la Cava, Gregory

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LA CAVA, Gregory

Nationality: American. Born: Towanda, Pennsylvania, 10 March 1892. Education: Educated in Rochester, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; Art Students League and National Academy of Design, New York. Family: Married (second time) Grace Carland, 1941, one son. Career: Cartoonist for American Press Association, New York, then head of animated cartoon unit, Hearst Enterprises, 1917; worked on Mutt and Jeff series, then Torchy stories for Johnny Hines, from 1921; director, from 1922, then writer and director for Paramount, from 1924 (moved to Hollywood 1929); director for First National, 1929, then Pathé, 1930; signed with 20th Century Pictures, 1933, then freelance, from 1934; hired by Mary Pickford company to direct One Touch of Venus, then left set after dispute, 1948. Awards: New York Film Critics Circle Award, for Stage Door, 1937. Died: In 1952.

Films as Director:

(partial list)


Der Kaptain Discovers the North Pole ("Katzenjammer Kids" series) (co-d) (animated short)


How Could William Tell? ("Jerry on the Job" series) (animated short)


Smokey Smokes (and) Lampoons ("Judge Rummy Cartoons" series) (animated short); Judge Rummy in Bear Facts (animated short); Kats Is Kats ("Krazy Kat Cartoon") (animated short)


His Nibs (5 reels); Faint Heart (2 reels); A Social Error (2 reels)


The Four Orphans (2 reels); The Life of Reilly (2 reels); TheBusybody (2 reels); The Pill Pounder (2 reels); So This IsHamlet? (2 reels); Helpful Hogan (2 reels); Wild andWicked (2 reels); Beware of the Dog (2 reels); The FiddlingFool (2 reels)


The New School Teacher (+ co-sc); Restless Wives




Let's Get Married; So's Your Old Man; Say It Again


Paradise for Two (+ pr); Running Wild; Tell It to Sweeney (+ pr); The Gay Defender (+ pr)


Feel My Pulse (+ pr); Half a Bride


Saturday's Children; Big News


His First Command (+ co-sc)


Laugh and Get Rich (+ sc, co-dialogue); Smart Woman


Symphony of Six Million; Age of Consent; The Half NakedTruth (+ co-sc)


Gabriel over the White House; Bid of Roses (+ co-dialogue); Gallant Lady


Affairs of Cellini; What Every Woman Knows (+ pr)


Private Worlds (+ co-sc); She Married Her Boss


My Man Godfrey (+ pr, co-sc)


Stage Door


Fifth Avenue Girl (+ pr)


Primrose Path (+ pr, co-sc)


Unfinished Business (+ pr)


Lady in a Jam (+ pr)


Living in a Big Way (+ story, co-sc)


On LA CAVA: articles—

Article in Life (New York), 15 September 1941.

Obituary in New York Times, 2 March 1952.

Sarris, Andrew, "Esoterica," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1963.

Beylie, Claude, "Enfin, La Cava vint . . . ," in Ecran (Paris), May 1974.

McNiven, R., "Gregory La Cava," in Bright Lights (Los Angeles), no. 4, 1979.

"Gregory La Cava," in Film Dope (London), March 1985.

Darrigol, Jean, "Le règle du jeu La Cava," in Vertigo (Paris), no. 14, January 1996.

Adamson, Joe, "Animation Studio Auteur: Gregory La Cava and William Randolph Hearst," in Griffithiana (Genoa), no. 55–56, September 1996.

Viviani, Christian, and others, "Hollywood années 30," in Positif (Paris), no. 434, April 1997.

* * *

Although many of his individual films are periodically reviewed and reassessed by film scholars, Gregory La Cava remains today a relatively under-appreciated director of some of the best "screwball comedies" of the 1930s. Perhaps his apparent inability to transcend the screwball form or his failure with a number of straight dramas contributed to this lack of critical recognition. Yet, at his best, he imposed a vitality and sparkle on his screen comedies that overcame their often weak scripts and some occasionally pedestrian performances from his actors.

The great majority of La Cava's films reflect an instinctive comic sense undoubtedly gained during his early years as a newspaper cartoonist and as an animator with Walter Lantz on such fast and furious cartoons as those in "The Katzenjammer Kids" and "Mutt and Jeff" series. La Cava subsequently became one of the few directors capable of transferring many of these techniques of animated comedy to films involving real actors. His ability to slam a visual gag home quickly sustained such comedies as W.C. Fields's So's Your Old Man and Running Wild. Yet his real forte emerged in the sound period when the swiftly paced sight gags were replaced by equally quick verbal repartee.

La Cava's "screwball comedies" of the 1930s were characterized by improbable plots and brilliantly foolish dialogue but also by a dichotomous social view that seemed to delight in establishing satirical contrasts between the views of themselves held by the rich and by the poor. Although treated in varying degrees in Fifth Avenue Girl, She Married Her Boss, and Stage Door, La Cava's classic treatment of this subject remains My Man Godfrey. Made during the depths of the Depression, it juxtaposes the world of the rich and frivolous with the plight of the real victims of the economic disaster through the sharply satiric device of a scavenger hunt. When one of the hunt's objectives turns out to be "a forgotten man," in this case a hobo named Godfrey Parke (William Powell), it provides a platform for one of the Depression's victims to lash out at the upper class as being composed of frivolous "nitwits." The film seemingly pulls its punches at the end, however, when one socialite, Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard), achieves some realization of the plight of the less fortunate, and the hobo Godfrey turns out to be a formerly wealthy Harvard man who actually renews his fortune through his association with her, although he has been somewhat tempered by his experience with the hoboes.

La Cava, perhaps more than other directors working in the screwball genre, was able, by virtue of doing much of the writing on his scripts, to impose his philosophical imprint upon the majority of his films. While he was often required to keep a foot in both the conservative and the liberal camps, his films do not suffer. On the contrary, they maintain an objectivity that has allowed them to grow in stature with the passage of years. My Man Godfrey, Stage Door, and Gabriel over the White House, which is only now being recognized as a political fantasy of great merit, give overwhelming evidence that critical recognition of Gregory La Cava is considerably overdue.

—Stephen L. Hanson