Cecil B. DeMille Poster


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Overview (5)

Born in Ashfield, Massachusetts, USA
Died in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA  (heart ailment)
Birth NameCecil Blount DeMille
Nicknames C.B.
The Master of Spectacle
The Master of the Biblical Epic
Height 5' 10" (1.78 m)

Mini Bio (1)

His parents Henry C. DeMille and Beatrice DeMille were playwrights. His father died when he was 12, and his mother supported the family by opening a school for girls and a theatrical company. Too young to enlist in the Spanish-American War, Cecil followed his brother William C. de Mille to the New York Academy of Dramatic Arts, making his stage debut in 1900. For twelve years he was actor/manager of his mother's theatrical company. In 1913, Jesse L. Lasky, Samuel Goldwyn and DeMille formed the Lasky Film Company (which years later evolved into Paramount Pictures), and the next year went west to California and produced the successful six reeler, The Squaw Man (1914), of historical significance as the first feature length film produced in Hollywood. He championed the switch from short to feature-length films and is often credited with making Hollywood the motion picture capital of the world. Rather than putting his money into known stars, he emphasized production values. He also developed stars, notably Gloria Swanson. He produced and directed 70 films and was involved in many more. Many of his films were romantic sexual comedies (he is supposed to have believed that Americans were curious only about money and sex). His best-known were biblical epics: The King of Kings (1927), The Ten Commandments (1923), and The Crusades (1935). From 1936 to 1945 he hosted and directed the hour-long "Lux Radio Theatre", which brought the actors and stories of many movies to the airwaves and further established him as the symbol of Hollywood. He appeared as himself in the classic Sunset Blvd. (1950) with his former star Gloria Swanson as the fictitious disturbed former silent film actress Norma Desmond. His niece Agnes de Mille was the acclaimed choreographer of both the original Broadway production and film version of Oklahoma! (1955).

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Spouse (1)

Constance Adams (16 August 1902 - 21 January 1959) ( his death) ( 4 children)

Trade Mark (6)

Film epics, religious or otherwise.
Attention to detail
Films with protagonists who feel a sense of duty or leadership
Films with strong-willed women
Films with love triangles
Films with lavish sets and extravagant costumes

Trivia (50)

One of the 36 co-founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).
Although married to wife Constance for fifty-six years, DeMille had long-term affairs with two other women: Jeanie Macpherson and Julia Faye, occasionally entertaining both women simultaneously on his yacht or his ranch. His wife knew of the affairs, but preferred to live with their children in the main house.
DeMille was notable for his courage and athleticism and despised men unwilling to perform dangerous stunts or who had phobias. He criticized Victor Mature on the set of Samson and Delilah (1949), calling him "100 percent yellow".
Only eldest daughter Cecilia de Mille was the DeMilles' natural child, daughter Katherine DeMille and sons John and Richard de Mille being adopted later.
Son of Henry C. DeMille and Beatrice DeMille (who was of Jewish descent), and brother of director William C. de Mille, Cecil B. DeMille was also the uncle of Agnes de Mille and Peggy George, uncle-in-law of B.P. Fineman, and grandfather of Cecilia DeMille Presley and Valentina Quinn.
Was the original host of the popular "Lux Radio Theater", which presented one-hour radio adaptations of popular movies, often with the original stars, always with many of the biggest names in Hollywood. DeMille served as host/director of the series from its debut in 1936 until 1944, when a politically-oriented dispute with the American Federation of Radio Artists forced his suspension, and ultimate resignation, from the program. William Keighley succeeded him for the remainder of the program's run.
A photograph of DeMille working on the set of Cleopatra (1934) appears in the selvage on the right side of a sheet of 10 USA 37¢ commemorative postage stamps, issued 25 February 2003, celebrating American Filmmaking: Behind the Scenes.
At his death, DeMille was in the process of producing/directing an epic film about the creation of the Boy Scouts, to star James Stewart. His estate papers include a script and extensive research material.
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890-1945". Pages 207-222. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1987.
Remade four of his own films.
Before casting of Victor Mature as the male lead of Samson and Delilah (1949), DeMille considered using a then unknown bodybuilder named Steve Reeves as Samson, after his original choice, Burt Lancaster, declined due to a bad back. DeMille liked Reeves and thought he was perfect for the part, but a clash between Reeves and the studio over his physique killed that possibility. Almost a decade later, Reeves found fame and stardom appearing in Hercules (1958) and many other Italian films.
To promote The Ten Commandments (1956), he had stone plaques of the commandments posted at government buildings across the country. Many of them are still standing to this day, and some are now the subjects of First Amendment lawsuits.
Died the same day as Carl 'Alfalfa' Switzer and interred at Hollywood Memorial Cemetery (now called Hollywood Forever Cemetery) in Los Angeles, California. He was buried alongside his brother William C. de Mille at Hollywood Forever Cemetary. Among the pallbearers were Adolph Zukor, Samuel Goldwyn and Henry Wilcoxon.
He and his wife adopted daughter Katherine DeMille in 1920, when she was 9. He father had died in World War I and her mother died of tuberculosis. Her birth name was Katherine Lester.
DeMille is the subject of many Hollywood legends. According to one famous story, DeMille once directed a film that required a huge, expensive battle scene. Filming on location in a California valley, the director set up multiple cameras to capture the action from every angle. It was a sequence that could only be done once. When DeMille shouted "Action!", thousands of extras playing soldiers stormed across the field, firing their guns. Riders on horseback galloped over the hills. Cannons fired, pyrotechnic explosives were blown up, and battle towers loaded with soldiers came toppling down. The whole sequence went off perfectly. At the end of the scene, DeMille shouted "Cut!". He was then informed, to his horror, that three of the four cameras recording the battle sequence had failed. In Camera #1, the film had broken. Camera #2 had missed shooting the sequence when a dirt clod was kicked into the lens by a horse's hoof. Camera #3 had been destroyed when a battle tower had fallen on it. DeMille was at his wit's end when he suddenly remembered that he still had Camera #4, which he had had placed along with a cameraman on a nearby hill to get a long shot of the battle sequence. DeMille grabbed his megaphone and called up to the cameraman, "Did you get all that?". The cameraman on the hill waved and shouted back, "Ready when you are, C.B.!".
In another famous story, DeMille was on a movie set one day, about to film an important scene. He was giving a set of complicated instructions to a huge crowd of extras, when he suddenly noticed one female extra talking to another. Enraged, DeMille shouted at the extra, "Will you kindly tell everyone here what you are talking about that is so important?". The extra replied, "I was just saying to my friend, 'I wonder when that bald-headed son-of-a-bitch is going to call lunch.'" DeMille glared at the extra for a moment, then shouted, "Lunch!".
The lifetime achievement award from the Hollywood Foreign Press (Golden Globe Awards) is named after him.
A conservative Republican, DeMille was an active supporter of the practice of blacklisting real or alleged Communists, progressives and other "subversives", in 1952, he attempted to get Joseph L. Mankiewicz removed as President of the Directors Guild because he would not endorse the DeMille-inspired loyalty oath. Directors George Stevens and John Ford managed to block DeMille's efforts. DeMille also refused to cast liberal Democrat Burt Lancaster in Samson and Delilah (1949) and The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) due to politics, despite Lancaster's imposing physique and real life experience as a circus acrobat, which allowed him to do his own stunts.
Stuntman Jack Montgomery, who played a Christian cavalryman in DeMille's The Crusades (1935), recalled in an interview the tension that existed between DeMille and the dozens of stuntmen hired to do the battle scenes. They resented what they saw as DeMille's cavalier attitude about safety, especially as several stuntmen had been injured, and several horses had been killed, because of what they perceived to be DeMille's indifference. At one point, DeMille was standing on the parapets of the castle, shouting through his megaphone at the "combatants" gathered below. One of them, who had been hired for his expertise at archery, finally tired of DeMille's screaming at them, notched an arrow into his bow and fired it at DeMille's megaphone, the arrow embedding itself into the device just inches from DeMille's head. He quickly left the set and didn't come back that day. He came back the next day, but for the rest of the picture, DeMille never shouted at the stuntmen again.
He was awarded 2 Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Motion Pictures at 1725 Vine Street; and for Radio at 6240 Vine Street in Hollywood, California.
During his silent movie days, DeMille wanted to film a romantic scene on a California beach. His plan was to film the hero and heroine walking together on the beach as the sun slowly rose over the ocean behind them. He instructed his cameramen to "film the perfect sunrise." However, his cameramen informed him that this would be impossible - the sun does not *rise* over the ocean in California. It *sets!* "Well, then get me a sun-*set*," said DeMille. "We'll use rear-screen projection, and run the film in reverse so it looks like the sun is *rising* in the background." DeMille's camera crew went to the beach and filmed the sun setting over the ocean. A few days later, DeMille filmed the scene with the two actors on a movie soundstage made up to look like the beach. The on-location film of the Pacific sunset was reversed and projected on a rear screen, so that it looked as if the sun was rising slowly on the horizon behind the two actors. The scene was filmed in one take, and DeMille was ecstatic. The following day, DeMille and his crew gathered in a studio screening room to watch the scene. The film looked perfect - until DeMille noticed something that literally reduced him to tears. The reversed "sunrise" behind the two actors looked spectacular - but the waves on the beach were flowing backwards into the ocean, and all the seagulls in the rear projection scene were flying backwards.
After The Ten Commandments (1956), his remake of his earlier The Ten Commandments (1923), DeMille began work on a project about Lord Robert Baden-Powell and the Boy Scout movement, but eventually abandoned it in favor of The Buccaneer (1958). The actor he had in mind to play Baden-Powell was David Niven.
Profiled in "American Classic Screen Profiles" by John C. Tibbets and James M. Welch (2010).
Even when DeMille directed a contemporary story, he would frequently insert a sequence showing the same stars in a previous historical era, playing earlier incarnations of their modern-day characters. According to Gloria Swanson, who became a star in DeMille's films, he included these scenes because he genuinely believed in reincarnation.
Beginning in 1940 and continuing on to the end of his career, all of the films that he produced and directed were made in color and narrated by him.
President of DeMille Pictures Corporation, formed in 1925.
According to Tim Adler's book about the history of the Mafia in Hollywood, in the late 1930s De Mille was threatened by the mob, which wanted to swindle him while he was in his hospital bed. DeMille stood up from the bed and ordered the gangster to get out of his room, because he -- DeMille -- was not afraid of the Mafia.
According to DeMille he fell in love with film after watching The Great Train Robbery (1903) in Manhattan with Jesse L. Lasky. Several days later they lunched with Sam Goldfish (later to change his name to Samuel Goldwyn) and attorney Arthur Friend and formed the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company, which later grew to be Paramount Pictures.
In a swipe at movie censors, published a satirical newspaper article in which he censored Mother Goose rhymes.
His mother was of Jewish descent.
Charlton Heston, star of DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) and The Ten Commandments (1956) in his autobiography that "I should have thanked him for my career".
Eight of his films were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography: The Sign of the Cross (1932), Cleopatra (1934), The Crusades (1935), The Buccaneer (1938), North West Mounted Police (1940), Reap the Wild Wind (1942), Samson and Delilah (1949), and The Ten Commandments (1956). Only Cleopatra won.
His last three films, Samson and Delilah (1949), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), and The Ten Commandments (1956), were all nominated for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design. Only Samson and Delilah (1949) won.
Six of his films were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Special Effects: Union Pacific (1939), Reap the Wild Wind (1942), The Story of Dr. Wassell (1944), Unconquered (1947), Samson and Delilah (1949), and The Ten Commandments (1956). Reap the Wild Wind and The Ten Commandments both won.
Five of his films were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Art Direction: Dynamite (1929), North West Mounted Police (1940), Reap the Wild Wind (1942), Samson and Delilah (1949), and The Ten Commandments (1956). Only Samson and Delilah (1949) won.
Directed three films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture: Cleopatra (1934), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), and The Ten Commandments (1956). The Greatest Show on Earth won.
In December 1942, The Film Daily's national poll of critics named DeMille one of the year's Top Five Directors for his work in Reap the Wild Wind (1942). He placed third, behind William Wyler for Mrs. Miniver (1942) and John Ford for How Green Was My Valley (1941).
Cecil B. De Mille and Alfred Hitchcock were the only directors whose names appeared on the marquee of the theater where his films played.
The Associated Press reported on Sunday 3 December 1944 that Paramount announced that production of "The Flame," DeMilles's epic about the Mexican Revolution, had been cancelled because of the high cost involved. ("'Flame' Too Costly", The San Bernardino Daily Sun, San Bernardino, California, Monday 4 December 1944, Volume 51, page 3.).
He has directed two films that have been selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant: The Cheat (1915) and The Ten Commandments (1956). He has also appeared in one film that is in the registry: Sunset Blvd. (1950).
Directed four films based on stories from both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible: The Ten Commandments (1923), The King of Kings (1927), Samson and Delilah (1949), and The Ten Commandments (1956). The first two are silent films with sequences in two-strip Technicolor, while the other two are sound films in full Technicolor.
He planned four biblical epics which were never made: "The Deluge" (1927), about Noah's ark; "Esther" (1939), about the beautiful Jewish queen of Persia; "The Queen of Queens" (1940), about Mary, the mother of Jesus; and "Thou Art the Man" (1945), about David, king of Israel.
Of all his American history epics, his favorite was Union Pacific (1939).
According to his casting agent, DeMille spent a lot of time casting the female roles of his films because he was always searching for actresses who were not only beautiful and talented but also professional and easy to work with.
Cecil B. DeMille Golden Globe Award winners who mentioned DeMille in their acceptance speeches include Elizabeth Taylor (1985), Barbara Stanwyck (1986), his son-in-law Anthony Quinn (1987), Sophia Loren (1995), Shirley MacLaine (1998), Steven Spielberg (2008), and Martin Scorsese (2010).
At the 15th Foreign Language Press Film Critics Circle Awards in 1957, DeMille won in two categories: Best Film ("in terms of content") and Best Director, both for The Ten Commandments (1956).
Cast Fredric March in two of his films: The Sign of the Cross (1932) and The Buccaneer (1938).
Cast Gary Cooper in four of his films: The Plainsman (1936), North West Mounted Police (1940), The Story of Dr. Wassell (1944), and Unconquered (1947).
Cast Claudette Colbert, in three of his films: The Sign of the Cross (1932), Four Frightened People (1934), and Cleopatra (1934).

Personal Quotes (33)

The public is always right
[to his crew] You are here to please me. Nothing else on Earth matters.
Give me any two pages of the Bible and I'll give you a picture.
It was a theory that died very hard that the public would not stand for anyone dressed in clothes of another period... I got around this objection by staging what we call a vision. The poor working girl was dreaming of love and reading "Tristan and Isolde". The scene faded out, and scenes were depicted on the screen that the girl was supposed to be reading... Thus a bit of costume picture was put over on the man who bought the picture for his theater, and there was no protest from the public.
Every time I make a picture the critics' estimate of American public taste goes down ten percent.
A picture is made a success not on a set but over the drawing board.
I make my pictures for people, not for critics.
I didn't write the Bible and didn't invent sin.
[on "The Squaw Man"] I love this story so much that as long as I live I will make it every ten years.
[A week before his death, DeMille was asked what his future plans were] Another picture, I imagine... or, perhaps, another world.
Most of us serve our 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.
The critics were less than kind to my selection for the other feminine lead, Anne Baxter as Nefretiri. I think the critics went farther wrong there even than they usually do; I think Anne Baxter's performance was very good. Perhaps the critics were too busy thinking what clever things they could write about our misspelling of Nefretiri's name.
For the roles of Samson and Delilah (1949), I selected two players quite deliberately because they embody in a large part of the public mind the essence of maleness and attractive femininity, Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr. That casting was risky. If it turned out that my two leads had nothing to give to the story but the appearance of male strength and female beauty, however superlatively they shone in those qualities, the real point of the story would be lost. But when I saw the rushes of the scene in the grist mill, of Samson mocked in agony and Delilah discovering that the man she has loved and betrayed is now blind, I knew, if I had not known before, that the talents of Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr are more than skin-deep.
I cast Yvonne De Carlo as Sephora, the wife of Moses, after our casting director, Bert McKay called my attention to one scene she played in Sombrero (1953), which was a picture far removed in theme from The Ten Commandments (1956), I sensed in her a depth, an emotional power, a womanly strength which the part of Sephora needed, and which she gave it.
I am not one who would rail at the public if one of my pictures failed to "get across". The public knows art. I have never yet been connected with a failure, but, if I were, I would blame myself, not my audience.
The first star of a motion picture should be its story. If this star is properly cast - with drama turning upon drama in an ever-widening, accelerating orbit - its spectacular production-value satellites fall logically into place. Once the course and character of this first-magnitude star have been charted, it should be surrounded by a galaxy of stars which fit properly into its field. If their brilliance adds lustre to the main star, so much the better.
[on why he chose to include a scene of a Roman bacchanal in Manslaughter (1922)] I wished to show that a nation that is addicted to speed and drunkenness is riding for a fall. The best way to achieve this result was to picturize the greatest nation that ever suffered from these vices and show what happened to it. From this, it is easy to drawn a modern parallel.
[on Cleopatra (1934)] I made this picture because the historical facts of her life are far more fascinating than any fiction.
In drama, in song, in story, four great loves have been told over and over again: Romeo and Juliet, Samson and Delilah (1949), Tristan and Isolde, Antony and Cleopatra. Two of these I have brought to the screen. Who shall say which is the greatest love? Now, don't decide until you have seen Cleopatra (1934).
[1948] I find the American public fairly true to corn. It grows all across the great Midwest. It's on the ground and in the hearts of the people. I'm very proud to say you'll find a good deal of it my pictures.
The making of a picture of such large dimensions as Cleopatra (1934) is not the work of any one man. The director only guides the many geniuses that are under him.
Looking back over the series of historical pictures that began with Cleopatra (1934) in 1934, I see each one as a step closer to a goal that I have yet to reach. In my last two pictures, The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) and The Ten Commandments (1956), I believe that I have come closer than ever before to getting on the screen the conception that was in my mind.
[on Claudette Colbert] She wanted to do something different with Cleopatra (1934), not make her lofty or fussy or superstitious, nothing like that. She set out to give her humor and humanity, and she stamped her own personality on the role. She emerged from it most vividly, I thought.
Television is a powerful and wonderful means of transferring ideas, and it is going to be here long after we have gone. But so are motion pictures.
I am sometimes asked who is my favorite actress, among those I have directed. I always dodge the question by explaining that I have to continue living in Hollywood. But if the tortures of the Inquisition were applied and an answer extracted from me, I would have to say that I have never worked with an actress who was more cooperative, less temperamental, and a better workman, to use my term of highest compliment, than Barbara Stanwyck. I have directed, and enjoyed working with, many fine actresses, some of whom are also good workmen; but when I count over those of whom my memories are unmarred by any unpleasant recollection of friction on the set or unwillingness to do whatever the role required or squalls of temperament or temper, Barbara's name is the first that comes to mind, as one on whom a director can always count to do her work with all her heart.
[on Yul Brynner] Along with his great acting ability, Yul has the pure knack of appealing to women at the same time he commands the respect of men.
[on Hedy Lamarr] What first impressed me about Miss Lamarr was her sincerity . . . All of six years ago she was on a radio program of which I was the master of ceremonies. I remembered her from that when we decided to produce Samson and Delilah (1949). Actually she is one of the most unaffected persons I have ever known in Hollywood. This is what gives great value to her work. She stands by what she believes.
[on the Burning Bush in The Ten Commandments (1956)] Doris Turner brought me the idea which unlocked the problem of how to show the Burning Bush as the Bible describes it, burning but not consumed. Doris happened to see in a shop window a clock, shaped like a fireplace, with wavy light from a hidden source playing over small artificial logs. That does not sound like the sort of clock a good interior decorator would let one have around the house, but I keep and cherish it because, as soon as I showed it to John Fulton [John P. Fulton], he immediately caught the effect I wanted and produced it on the screen.
Four Frightened People (1934) was one of my few spectacular failures at the box office. It fell about $500 short of returning its cost. It comforts me to think that this was due to the final editing; but perhaps it should also confirm me in sticking to my own last and leaving whimsical stories to directors like Preston Sturges or Leo McCarey or Billy Wilder who are so good at that type of picture.
[on The Crusades (1935)] I tried with something approaching desperation to get the extras in a mob scene to speak the word "wrestling." Seventy-five percent of them said "rasslin." I virtually got down on my knees and begged, but they were incapable of uttering the word correctly. When I was a boy I wouldn't dare drawl a word. My mother refused to answer any question I didn't state correctly.
[1959] In every contract I sign to produce a picture one essential clause is that Anne Bauchens will be its editor. That is not sentiment, or at least not only sentiment. She is still the best film editor I know.
[on his biblical film trilogy] The Ten Commandments (1923) is about the giving of the law, The King of Kings (1927) is about the interpretation of the law, and The Sign of the Cross (1932) is concerned with its preservation.
[1959] If I had to do it over again, I would have made twice as many movies. I let too much time go in between them. I wish I had made more. I tried to follow the policy of making a big picture and then following it with one not so big instead of trying to find something . . . better than the one before. You can find some subjects that are beautiful little miniatures that don't cost much to make or take too long. Like Leo McCarey.

Salary (3)

The Warrens of Virginia (1915) $500 /week
The Captive (1915) $500 /week
Sunset Blvd. (1950) $10,000

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