LeRoy, Mervyn

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LEROY, Mervyn

Nationality: American. Born: San Francisco, 15 October 1900. Education: Attended night school, 1919–1924. Family: Married 1) Doris Warner, 1933 (divorced), one son, one daughter; 2) Kathryn Spiegel, 1946. Career: Newsboy, from 1910; hired to portray newsboy in film Barbara Fritchie, 1912; film extra and vaudeville performer (as "The Singing Newsboy," later, with Clyde Cooper, as "Leroy and Cooper: Two Kids and a Piano"), 1912–1919; through cousin Jesse Lasky, got job in films, folding costumes, 1919; also film actor, to 1924; gag writer and comedy construction specialist for director Alfred E. Green, 1924; directed first film, No Place to Go, for First National, 1927; hired by MGM as producer and director, 1938; started own production company, 1944. Awards: Special Oscar, for The House I Live In, 1945; Victoire du Cinéma français, for Quo Vadis, 1954; Irving Thalberg Academy Award, 1975. Died: In Beverly Hills, 13 September 1987.

Films as Director:


No Place to Go


Flying Romeos; Harold Teen; Oh, Kay!


Naughty Baby (Reckless Rosie); Hot Stuff; Broadway Babies (Broadway Daddies); Little Johnny Jones


Playing Around; Showgirl in Hollywood; Numbered Men; Top Speed; Little Caesar; Too Young to Marry; Broad-Minded; Five-Star Final (One Fatal Hour); Tonight orNever


High Pressure; Heart of New York; Two Seconds; Big CityBlues; Three on a Match; I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang


Hard to Handle; Tugboat Annie; Elmer the Great; GoldDiggers of 1933; The World Changes


Heat Lightning; Hi, Nellie!; Happiness Ahead


Oil for the Lamps of China; Page Miss Glory; I Found StellaParish; Sweet Adeline


Anthony Adverse; Three Men on a Horse


The King and the Chorus Girl; They Won't Forget


Fools for Scandal


Waterloo Bridge; Escape (+ pr)


Blossoms in the Dust (+ pr); Unholy Partners; Johnny Eager


Random Harvest


Madame Curie


Thirty Seconds over Tokyo


Without Reservations




Little Women (+ pr); Any Number Can Play


East Side, West Side; Quo Vadis?


Lovely to Look At; Million-Dollar Mermaid (The One-PieceBathing Suit)


Latin Lovers


Rose Marie (+ pr)


Strange Lady in Town (+ pr); Mister Roberts (co-d)


The Bad Seed (+ pr); Toward the Unknown (Brink of Hell) (+ pr)


No Time for Sergeants (+ pr); Home before Dark (+ pr)


The FBI Story (+ pr)


Wake Me When It's Over (+ pr)


The Devil at Four O'Clock (+ pr); A Majority of One (+ pr)


Gypsy (+ pr)


Mary, Mary (+ pr)


Moment to Moment (+ pr)

Other Films: (partial list)


Double Speed (Wood) (role as juvenile)


The Ghost Breaker (Green) (role as a ghost)


Little Johnny Jones (Rosson and Hines) (role as George Nelson); Going Up (Ingraham) (role as bellboy); The Callof the Canyon (Fleming) (role as Jack Rawlins)


In Hollywood with Potash and Perlmutter (So This Is Hollywood) (gag-writer); Broadway after Dark (Bell) (role as Carl Fisher); The Chorus Lady (Ralph Ince) (role as Duke)


Sally (gag-writer); The Desert Flower (gag-writer); The PaceThat Thrills (gag-writer); We Moderns (gag-writer)


Irene (gag-writer); Ella Cinders (gag-writer); It Must Be Love (gag-writer); Twinkletoes (gag-writer)


Orchids and Ermines (gag-writer)


The Dark Horse (Green) (uncredited help)


The Great Garrick (Whale) (pr)


Stand up and Fight (W.S. Van Dyke) (pr); Dramatic School (pr); At the Circus (pr)


The Wizard of Oz (Fleming) (pr)


The House I Live In (pr)


Desire Me (Cukor) (uncredited direction)


The Great Sinner (Siodmak) (uncredited direction and editing)


The Green Berets (Wayne and Kellogg) (assisted Wayne)


By LeROY: books—

It Takes More than Talent, as told to Alyce Canfield, New York, 1953.

Mervyn LeRoy: Take One, as told to Dick Kleiner, New York, 1974.

By LeROY: articles—

"The Making of Mervyn LeRoy," in Films in Review (New York), May 1953.

"What Directors Are Saying," in Action (Los Angeles), May/June 1970.

"Mervyn LeRoy Talks with William Friedkin," in Action (Los Angeles), November/December 1974.

On LeROY: articles—

Surtees, Robert, "The Filming of Quo Vadis in Italy," in AmericanCinematographer (Hollywood), October 1951.

Sarris, Andrew, "Likable, but Elusive," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1963.

"Should Directors Produce?," in Action (Los Angeles), July/August 1968.

Campbell, Russell, "I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang," in VelvetLight Trap (Madison, Wisconsin), June 1971.

Kaminsky, Stuart, "Little Caesar and Its Role in the Gangster Film Genre," in Journal of Popular Film (Bowling Green, Ohio), Summer 1972.

Canham, Kingsley, "Mervyn LeRoy: Star-making, Studio Systems, and Style," in The Hollywood Professionals, vol. 5, London, 1976.

Veillon, O.R., "Mervyn LeRoy à la Warner," in Cinématographe (Paris), October 1982.

"Mervyn Le Roy revisited," in Image et Son (Paris), December 1982.

"Mervyn Leroy," in Film Dope (London), September 1986.

Obituary in Films and Filming (London), November 1987.

Monder, Eric, "Mervyn LeRoy's Little Caesar Salad Days," in DGA (Los Angeles), vol. 21, no. 3, July-August 1996.

* * *

The career of Mervyn LeRoy, one of the most successful in the heyday of the studio system, is a reflection of that system. When at Warner Brothers, through most of the 1930s, LeRoy was a master of the style dominant at that studio, demonstrated in the fast-paced toughness of films like his Little Caesar and I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang. As producer-director at MGM until the mid-1950s, he presided over lushly romantic vehicles for Greer Garson and Vivien Leigh. Prolific, versatile (at home in action films, women's films, musicals, historical spectacles), LeRoy's fluency marks him as the kind of director who validates collaborative creativity. Sensitive to the particular individuals with whom he works, and to the wide-ranging needs of the various materials he treats, LeRoy offers us an image of the Hollywood technique during the development of the classic Hollywood narrative.

This often makes it difficult to locate that which is LeRoy's specific contribution to films as dissimilar as the taut courtroom drama They Won't Forget (that featured the memorable debut of Lana Turner, the "sweater girl" under personal contract to the director) and the colossal pageantry of Quo Vadis?, where decor completely submerges character. But if LeRoy lacks the recognizable visual and thematic coherence we notice in the works of "auteurs" (Welles, Ford, Griffith), it would be incorrect to characterize him as a director without a personal vision, or at least an affinity for specific subjects. Some of his best-remembered films contain narrative configurations that display the protagonists in situations of pathetic isolation. It is as if the director's eye and the spectator's eye spied a character in a state of embarrassing vulnerability. At the end of I Am a Fugitive, a film about a man wrongly charged with a crime and perpetually hounded by the police, the hero confesses that he must now steal to live. Staged in a dark alley, the last words emerge from total blackness that ironically hides the speaker's face in this moment of painful revelation. (It has been said that the blackout was due to a power failure on the set. This in no way lessens the significance of the decision to leave the scene in, as shot.) In Random Harvest, one of the most popular films LeRoy made at MGM, the director repeatedly finds ways to underscore the pain of the wife who "plays" at being the secretary of her husband, an amnesia victim who has forgotten her identity. Here, as in Waterloo Bridge, where the heroine represents one thing to the audience (a prostitute) and another to the hero (his long-lost fiancée), the staging exploits this ironic brand of double identity.

In a film made at Warners in 1958, Home before Dark, the dual representation of character is extended into the figure of the schizophrenic (Jean Simmons) who, wishing to be like her sister, appears in a crowded nightclub wearing an oversized gown and garishly inappropriate makeup. This sort of embarrassing exposure reaches a theatrical peak in Gypsy, where the mother of the striptease artists does her own "turn" on the bare stage of an empty theater, stripping down to her raw ambition and envy.

—Charles Affron