1899-07-07

GEORGE CUKOR, American director (d. 1983); One of the most influential and successful, Academy Award-winning American film directors, Cukor’s career flourished at RKO and later MGM where he directed a string of impressive films including What Price Hollywood? (1932), A Bill of Divorcement (1932), Dinner at Eight (1933), Little Women (1933), David Copperfield (1935), Romeo and Juliet (1936), and Camille (1937).

Known as an “actor’s director” and more importantly a “woman’s director” Cukor was hired to direct a little film they were calling Gone With the Wind by David O. Selznick in 1937 and he spent two years with pre-production duties as well as spending long hours coaching Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland, the film’s stars. Cukor was replaced after less than three weeks of shooting (reportedly because he offended Clark Gable’s tender sensibilities as a man’s man blah, blah, blah…), but continued to coach Leigh and De Havilland off the set.

Following the firing of its original director Richard Thorpe, Cukor also played a similar role in the production of The Wizard of Oz. Brought in on a temporary basis he made crucial changes to the look and feel of the film. In particular, he adjusted Judy Garland’s makeup, costuming and performance, encouraging her to act in a more natural manner that greatly contributed to the success of the final film.

Cukor’s next film…the one, the only, The Women (1939), a popular film notable for its all female cast and The Philadelphia Story (1940) starring Katharine Hepburn. He also directed another of his favorite actresses, Greta Garbo, in TwoFaced Woman (1941), her last film before she retired from the screen forever. He continued to work into his 80s and directed his last film, Rich and Famous (1981) with Jacqueline Bisset and Candace Bergen. His sexuality was an “open secret” (something Hollywood seemed to have invented) in Hollywood. Cukor was a celebrated bon vivant; during the heyday of Hollywood his home was the site of weekly Sunday parties and his guests knew that they would always find interesting company, good food, and a beautiful atmosphere when they visited.

Cukor’s friends were of paramount importance to him and he kept his home filled with their photographs. Regular attendees at his A-list soirées included Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, Richard Cromwell, Judy Garland, Gene Tierney, Noel Coward, Cole Porter, James Whale, Edith Head and Norma Shearer (notice any themes?), especially after the death of her first husband, Irving Thalberg. George Cukor died on January 24, 1983 at the age of 83. He was interred in the Forest Lawn memorial Park in Glendale, California.