Fleming, Victor

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Nationality: American. Born: Pasadena, California, 23 February 1883. Career: Car-racing driver and chauffeur, then hired as assistant cameraman at American Film Company, 1910; began working with Allan Dwan, 1911; cameraman at Triangle, under D.W. Griffith, 1915; joined photographic section of U.S. Army Signal Corps, 1917; cameraman for Walter Wanger at Versailles Peace Conference, 1919; directed first feature, 1920; contract director for MGM, from 1932. Awards: Oscar for Best Director, for Gone with the Wind, 1939. Died: In 1949.

Films as Director:


When the Clouds Roll By (co-d) (private film featuring Douglas Fairbanks Sr., made for the Duke of Sutherland)


The Mollycoddle


Mamma'a Affair; Woman's Place


The Lane That Had No Turning; Red Hot Romance; Anna Ascends


Dark Secrets; The Law of the Lawless; To the Last Man; The Call of the Canyon


Code of the Sea; Empty Hands


The Devil's Cargo; Adventure; A Son of His Father; Lord Jim


The Blind Goddess; Mantrap


The Rough Riders (The Trumpet Call); The Way of All Flesh; Hula


The Awakening


Abie's Irish Rose; Wolf Song; The Virginian


Common Clay; Renegades


Around the World with Douglas Fairbanks (Around the World in Eighty Minutes with Douglas Fairbanks) (+ role)


The Wet Parade; Red Dust


The White Sister; Bombshell (Blond Bombshell)


Treasure Island


Reckless; The Farmer Takes a Wife


Captains Courageous; The Good Earth (co-d with Franklin, uncredited); A Star Is Born (Wellman) (d add'l scenes)


Test Pilot; The Crowd Roars (Thorpe) (d add'l scenes); The Great Waltz (co-d with Duvivier, uncredited)


The Wizard of Oz ; Gone with the Wind


Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (+ pr)


Tortilla Flat


A Guy Named Joe




Joan of Arc

Other Films (incomplete listing):


His Picture in the Papers (Emerson) (ph); The Habit of Happiness (Laugh and the World Laughs) (Dwan) (ph); The Good Bad Man (Passing Through) (Dwan) (ph); Betty of Greystone (Dwan) (ph); Macbeth (Emerson) (ph); Little Meena's Romance (Powell) (ph); The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (Emerson) (ph) (short); The Half-Breed (Dwan) (ph); An Innocent Magdalene (Dwan) (ph); A Social Secretary (Emerson) (ph); Manhattan Madness (Dwan) (ph); 50–50 (Dwan) (ph); American Aristocracy (Ingraham) (ph); The Matrimaniac (Powell) (ph); The Americano (Emerson) (ph)


Down to Earth (Emerson) (ph); The Man from Painted Post (Henabery) (ph); Reaching for the Moon (Emerson) (co-ph); A Modern Musketeer (Dwan) (ph)


His Majesty, the American (One of the Blood) (Henabery) (ph)


On FLEMING: books—

Thompson, Frank, Between Action and Cut: 5 American Directors, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1985.

Harmetz, Aljean, The Making of The Wizard of Oz, London, 1989.

On FLEMING: articles—

Obituary in New York Times, 7 January 1949.

Reid, John, "The Man Who Made Gone With the Wind," in Filmsand Filming (London), December 1967.

Reid, John, "Fleming: The Apprentice Years," in Films and Filming (London), January 1968.

"Checklist—Victor Fleming," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), October 1977.

Brownlow, Kevin, "Victor Fleming," in Film Dope (London), February 1979.

Gallagher, J., "Victor Fleming," in Films in Review (New York), March 1983.

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Victor Fleming was a successful, respected director of some of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's biggest and most celebrated films (Red Dust, Captains Courageous, Test Pilot) as well as two undisputed Hollywood classics by the standards of popular taste, The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind. Ironically, it is probably the enormous continuing popularity of the last two titles that has eclipsed Fleming's personal reputation. Correctly perceived as producer-dominated, studio-influenced cinema, both Oz and Gone with the Wind are talked and written about extensively, but never as Victor Fleming films. They are classic examples of the complicated collaborations that took place under the old studio system. Although Fleming received directorial credit (and 1939's Oscar as Best Director) for Gone with the Wind, others made significant contributions to the final film, among them George Cukor.

Fleming served his film apprenticeship as a cinematographer, working with such pioneers as Allan Dwan at the Flying A company and D.W. Griffith at Triangle. He photographed several Douglas Fairbanks films, among them The Americano, Wild and Woolly, and Down to Earth. He developed a skillful sense of storytelling through the camera, as well as a good eye for lighting and composition during those years. After he became a director, his critical reputation became tied to the studio at which he made the majority of his films, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Known unofficially as a "producer's studio," MGM concentrated on showcasing its well-known stable of stars in suitable vehicles.

At Metro, Fleming was frequently thought of as a counterpart to George Cukor; Cukor was labelled a "woman's director," Fleming a "man's director." Besides being a close personal friend and favorite director of Clark Gable, Fleming was responsible for directing the Oscar-winning performance of Spencer Tracy in Captains Courageous. His flair for getting along with male stars enabled him to create an impressive group of popular films that were loved by audiences, who saw them as "Gable films" or "Tracy films." Both Henry Fonda (whose screen debut was in Fleming's The Farmer Takes a Wife) and Gary Cooper (whose first big screen success was inThe Virginian) owed much of their early recognition to Fleming's talent for directing actors. Fleming had a talent for spotting potential stars and understanding the phenomenon of the star persona. In addition to his work with male actors, he also played a key role in the career development of Jean Harlow. Under Fleming's direction, she was encouraged to mix comedy with her sex appeal.

The Virginian, Fleming's first sound film, is an underrated movie that demonstrates a remarkable ability to overcome the problems of the early sound era, shooting both outdoors and indoors with equal fluidity and success. Fleming's use of naturalistic sound in this film did much to influence other early films. However, Fleming's work is not unified by a particular cinematic style, although it is coherent in thematic terms. His world is one of male camaraderie, joyous action, pride in professionalism, and lusty love for women who are not too ladylike to return the same sort of feelings. In this regard, his work is not unlike that of Howard Hawks, but Fleming lacked Hawks' ability to refine style and content into a unified vision.

Fleming's name is not well known today. Although he received directorial credit for what is possibly the most famous movie ever made in Hollywood (Gone with the Wind), he is not remembered as its director. His work stands as an example of the best done by those directors who worked within the studio system, allowing the film to bear the stamp of the studio rather than any personal vision.

—Jeanine Basinger