W. S. \“Woody\” Van Dyke II inaugurated his career at age three as a stage actor, in the company of his widowed actress-mother. When acting jobs were scarce, young Van Dyke worked as a miner, electrician and (allegedly) a soldier-for-hire in Mexico during the ‘teens. In 1916, he was hired as one of several assistants to director D.W. Griffith, working in this capacity on Griffith’s mammoth Intolerance. After assisting director James Young at Paramount, Van Dyke was allowed to direct his first solo film in 1917. He spent most of the 1920s laboring on quickie Westerns, earning a reputation for speed and efficiency. In 1928, he was brought into MGM’s troubled production White Shadows on the South Seas, which, under the snail’s-pace direction of Robert J. Flaherty (a brilliant documentary maker whose skills at fictional filmmaking was slight), was running way behind schedule. When White Shadows opened to critical and audience approval, Van Dyke was elevated to Hollywood’s A-list of directors… read more
Frank Borzage (April 23, 1894 – June 19, 1962) was an Academy Award-winning American film director and actor famed for his mystical romanticism.
Borzage’s father, Luigi, was born in Roncone, Austria-Hungary in 1859. As a stone mason, he sometimes worked in Switzerland; he met his future wife, Maria Ruegg (1860, Ricken – 1947), in Zürich, where she worked in a silk factory. Luigi Borzaga immigrated to Hazleton, Pennsylvania in the early 1880s; he worked as a coal miner there and soon brought his Swiss fiancée with him.
The couple married in Hazleton in 1883, and had their first child, Henry, in Wyoming in 1885. They settled in the Mormon stronghold of Salt Lake City, Utah, where they gave birth to Frank, and remained until 1919. Altogether, the couple had fourteen children, eight of whom survived childhood: Henry (1885-1971), Mary, Bill (1892-1973), Frank, Daniel (1896-1975, a performer and member of the John Ford Stock Company), Lew (1898-1974), Dolly (1901) and Susan… read more
Born in Vienna, director Joseph von Sternberg spent much of his youth in New York; his entrée into show business was as a film repairer for the World Film Company of Fort Lee, NJ. After returning to Austria to complete his education, he joined the U.S. Signal Corps as a photographer in 1917, then took assistant director jobs after the end of World War I. It was either actor Elliot Dexter or an anonymous producer who suggested that Sternberg would go farther in the industry if he affixed a “von” to his last name, à la Erich von Stroheim. Von Sternberg went whole hog in creating a “genius” veneer, adopting a strutting, imperious attitude, dressing in regulation beret and puttees, and even growing an obnoxious little mustache so he would be certain to be hated and feared. This posturing tended to obscure his genuine cinematic gifts, especially in the field of photographic lighting and composition (at one point, he was the only director permitted to carry an American Society of Cinematographers… read more