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William C. de Mille Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (5)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Spouse (2)  | Trivia (8)

Overview (5)

Born in Washington, District of Columbia, USA
Died in Playa del Rey, Los Angeles, California, USA
Birth NameWilliam Churchill De Mille
Nickname Bill
Height 5' 9½" (1.77 m)

Mini Bio (1)

William Churchill de Mille, the older brother of Hollywood legend Cecil B. DeMille (W.C. retained the family spelling of his name) and father of Tony Award-winning choreographer Agnes de Mille, was born in Washington, North Carolina, on July 25, 1878. His father, Henry C. DeMille, was a playwright who had six plays produced on Broadway from 1887-90, while his mother, Beatrice DeMille, the former Matilda Beatrice Samuel, wrote one play in collaboration with Harriet Ford, "The Greatest Thing in the World," that played on Broadway in 1900. It was perhaps inevitable that after graduating from Columbia University W.C. would become a successful Broadway playwright

His first play, "Strongheart," debuted on January 30, 1905, at the Hudson Theatre and ran for 66 performances, closing on February 20th of that year. It was revived at the Savoy Theatre on August 28th and played for 32 performances before closing on September 20th. His farce "The Genius" played in repertory at the Bijou Theatre for 35 performances starting on Halloween Day 1906, while his next play, "Classmates," written in collaboration with Margaret Turnbull, was more successful, totaling 102 performances after opening at the Hudson on August 29, 1907.

His true first hit, "The Warrens of Virginia," debuted at the Belasco Theatre on December 3, 1907. Produced by legendary Broadway impresario David Belasco, the play--the cast of which included deMille's brother Cecil--featured the Broadway debut of a young Canadian actress named Mary Pickford. Transferring from the Belasco to the Stuyvesant Theatre on May 4, 1908, the play racked up a total of 380 performances. W.C. collaborated with brother C.B. on the writing of "The Royal Mounted," which debuted at the Garrick Theatre on April 6, 1908. Co-directed by C.B. and Cyril Scott, the play closed after only 32 performances.

Three years later W.C. had another hit play, "The Woman," which opened at the Republic Theatre on September 19, 1911. This was a political thriller about a group of representatives and the governor of New York who, like the scheming politicos in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), concoct a stratagem to discredit a representative who outspokenly opposes a piece of legislation they favor. The drama had everything--confrontation, negotiations, calumnies and double dealing. It is unique as W.C. focuses on how people themselves affect politics, not on how politics affects them. The power relations between the individual characters reflects their governmental machinations. W.C.'s handling of points of view is interesting in that he allows each of the characters' voices to come through clearly, without prejudice, so the audience is not tipped to which ones are right or wrong. He constantly turns the tables on the audience, forcing them to redefine their perceptions of the characters, as no character in the play is innocent, the heroes and villains in politics proving to be one and the same. Though "The Woman" was a hit, playing for 247 performances, it would be another two years before a play of his was back on the boards. "A Tragedy of the Future" played in repertory with four other plays at the Princess Theatre for 115 performances beginning on May 14, 1913. "After Five," his next play (written in collaboration with C.B.), debuted at the Fulton Theatre on October 29, 1913, but was a flop, lasting only 13 performances. He would not appear on Broadway again for almost 16 years.

W.C. might have remained a Broadway playwright all his life if he had not joined his kid brother in Hollywood. He launched his movie career in 1914 at Famous Players-Lasky (later Paramount Pictures), eventually becoming a director of the corporation that his brother co-managed as part owner (their mother Beatrice wrote a dozen screenplays for the studio from 1916-17). Even among such monumental egos as Adolph Zukor and Jesse Lasky, C.B. loomed over the Paramount lot, as he was the most successful director of his era, the Steven Spielberg of the first half of the 20th century. While at Famous Players-Lasky-Paramount W.C. fulfilled the roles of director, screenwriter and producer, evolving into a highly respected member of the Hollywood community.

Many in Hollywood considered him a first-rate director, as good as--or at times better than--his brother, but few of his silent pictures, the medium in which he did most of his work, survive. "Variety," the bible of show business, in its review of Conrad in Quest of His Youth (1920), W.C.'s adaptation of 'Leonard Marrick''s highly regarded comic novel, proclaimed, "Here is a better picture than has been made by any director . . . at any time."

At Paramount C.B. was ennobled with the title Director-General, whereas W.C. was called, affectionately, "Pop" by his co-workers. Unlike his brother, W.C. focused on presenting intimate stories rooted in strong human values. He never earned a reputation for being a visual director, unlike C.B., who was a master of spectacle and mise en scene and had to be forced by the Paramount board of directors to address contemporary subjects.

Although by the late 1920s "talkies" were displacing silent films, W.C. disparaged them as inferior to silents, a not-uncommon prejudice at the time, and started making fewer films. Many critics and filmmakers believed that the moving picture had reached the apogee of its maturity as a lively art in the mid-'20s, and were not happy to see all the craft developed to convey meaning through pictures junked in favor of what they considered a novelty--sound. His last film, His Double Life (1933) (co-directed with Arthur Hopkins), was shot in New York in 1933.

W.C. attempted a return to the theater. "Poor Old Jim" played in repertory with three other plays as part of the 1929 Little Theatre Tournament, but that would prove to be his last stint as a Broadway playwright. He produced and staged Henry Myers comedy "Hallowe'en" in 1936, but the play lasted only 12 performances at the Vanderbilt Theatre. Broadway would soon belong to a new generation, including his daughter Agnes De Mille, who would achieve Broadway immortality for her revolutionary choreography for Richard Rodgers' and Oscar Hammerstein II's "Oklahoma!" Agnes went on to win the 1947 Tony Award for Best Choreography for their "Brigadoon".

The combination of the advent of talking pictures and the onset of the Great Depression doomed the Great White Way as a venue for truly popular entertainment. In the 1920s there were over 70 Broadway theaters offering a minimum of eight shows a week. By the mid-'30s many of the palaces had been converted into movie theaters, as 42nd Street began its descent into a slum dominated by all-night-long grindhouses. With the advent of realism and social commitment displayed by such innovative theatrical companies such as the Group Theater, the stage would soon succumb to a revolution hostile to the old-time playwrights who had sparked the lights on Old Broadway. The musicals survived, but Broadway was no longer a place where crowds of theater-goers moved from theater to theater, shopping for a show.

William C. De Mille served as the second president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He died on March 8, 1955. He was 76 years old.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood

Spouse (2)

Clara Beranger (13 August 1928 - 5 March 1955) ( his death)
Anna Angela George (30 March 1903 - 1927) ( divorced) ( 2 children)

Trivia (8)

Brother of Cecil B. DeMille
He had two daughters with Anna: Agnes de Mille and Peggy George.
First wife, Anna George, was the daughter of the economist Henry George, author of "Progress and Poverty".
Father-in-law of B.P. Fineman, brother-in-law of Constance Adams.
Fathered Richard de Mille out of wedlock with actress Lorna Moon. Richard was adopted by his married brother, director Cecil B. DeMille, and his wife Cecilia.
Hosted the very first Academy Awards in 1929 alongside Douglas Fairbanks and again in 1930
President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1929-31.

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