those closest to him would remark that Van Dyke's death affected Mayer even more than Irving Thalberg's.
He suffered from heart problems and was dying of cancer when he directed his final film, Journey for Margaret (1942). A Christian Scientist, he refused all treatment and remained quiet about his condition. He committed suicide to end his suffering, but the method of suicide remains unknown and obituaries of the day did not mention suicide at all. It is likely that it was a suicide planned somewhat in advance.
Became a life member of the Society of Colonial Wars in the State of California on January 23, 1934 based on his direct descent from Capt. Jan Janse Van Dyke, 1652-1736 and Gov. William Leete, 1613-1683. General Society membership number 8634, California Society membership number 397.
His African adventures in making Trader Horn (1931) inspired the creation of Carl Denham, the fictitious director in King Kong (1933).
Directed 4 actors to Oscar nominations: William Powell (Best Actor, The Thin Man (1934)), Spencer Tracy (Best Actor, San Francisco (1936)), Norma Shearer (Best Actress, Marie Antoinette (1938)), and Robert Morley (Best Supporting Actor, Marie Antoinette (1938)).

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