Nationality: American. Born: George Cooper Stevens in Oakland, California, 18 December 1904. Family: Married Joan (Stevens) (divorced), one son. Military Service: Joined U.S. Army Signal Corps, became head of Special Motion Pictures Unit assigned to photograph activities of 6th Army, 1943; Unit awarded citation from General Eisenhower, 1945. Career: Actor and stage manager for father's theatrical company, 1920–21; moved to Hollywood, 1921, worked as assistant and 2nd cameraman, then cameraman; joined Hal Roach as cameraman for Laurel and Hardy shorts, 1927; director of two-reel shorts for Roach, from 1930, and for RKO and Universal, from 1932; directed first feature, The Cohens and Kellys in Trouble, 1933; also producer, from 1938; resumed career after military service during World War II. Awards: Oscars for Best Director, for A Place in the Sun, 1951, and Giant, 1956; Irving G. Thalberg Award, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 1953. Died: In Paris, 9 March 1975.
Films as Director:
Call a Cop !; High Gear; The Kick-Off; Mama Loves Papa
The Finishing Touch; Boys Will Be Boys; Family Troubles
Should Crooners Marry; Hunting Trouble; Rock-a-bye Cowboy; Room Mates; A Divorce Courtship; Flirting in thePark; Quiet Please; Grin and Bear It; The Cohens and theKellys in Trouble
Bridal Bail; Ocean Swells; Bachelor Bait; Kentucky Kernels
Laddie; The Nitwits; Alice Adams; Annie Oakley
Quality Street; A Damsel in Distress
Vivacious Lady (+ pr)
Gunga Din (+ pr)
Vigil in the Night (+ pr)
Penny Serenade (+ pr)
Woman of the Year; The Talk of the Town (+ pr)
The More the Merrier (+ pr)
I Remember Mama (+ co-pr)
A Place in the Sun (+ pr)
Something to Live For (+ pr)
Shane (+ pr)
The Diary of Anne Frank (+ pr)
The Greatest Story Ever Told (+ pr)
The Only Game in Town
The White Sheep (cameraman); The Battling Oriole (cameraman)
Black Cyclone (cameraman)
The Devil Horse (cameraman); The Desert's Toll (cameraman); Putting Pants on Philip (cameraman)
No Man's Law (cameraman); The Valley of Hell (cameraman); Lightning (cameraman); The Battle of the Century (cameraman)
Leave 'em Laughing (cameraman); Two Tars (McCarey) (cameraman); Unaccustomed as We Are (cameraman)
Big Business (cameraman)
By STEVENS: articles—
Interview, in Cinema (Beverly Hills), December/January 1965.
"George Stevens: Shorts to Features: Interview," with Leonard Maltin, in Action (Los Angeles), November/December 1970.
On STEVENS: books—
Richie, Donald, George Stevens: An American Romantic, New York, 1970.
Phillips, Gene D., The Movie Makers: Artists in the Industry, Chicago, 1973.
Petri, Bruce, A Theory of American Film: The Films and Techniquesof George Stevens, New York, 1987.
On STEVENS: articles—
"Best Director in Hollywood," in Time (New York), 16 February 1942.
Houston, Penelope, "Shane and George Stevens," in Sight andSound (London), Fall 1953.
Cecil, N., "George Stevens: Letter," in Films in Review (New York), February 1954.
Archer, E., "George Stevens and the American Dream," in FilmCulture (New York), no. 1, 1957.
Luft, Herbert, "George Stevens," in Films in Review (New York), November 1958.
Stasey, Joanne, "Hollywood Romantic," in Films and Filming (London), July 1959.
Silke, J.R., "The Costumes of George Stevens," in Cinema (Beverly Hills), November/December 1963.
Bartlett, N., "Sentiment and Humanism," in Film (London), Spring 1964.
"Stevens Issue" of Cinema (Beverly Hills), December/January 1964/65.
McVay, D., "Greatest Stevens," in Films and Filming (London), April 1965.
Stanbrook, Alan, "The Return of Shane," in Films and Filming (London), May 1966.
Beresford, Bruce, "George Stevens," in Film (London), Summer 1970.
"Stevens Issue" of Dialogue on Film (Washington, D.C.), no. 1, 1972.
Obituary, in Action (Los Angeles), March/April 1975.
Beylie, Claude, obituary, in Ecran (Paris), May 1975.
"Stevens Issue" of Dialogue on Film (Washington, D.C.), May/June 1975.
"A George Stevens Album," in Action (Los Angeles), May/June 1975.
Petri, Bruce, "George Stevens: The Wartime Comedies," in FilmComment (New York), July/August 1975.
McGilligan, P., and J. McBride, "George Stevens: A Piece of the Rock," in Bright Lights (Los Angeles), no. 4, 1979.
Adair, Gilbert, "Directors of the Decade: Forties," Films and Filming (London), June 1983.
Combs, Richard, "Slow Burner," in Listener (London), 12 February 1987.
Kothenschulte, Daniel, "An Anfang der reise," in Film-Dienst (Cologne), vol. 48, no. 19, 12 September 1995.
* * *
Katharine Hepburn had originally been responsible for bringing George Stevens to the attention of those in the front office. He had directed a great many two-reelers for Hal Roach, and was just entering films as a director of features when Hepburn met him, liked him, and asked that he be assigned as director to her next film, Alice Adams. It was a giant step forward for Stevens, but Alice Adams, from the Booth Tarkington novel, was a project right up his alley.
Two years later Stevens directed Hepburn again in a charming version of Barrie's play, Quality Street, and then in 1941 Hepburn again got him over to MGM to direct her and Spencer Tracy in Woman of the Year, the first film the two actors did together.
In the first half of his film career Stevens directed a Barbara Stanwyck feature, Annie Oakley, one of the best Astaire-Rogers dancing romances, Swing Time, and a delightful Ginger Rogers feature, Vivacious Lady. Astaire was never more debonair than in the adaption of Wodehouse's novel A Damsel in Distress, with George Burns and Gracie Allen. Stevens then really hit his stride as director of Gunga Din, a Kiplingesque glorification of romantic derring-do that featured Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Two romances, Vigil in the Night, starring Carole Lombard, and Penny Serenade, co-starring Irene Dunne with Cary Grant, added to his reputation as an ideal director for romance, especially the weepy sort. His final feature before departing for wartime Europe was one of his best. The More the Merrier was a very funny comedy concerning the wartime housing situation in the nation's capital.
After the war, Stevens decided that he would like to produce and direct something that glorified America's past, preferably a comedy. Fortunately, Stevens had been named by Irene Dunne as one of those she would like to work for as the projected star of I Remember Mama. The film was in production for six months and went far over schedule and budget. Stevens was a perfectionist who was determined not to be caught short of any piece of film he needed when making his first cut. He shot a master scene fully, with moving camera, and then shot and kept shooting the same scene from every conceivable angle. For a montage sequence involving Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Stevens spent nearly ten days shooting footage of Sir Cedric reading aloud while the family listened. He overshot, and it was expensive, but the end result was as nearly perfect as any movie could be. Because of the excessive production cost (over $3 million), I Remember Mama did not realize the profit it might have earned, although it premiered and played five continuous weeks at Radio Music City Hall, gathering rave notices and honors for all concerned.
Stevens had proved that he was back in form and at the top. He moved over to Paramount, where he made two of his best pictures—A Place in the Sun, from Theodore Dreiser's American classic, and An American Tragedy, with three perfectly cast players: Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, and Shelly Winters. He then served as the producer-director of one of the most remarkable westerns ever filmed, Shane. Told through the eyes of a young boy, the film has a disarming innocence in spite of its violence.
Stevens moved over to Warner Bros. to film Giant, Edna Ferber's novel about Texas. Giant featured Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean. It was Dean's final credit, for he was killed in an auto crash directly after the shooting of his scenes was finished. Stevens' last three features—The Diary of Anne Frank, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and The Only Game in Town—were released by 20th Century-Fox. The last one, the best of the three, was virtually sloughed off in its release. When asked what the story was about, Stevens replied, "It's about an aging hooker and a losing gambler, if you think the world is ready for that." He had become embittered. The climate had changed in Hollywood, and it was difficult to get a first-class release for a picture made with the kind of extravagance Stevens was accustomed to.
—De Witt Bodeen