“All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”
The perfect segue from a post on Gloria Swanson is one on Cecil B. DeMille. He not only had a cameo performance (as a director of Swanson) in the 1950 movie Sunset Blvd.—but he’s been called “the founder of Hollywood.” His first film as a director was Squaw Man in 1914 and his last as a producer was the 1958 film The Buccaneer. But it was the films he produced in directed in between that was his legacy; The Ten Commandments, Union Pacific, Samson and Delilah, Cleopatra, and The Greatest Show on Earth (for which won Best Picture in 1953).
Like many, especially those in the early days of film, DeMille started out in theater as an actor. His parents were playwrights and he performed on Broadway in beginning in 1900. DeMille went to California just as the Hollywood film business was beginning to mature. The short films of the 1890s and early 1900s set the stage for feature films. One of the main reasons DeMille is held in such high regard is he brought higher production values to the film he made.
He made his share of flops and then and now he had his share of critics of even his film that succeed, but DeMillle understood spectacle. In 1923 his version of The Ten Commandments was the most financially successful film up to that point in movie history. He remade the film in 1956 and today when adjusted for inflation that film is listed as #5 on the all-time domestic box-office gross (ahead of Titanic).
DeMille’s abilty to make films that made money also allowed him to work with the greatest actors of his day— Claudette Colbert, Hedy Lamarr, Gary Cooper, Dorothy Lamour, Charlton Heston, and, of course, Swanson.
On the downside he was known as a tyrannical director and his film The Crusades was the greatest financial flop up until that time in Hollywood history. Maybe it was DeMille’a failures as well as his successes that help set the tone for the Hollywood we have today.
Regardless of what you think of the man or his films he was a giant. He helped lay the foundation for Hollywood, survived the transition from silent films to the talkies, and worked up until he died in 1959—the same time television had become the dominant form of entertainment in American households depleting the movie going audiences of the past.
I really should end this post with a little inspiration from Mr. DeMille: “Most of us serve out ideals by fits and starts. The person who makes a success of living is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly. That is dedication.”
P.S. DeMille’s connection to the mostly silent film The Artist currently in theaters? DeMille, in not wanting congress to govern Hollywood, helped set up The Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 (The Hays Code). Since The Artist writer/director Michel Hazanavicius was making a film set in the 1920s he decided to abide by the Hays Code which is why you won’t see “excessive and lustful kissing.” (Though, of course, the Hays Code didn’t become official until 1930 I imagine there must have been some agreed upon standards before it was formally adopted.) According to Wikipedia, The Hays Code was abandoned in 1968 in favor of the MPAA film rating system.