de Mille, Cecil B.
DE MILLE, Cecil B.
Nationality: American. Born: Cecil Blount De Mille in Ashfield, Massachusetts, 12 August 1881. Education: Pennsylvania Military Academy, Chester, 1896–98; American Academy of Dramatic Arts, New York, 1898–1900. Family: Married Constance Adams, 16 August 1902, two sons, two daughters. Career: Actor, playwright, stage producer, and associate with mother in De Mille Play Co. (theatrical agency), to 1913; co-founder, then director-general, of Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Co., 1913 (which became Paramount Pictures Corp. after merger, 1918); directed first film, The Squaw Man, 1914; founder, Mercury Aviation Co., 1919; established De Mille Pictures Corp., 1924; joined MGM as producer-director, 1928; co-founder, Screen Directors Guild, 1931; independent producer for Paramount, 1932; producer, Lux Radio Theater of the Air, 1936–45. Awards: Outstanding Service Award, War Agencies of the Government of the U.S.; Special Oscar "for 37 years of brilliant showmanship," 1949; Irving Thalberg Award, Academy, 1952; Milestone Award, Screen Producers' Guild, 1956; Chevalier de Légion d'honneur,
France; Honorary doctorate, University of Southern California. Died: 21 January 1959.
Films as Director:
The Squaw Man (The White Man) (co-d, sc, bit role); The Call of the North (+ sc, introductory appearance); The Virginian (+ sc, co-ed); What's His Name (+ sc, ed): The Man from Home (+ sc, ed); Rose of the Rancho (+ sc, ed): Brewster's Millions (co-d, uncredited, sc); The Master Mind (co-d, uncredited, sc); The Man on the Box (co-d, uncredited, sc); The Only Son (co-d, uncredited, sc); The Ghost Breaker (co-d, uncredited, co-sc)
The Girl of the Golden West (+ sc, ed); The Warrens of Virginia (+ sc, ed); The Unafraid (+ sc, ed); The Captive (+ co-sc, ed); The Wild Goose Chase (+ co-sc, ed); The Arab (+ co-sc, ed); Chimmie Fadden (+ co-sc, ed): Kindling (+ sc, ed); Carmen (+ sc, ed); Chimmie Fadden out West (+ co-sc, ed); The Cheat (+ sc, ed); The Golden Chance (+ co-sc, ed); The Goose Girl (co-d with Thompson, uncredited, co-sc)
Temptation (+ co-story, ed); The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (+ sc, ed); The Heart of Nora Flynn (+ ed); Maria Rosa (+ ed); The Dream Girl (+ ed)
Joan the Woman (+ ed); A Romance of the Redwoods (+ co-sc, ed); The Little American (+ co-sc, ed); The Woman God Forgot (+ ed); The Devil Stone (+ ed); Nan of Music Mountain (co-d with Melford, uncredited); Lost and Won
The Whispering Chorus (+ ed); Old Wives for New (+ ed); We Can't Have Everything (+ co-ed); Till I Come Back to You; The Squaw Man
Don't Change Your Husband; For Better, for Worse; Male and Female (The Admirable Crichton)
Why Change Your Wife?; Something to Think About
Forbidden Fruit (+ pr); The Affairs of Anatol (A Prodigal Knight); Fool's Paradise
Saturday Night; Manslaughter; Don't Tell Everything (co-d with Wood, uncredited) (incorporates two reel unused The Affairs of Anatol footage)
Adam's Rib; The Ten Commandments
Triumph (+ pr); Feet of Clay
The Golden Bed; The Road to Yesterday
The Volga Boatman
The King of Kings
The Godless Girl; Dynamite (+ pr)
Madame Satan (+ pr)
The Squaw Man (+ pr)
The Sign of the Cross (+ pr) (re-released 1944 with add'l footage)
This Day and Age (+ pr)
Four Frightened People (+ pr); Cleopatra (+ pr)
The Crusades (+ pr)
The Plainsman (+ pr)
The Buccaneer (+ pr)
Union Pacific (+ pr)
North West Mounted Police (+ pr, prologue narration)
Reap the Wild Wind (+ pr, prologue narration)
The Story of Dr. Wassell (+ pr)
Unconquered (+ pr)
Samson and Delilah (+ pr, prologue narration)
The Greatest Show on Earth (+ pr, narration, introductory appearance)
The Ten Commandments (+ pr, prologue narration)
Ready Money (Apfel) (co-sc); The Circus Man (Apfel) (co-sc); Cameo Kirby (Apfel) (co-sc)
The Country Boy (Thompson) (co-sc); A Gentleman of Leisure (Melford) (sc); The Governor's Lady (Melford) (co-sc); Snobs (Apfel) (co-sc)
The Love Mask (Reicher) (co-sc)
Betty to the Rescue (Reicher) (co-sc, supervisor)
Hollywood (Cruze) (guest appearance)
Free and Easy (Sedgwick) (guest appearance)
The Hollywood You Never See (short) (seen directing Cleopatra); Hollywood Extra Girl (Moulton) (seen directing The Crusades)
Star Spangled Rhythm (Marshall) (guest appearance)
Variety Girl (Marshall) (guest appearance); Jens Mansson i Amerika (Jens Mansson in America) (Janzon) (guest appearance); Aid to the Nation (short) (appearance)
Sunset Boulevard (Wilder) (role as himself)
Son of Paleface (Tashlin) (guest appearance)
The Buster Keaton Story (Sheldon) (guest appearance)
The Heart of Show Business (Staub) (narrator)
The Buccaneer (pr, supervisor, introductory appearance)
By DE MILLE: book—
The Autobiography of Cecil B. De Mille, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1959.
By DE MILLE: articles—
"After Seventy Pictures," in Films in Review (New York), March 1956.
"De Mille Answers His Critics," in Films and Filming (London), March 1958.
By DE MILLE: plays—
The Royal Mounted (1899)
The Return of Peter Grimm, with David Belasco
On DE MILLE: books—
De Mille, William, Hollywood Saga, New York, 1939.
De Mille, Agnes, Dance to the Piper, New York, 1951.
Crowther, Bosley, The Lion's Share, New York, 1957.
Koury, Phil, Yes, Mr. De Mille, New York, 1959.
Wagenknecht, Edward, The Movies in the Age of Innocence, Oklahoma, 1962.
Mourlet, Michel, Cecil B. De Mille, Paris, 1968.
Ringgold, Gene, and De Witt Bodeen, The Films of Cecil B. De Mille, New York, 1969.
Essoe, Gabe, and Raymond Lee, De Mille: The Man and His Pictures, New York, 1970.
Higham, Charles, Cecil B. De Mille, New York, 1973.
Higashi, Sumiko, Cecil B. De Mille: A Guide to References andResources, Boston, 1985.
Norman, Barry, The Film Greats, London, 1985.
Edwards, Anne, The De Milles: An American Family, New York, 1988.
Higashi, Sumiko, Cecil be De Mille and American Culture: The SilentEra, Berkeley, California, 1994.
On DE MILLE: articles—
Lardner, Ring Jr., "The Sign of the Boss," in Screen Writer, November 1945.
Feldman, Joseph and Harry, "Cecil B. De Mille's Virtues," in Filmsin Review (New York), December 1950.
Harcourt-Smith, Simon, "The Siegfried of Sex," in Sight and Sound (London), February 1951.
Johnson, Albert, "The Tenth Muse in San Francisco," in Sight andSound (London), January/March 1955.
Baker, Peter, "Showman for the Millions," in Films and Filming (London), October 1956.
Card, James, "The Greatest Showman on Earth," in Image (Rochester, New York), November 1956.
Arthur, Art, "C.B. De Mille's Human Side," in Films in Review (New York), April 1967.
"De Mille Issue" of Présence du Cinéma (Paris), Autumn 1967.
Ford, Charles, "Cecil B. De Mille," in Anthologie du Cinéma, vol. 3, Paris, 1968.
Bodeen, Dewitt, "Cecil B. De Mille," in Films in Review (New York), August/September 1981.
D'Arc, J.V., "So Let It Be Written . . . ," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), January 1986.
Doniol-Valcroze, J., "Samson, Cecil, and Delilah," in Wide Angle (Baltimore), vol. 6, no. 4, October 1989.
Pratt, G. C., "Forty-Five Years of Picture Making: An Interview with Cecil B. De Mille," in Film History (London), vol. 3, no. 2, 1989.
Higashi, S. "Cecil B. De Mille and the Lasky Company: Legitimating Feature Film as Art," in Film History (London), vol 4., no. 3, 1990.
Christie, I., "Grand Illusions," in Sight and Sound (London), vol. 1, no. 8, December 1991.
Moullet, L., "Les jardins secrets de C.B.," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1991.
Eyman, Scott, "The Best Years of Their Lives," in Film Comment (New York), March/April 1992.
Jacobs, L., "Belasco, De Mille, and the Development of Lasky Lighting," in Film History (London), no. 4, December 1993.
Palmer, A.W., "Cecil B. De Mille Writes America's History for the 1939 World's Fair," in Film History (London), vol. 5, no. 1, 1993.
* * *
For much of his forty-year career, the public and the critics associated Cecil B. De Mille with a single kind of film, the epic. He certainly made a great many of them: The Sign of the Cross, The Crusades, King of Kings, two versions of The Ten Commandments, The Greatest Show on Earth, and others. As a result, De Mille became a symbol of Hollywood during its "Golden Age." He represented that which was larger than life, often too elaborate, but always entertaining. By having such a strong public personality, however, De Mille came to be neglected as a director, even though many of his films—not just the epics—stand out as extraordinary.
Although he made films until 1956, De Mille's masterpiece may well have come in 1915 with The Cheat. Even this early in his career, we can locate some of the motifs that turn up again and again in De Mille's work: a faltering upper-class marriage, the allure and exoticism of the Far East, and sexual attraction equated with hypnotic control. He also made a major aesthetic advancement in the use of editing in The Cheat that soon became a part of the repertoire of most filmmakers.
For the cinema's first twenty years, editing was based primarily on following action. During a chase, when actors exited screen right, the next shot had them entering screen left; or, a director might cut from a person being chased to those characters doing the chasing. In either case, the logic of the action controls the editing, which in turn gives us a sense of the physical space of a scene. But in The Cheat, De Mille used his editing to create a sense of psychological space. Richard Hardy, a wealthy businessman, confronts his wife with her extravagant bills, but Mrs. Hardy can think only of her lover, Haka, who is equally obsessed with her. De Mille provides a shot/counter-shot here, but the scene does not cut from Mr. Hardy to his wife, even though the logic of the action and the dialogue seems to indicate that it should. Instead, the shots alternate between Mrs. Hardy and Haka, even though the two lovers are miles apart. This sort of editing, which follows thoughts rather than actions, may seem routine today, but in 1915 it was a major development in the method of constructing a sequence.
As a visual stylist, however, De Mille became known more for his wit than for his editing innovations. At the beginning of The Affairs of Anatol, for instance, our first view of the title character, Anatol DeWitt Spencer, is of his feet. He taps them nervously while he waits for his wife to make breakfast. Our first view of Mrs. Spencer is also of her feet—a maid gives them a pedicure. In just seconds, and with only two shots, De Mille lets us know that this couple is in trouble. Mrs. Spencer's toenails must dry before Anatol can eat. Also from these opening shots, the viewers realize that they have been placed firmly within the realm of romantic comedy. Such closeups have no place within a melodrama.
One normally does not think of De Mille in terms of pairs of shots. Instead, one thinks on a large scale, and remembers the crowd scenes (the lions–versus–Christians extravaganza in The Sign of the Cross), the huge upper-crust social functions (the charity gala in The Cheat), the orgiastic parties (one of which takes place in a dirigible in Dynamite), and the bathrooms that De Mille turns into colossal marble shrines.
De Mille began directing in the grand style quite early in his career. In 1915, with opera star Geraldine Farrar in the lead role, he made one of the best film versions of Carmen, and two years later, again with Farrar, he directed Joan the Woman. Again and again, De Mille would refer to history as a foundation to support the believability of his stories, as if his most obvious excesses could be justified if they were at least remotely based on real-life incidents. A quick look at his filmography shows many films based on historical events (often so far back in the past that accuracy hardly becomes an issue): The Sign of the Cross, The Crusades, Union Pacific, Northwest Mounted Police, and others. When history was inconvenient, De Mille made use of a literary text to give his films a high gloss of acceptability and veracity. In the opening credits of The Affairs of Anatol, for instance, De Mille stresses that the story derives from the play by Schnitzler.
In both his silent and sound films, De Mille mixes Victorian morality with sizable doses of sex and violence. The intertitles of Why Change Your Wife?, for example, rail against divorce as strongly as any nineteenth–century marital tract, but the rest of the film deals openly with sexual obsession, and shows two women in actual physical combat over one man. Similarly, all of De Mille's religious epics extol the Christian virtues while at the same time reveling in scenes depicting all of the deadly sins. Though it is tension between extremes that makes De Mille's films so intriguing, critics have often made this aspect of his work seem laughable. Even today De Mille rarely receives the serious recognition and study that he deserves.